Plants delivery scheduling and optimization for Costa Farms

  • Delivery planning time cut by between 20 and 30 per centCosta Farms logo
  • Improvement in customer service
  • Ability to split shipments between vehicles automatically to optimize efficiency
  • Opportunity to extend use of automated scheduling across the company’s operations
  • Multi-drop capability and ability to schedule both outward-only and return trips

Background

Costa Farms is one of the United States’ largest producers of ornamental plants. It is based in Florida, and also has a substantial presence in North Carolina and South Carolina, as well as having various overseas operations. Altogether it employs nearly 4,000 people.

Costs Farms greenhouseThe company distributes to retailers, home improvement centers and garden centers in all contiguous states, as well as throughout Canada. Most of its products are shipped by common carriers in temperature-controlled trailers – usually 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.

The company recognized the benefits of automating its delivery planning, and introduced a routing and scheduling system. However, as Ryan McFarland, director of logistics and live goods supply chain, explains: “Our original system couldn’t cope fully with our way of working, so we weren’t able to roll it out to all our main locations.”

Part of the problem was that the system was unable to split loads to make optimum use of trailer capacity. “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.”

We’ve reviewed a lot of scheduling software . . . Truckstops came out best in class.”

Ryan McFarland, Costa Farms director of logistics and live goods supply chain

Solution

The company examined various alternative scheduling packages, but was not convinced that a change could improve the situation until Ryan McFarland encountered the Mapmechanics team and Truckstops. Many organisations in North America use Truckstops, and Mapmechanics has supplied it in recent years to several leading growers – a factor that particularly appealed to Costa.

One of Truckstops’ most attractive features was its ability to handle multi-drop journeys. “We’ve reviewed a lot of scheduling software,” Ryan McFarland says, “and I can tell you that very few of them can deal effectively, and most important, 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.

Costa Farms flowersAnother 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.

Thanks to Mapmechanics’ help, Truckstops has also been able to resolve the issue of splitting loads in order to optimize the efficiency of each truckload.

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.

Benefits

Following the roll-out of Truckstops, Ryan McFarland says there 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.

Such was Costa’s confidence in the 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 operating unit alone. On its first full workout, Truckstops was able to schedule three days’ worth of deliveries in under 40 minutes.

Just as important, in Ryan McFarland’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.”

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

A software provider must be engaged, and prepared to collaborate. Mapmechanics were there for us on site during all the key phases of the project. I applaud the whole team.”