Logistics solutions company GBA’s fleet of vans and trucks has one overriding business objective: to meet the service level expectations agreed with its customers. That means delivering on time, every time.
The company aims to achieve that objective as cost-efficiently and safely as possible, thereby maximising its profit potential, which focuses the spotlight squarely on reducing fuel consumption and incidents.
Diesel is one of the company’s biggest operating costs. It spends more than £3 million a year fuelling its fleet of 150 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans and 100 DAF trucks (7.5 to 40 tonnes, with curtain-siders, boxes and refrigerated units) which transport goods across Europe.
With vans typically covering more than 300,000 miles over a four-year operating cycle, the fleet strategy starts with buying the right vehicle, according to GBA general manager Paul Birkbeck.
“We have been running Sprinter vans for the past 20 years – it’s an extremely versatile and reliable vehicle and over the years we have developed a great relationship with the local Mercedes-Benz dealership,” he says.
“For us, it’s all about reliability, cost-efficiency and safety. On all our recent Sprinters we have the driver safety package – lane keeping, crosswind, blind spot assist and collision prevention; it’s an investment but it safeguards our drivers and the load for customers as well.
“With all the technology fitted to the vehicles, it is important that the drivers have the correct training on how it should be used. That is part of the vehicle handover process.”
Around half of the Sprinter vans run out of GBA’s operating centre in Warsaw, Poland, carrying high value products for the automotive, pharmaceutical, aeronautical and marine sectors. The rest are based in the UK.
“The vans deliver flexibility and speed for time sensitive customers across Europe,” says Birkbeck. “They are fitted with a state of the art security locking system, a panic button in case the driver runs into problems and are tracked. So it’s a secure mode of transport for customers.”
GBA switched its telematics supplier earlier in the year following a tender process (it has been using telematics for more than a decade).
After shortlisting and trialling solutions from three companies, it selected Mix Telematics because its solution provides simple driver feedback, it easily integrates with the company’s current IT systems and it has comprehensive reporting, according to Birkbeck. The company was also prepared to work closely to develop further solutions for GBA’s refrigerated vehicles.
“The system sends alerts for the temperature-controlled vehicles to ensure that they stay within the parameters we have agreed with the customer,” explains Birkbeck.
The telematics is plugged into the CANBus to provide accurate information on how the vehicle is performing and how it is being driven. This allows for league tables to be produced showing overall driver performance, while the system provides immediate feedback to drivers on their behaviour via a traffic light device in the cab.
Since the start of the year, GBA’s vehicles have been running with 3G-enabled forward-facing video cameras. Each ‘event’, from harsh braking or cornering to an impact, triggers an email alert to the fleet team; they will usually know about an incident before the driver has had time to report it.
The video footage can then be uploaded from the vehicle and reviewed within minutes. Not only does it provide evidence about the cause of the incident, potentially protecting drivers, it also means GBA can proactively tackle uninsured losses and third party claims, reducing its costs.
The video is also a record of what happened, which can then be used as the basis for driver training.
“We have instances of footage where our vehicles have been hit by another driver,” says Birkbeck. “With one we received an email alert and could see a truck reversing into our van and then driving off. Having the video evidence helped us to promptly deal with the problem.”
The next step is to introduce all-round cameras for added security, which is likely to happen during 2016.
Using both telematics and video cameras helps GBA achieve its central fleet plan: to target costs (including fuel) and safety. Birkbeck believes this proactive approach pays off because, as well as providing accurate real-time information to the fleet team, it also encourages drivers to be more accountable for their own actions.
However, for both systems to fully work a substantial amount of data has been collected and analysed from the vehicles, tailored to each type of model and the work it undertakes.
“We group the vehicles together by model and then fine tune the various parameters. For example, all our XFF 106s will have the same parameters,” Birkbeck says.
The settings – including revs, idling, braking and acceleration – are reviewed after a few months when the data starts coming through. As Birkbeck says: “We don’t want a large number of alerts just because of a speed bump.”
As an additional security measure, each vehicle can be sealed with an electronic locking system to ensure the doors have not been tampered with, supported by telematics which alerts the team if the door was opened. It provides a live feed to the fleet team which is also relayed to GBA’s customers.
