Costa Farms streamlines delivery scheduling across the board with Truckstops

Costa Farms HQAbility to split loads and handle multiple drops confirms leading US grower’s decision to replace its routing and scheduling system and extend automation company-wide.

Costa Farms, one of the United States’ largest greenhouse growers, says it has achieved the elusive goal of automating distribution planning across all its operations by switching to Truckstops routing and scheduling solution from Mapmechanics.

The result, according to Ryan McFarland, director of logistics and live goods supply chain at Costa Farms, has been a significant improvement in the efficiency of Costa’s operations, along with enhanced customer service. Planning time alone has been cut by around 20 to 30 per cent, he says.

Ryan explains: “We were already using another routing and scheduling system, but it couldn’t cope fully with our way of working, so we hadn’t been able to roll it out to all our main locations. Truckstops has made this possible.”

Truckstops, one of the world’s longest-established and widely used routing and scheduling solutions, is developed and distributed worldwide by Mapmechanics. It is suited to both fixed-route planning and dynamic day-to-day delivery scheduling, which is how Costa Farms uses it.

Florida-based Costa Farms has six key operating units (OUs), including main centres in Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina. It distributes to retailers, home improvement centres and garden centres in all contiguous states, as well as throughout Canada.

Most of its products are shipped by common carriers in temperature-controlled trailers – mostly on a one-way basis, though there are also some round trips. Vehicles working for the company run around 22 million miles a year, making 155,000 deliveries. Truckstops is helping to manage this distribution complexity for Costa Farms.

The company had recognised that automated routing and scheduling would streamline its delivery planning, but ran into several problems. “Our previous system couldn’t split loads to make optimum use of trailer capacity,” Ryan explains. “For example, if we were loading a trailer with a capacity of 40 plant racks and had a shipment of 30 racks and another of 25 racks that could be split to fill the trailer, all of this planning had to be done manually. This was compromising our efficiency.”

One of Truckstops’ most appealing features was its ability to handle multi-drop journeys. “We’ve reviewed a lot of scheduling software,” Ryan says, “and I can tell you that very few of them can deal effectively, and most importantly, efficiently, with multi-drop deliveries.” Costa Farms’ vehicles typically make twelve drops per trip – sometimes as many as twenty-five – so this capability was extremely important.

Another key feature was Truckstops’ ability to schedule both outward-only and return trips. Costa Farms’ carriers are paid on the basis of the plans it presents to them, “so it’s essential that we produce realistic schedules.” He says Truckstops routes are based on what he terms “practical miles” – journeys that reflect real-world delivery experience.

Initially Truckstops was tested on hundreds of routes against the company’s existing software. Overwhelmingly the Truckstops solutions proved to be more efficient, and hence more cost-effective. “It came out best in class,” Ryan says.

Just as important, in Ryan’s eyes, was the fact that the Mapmechanics team was so responsive. “A software provider must be engaged, and prepared to collaborate. Mapmechanics had the resources and competence to tackle our requirements and come up with a total solution. They were there for us on site during all the key phases of the project. I applaud the whole team who was integral to our success throughout.”

Such was Costa’s confidence in the resulting Truckstops solution that implementation was scheduled during the company’s busiest time of year – the peak season between March and May. During that period, it is not unusual for the company to ship up to 220 loads a day, including 120 from its largest Florida OU alone. On its first full workout, Truckstops was able to schedule three days’ worth of deliveries in under 40 minutes.

Mapmechanics’ involvement with Costa is ongoing. “They’re always there for us,” Ryan says.

Costa Farms was founded in 1961, and now employs nearly 4,000 staff. In addition to its strong presence in the United States, it also has a substantial nursery in the Dominican Republic. It cultivates and distributes both houseplants and outdoor garden plants.

Truckstops is used by many organisations in North America, and Mapmechanics has supplied it in recent years to several leading growers.