“We want to know where every vehicle is and what it is doing at any one time,” says Birkbeck. “That is what we are trying to achieve.”
He adds: “Telematics is about setting KPIs which help us to measure the business and ensure we are delivering what the customer expects.”
GBA also uses the data to monitor fuel usage by cross-checking fuel consumption and distances travelled with transactions to identify any discrepancies. It provides averages and enables comparisons between vehicles so the company can drill down to establish possible reasons for any differences.
However, it’s a case of looking at one thing at a time, says Birkbeck. “It is ongoing; we measure and improve one area and then take it forward to look at another area. Also the systems are always progressing so there are always new areas that we can focus on.”
With so many initiatives introduced this year, it is difficult to establish the benefits of each in isolation.
Combined, however, GBA estimates they have reduced incidents by 10% and have reduced the fuel bill by £60,000.
Its fuel strategy goes further than simply choosing efficient vehicles and monitoring driver behaviour: cross-border operations add com-plexity to the process.
“We have to make sure our drivers know where to fuel and that’s complicated in Europe. Our vehicles don’t always come back to depot so there is not an easy bunker option,” Birkbeck says.
“In the UK, we use one fuel company and have national coverage at a good price for that brand. In Europe, we use a different company and, in order to get the best price, we’ve established some rules that prioritise the countries and identify the brand to be used in each.”
Communication is crucial to ensure drivers are aware that they are not paying the price displayed on the pump. Deals are also cheaper in certain countries, so drivers on routes that pass through several borders are encouraged to fill up at the cheapest price.
Birkbeck says: “We have KPIs which monitor the percentage fill-up at our preferred sites and we are always looking at how we can get that higher. We talk to the drivers or go to card companies for greater support if our vehicles are in a particular area.
GBA manages all aspects of the fleet in-house, including the company cars, via a team of 12 headed by fleet manager Mark Hailwood. It includes six mechanics working at its two workshops which carry out around 20% of all service and maintenance work (the rest goes through the dealer network).
They also undertake accident damage repairs and trailer refurbishment while the facilities made a real difference when it came to changing the European van fleet across to winter tyres – a legal requirement in many mainland countries.
That requirement has now been permanently resolved, after GBA completed the process of converting its van fleet across to all-weather tyres. They will reduce storage costs and dowtime caused by switching tyres twice a year.
Drivers act as the first line of defence for identifying potential maintenance problems. They carry out walk-round checks on vans and trucks at the start of each day on PDAs, with the results uploaded to the fleet team in real-time. This enables GBA to take immediately action to address any concerns.
GBA compliancy levels on the walk-round checks are high because drivers trust that any issues will be speedily resolved by the company. Trust is something that underpins the company culture, from staff to customers to suppliers. And it starts at the top, according to Birkbeck.
“When you have that type of relationship at a senior level it filters through the operating divisions and depot managers to our customers,” he says. “That is a core value of the company: to have close relationships with suppliers, staff and customers.”
Looking after drivers key to retention
The shortage of HGV drivers – the so-called ‘driver crisis’ – is a “challenge that is getting more challenging”, according to GBA Midlands depot manager Michael Lear.
He believes that offering a good quality van or truck as part of the driver package “goes a long way to attracting experienced staff”.
Lear adds: “We want a high calibre driver that can deliver our family values and service to the customer, not just someone who delivers from A to B. And that type of driver tends to be more loyal to the business if they are looked after.
“A team ethic also helps to retain drivers, so we get our senior management involved in recognising the service that our drivers provide. There’s a lot of pride with our drivers.”
Range of driver info assists with training
In the event of an accident, the GBA fleet team collects all the relevant details, including a full report from the driver. It works closely with its insurer NFU Mutual to understand the best way to handle any incident. Paul Birkbeck says: “The quicker you handle it, the lower the cost impact, regardless of who’s to blame.”
Information gathered will determine whether the driver needs to be interviewed; video footage from the onboard cameras can prove invaluable.
All driver training, including the Certificate of Professional Competence, is carried out in-house.
GBA also offers its services to other companies, including specific training for van drivers and security qualifications for airport work.