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Category Archives: Route Optimization

The “Wrong” of Route Optimization


Alright, I cannot help myself.  There has been so much news lately centered around the optimization of buses in Ottawa Canada (http://bit.ly/h0uyJw).  It appears that the City initially intended to cut out several routes in an attempt to as they say “optimize routes” in order to save an estimated $22 million next year.  The City held 3 meetings and allowed the public to attend in addition to receiving  6,500 complaints.

Now, this is an example of the “wrong” way to do route optimization.  Simply removing routes does do anything but create a mess for the people that rely on them.  Would the City be allowed to remove several of their trash routes if it were to save the City money?  It would definitely save them money, but what of the garbage on the side of the street?  Is that the right way to “optimize routes” for the bus lines?  Are there not going to be people stuck standing on the side of the street for a bus that is not going to come there any more?

There are too many people that throw the phrase “route optimization” around that do not have a clue and frankly piss me off!  I make my living saving cities millions of dollars by “optimizing” routes not just removing them.  Shame on you Ottawa for doing this to your people and for using the phrase “route optimization” incorrectly!

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2011 in Route Optimization

 

Solid Waste Routing White Paper


I just added my “final” white paper on Solid Waste Routing to my “downloads” section on the right side column.  Feel free to download it and use it as you desire.  I would, however, appreciate referencing me if you do publish the paper.

Hope that this helps somebody out there….

BR

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2011 in Route Optimization

 

Solid Waste Routing – Improving Efficiency in Solid Waste Collection Part 4


Right Turns

A common concept in solid waste collection is to minimize left turns and maximize right turns. Interestingly, these days it is done more for safety than efficiency — eliminating or minimizing the dangerous left hand turns results in fewer instances the solid waste collection vehicle will have to turn in front of traffic.

An excerpt from Businessweek article on March 5, 2007 called “How Technology Delivers for UPS” says it succinctly:

“Not so long ago, UPS drivers worked off maps, 3-x-5 note cards, and their own memory to figure out the best way to run their routes. That changed in 2005 when UPS began to implement a $600 million route optimization system–think MapQuest on steroids–that each evening maps out the next day’s schedule for the majority of its 56,000 drivers. So sophisticated is the software that it designs each route to minimize the number of left turns, thus reducing the time and gas that drivers waste idling at stoplights.

UPSs innovation is an example of how technology can help companies capture institutional knowledge about their customers. Before, when a truck loader or driver walked out the door, the package- loading techniques or route tips they’d developed over the years usually walked out with them. Now that knowledge is accessible in a central system. That eases the burden on substitute drivers and shortens the training time for new ones, lessening the chances of a lapse in customer service. There’s no question the new system has enabled UPS to run its routes more efficiently. In November alone the company’s drivers logged 3 million fewer miles than they did the year before.”

 

The television show “Mythbusters” tested the theory of right-hand turns on one of their “MiniMyths” episodes and confirmed that even with more miles driven (as was the case in their test) making right hand turns consumed less fuel.

Right turns not only increase efficiency by reducing fuel consumption, they also increase safety for the driver and other vehicles on the road, because the driver no longer has to face oncoming traffic.

 

On-board Computers

As modern technology meets solid waste collection, numerous new items are becoming implemented in everyday collection practices. One such valuable piece of equipment is the on-board computer. Picture it as a GPS device on steroids. Now, not only can the driver follow his route using the system, but the driver can also communicate with their offices for updates and notifications of route obstacles, or customers who do not have trash out.

Benefits to On-board Computers:

Track Routes real time

  • Provides accountability by being able to locate where the collection vehicle is at all times.
  • Eliminates doubt in driver efficiency.

Eliminate going back to pick up “Not Outs”

  • Provides a GPS time- and-date stamp in addition to messages from the driver that a customer did not have trash out.
  • Depending on contract/requirements, may be enough to not require going back to collect from a customer who did not have the trash out for the collection vehicle.

Turn-by-turn shows driver how to run the route properly

  • Ensures that the route is driven according to the sequence created for it.

Relief Driver can run route without any prior knowledge of it

  • Drivers simply follow the GPS directions.

Integration with Billing Systems

  • With the drivers’ ability to communicate with billing software, you can automatically charge the customer for extra bags or extra collection, thus not miss additional revenue.

All of these benefits increase driver efficiency

 

Optimize Dump Trips

Most drivers head to the landfill to dump only when the vehicle is completely full. Generally this is not the most efficient way to handle dump trips. The route optimization software has a function to optimize dump trips.

If a route requires two dumps, then these dumps should be scheduled for when the vehicle is closest to the transfer station/landfill. By optimizing the dump trips, a driver can generally eliminate a trip or two per week for most routes.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2011 in Route Optimization

 

Solid Waste Routing – Improving Efficiency in Solid Waste Collection Part 3


Heuristic Routing

The U.S. Environment Protection Agency in 1974 released a publication (SW-113) entitled Heuristic Routing for Solid Waste Collection Vehicles. For many years, this was the definitive how-to manual for solid waste routing. The majority of the rules still apply today.

Heuristic routing defined macro-routing and micro-routing. Macro-routing “determines the assignment of daily collection routes to existing processing and disposal sites.”

However, we are interested in micro-routing, which “looks in detail at each daily collection service area to determine the path that the collection vehicle should follow as it collects from each service on its route. The objective is to minimize the driving time on the collection route through minimizing the dead (head) distance…”

Rules for Heuristic micro-routing:

  1. Routes should not be fragmented or overlapping. Each route should be compact, consisting of street segments clustered in the same geographical area.

     

  2. The collection route should start as close to the garage or motor pool as possible, taking into account heavily traveled and one-way streets (see rules 3 and 4).

     

  3. Collection from heavily traveled streets should not be carried out during rush hours.

     

  4. In the case of one-way streets, it is best to start the route near the upstream end of the street, working down it through the looping process.

     

  5. Services on dead-end streets can be considered as services on the street segment that they intersect, since they can only be collected by passing down that street segment. To keep left turns to a minimum, collect the dead-end streets when they are to the right of the truck. Collections from dead-end streets must be made by walking down, backing down or making a U-turn at the dead-end.

     

  6. When practical, solid waste on a steep hill should be collected on both sides of the street while the vehicle is moving downhill. This facilitates safety, ease and speed of collection. It also lessens wear on the vehicle and conserves gas and oil.

     

  7. Higher elevations should be at the start of the route.

     

  8. For collection from one side of the street at a time, it is generally best to route with many clockwise turns around blocks. Note: Heuristic rules 8 and 9 emphasize the development of a series of clockwise loops in order to minimize right turns, which generally are more difficult and time-consuming than left turns. Particularly for right-hand-drive vehicles, right turns are safer.

     

  9. For collection from both sides of the street at the same time, it is generally best to route with long, straight paths across the street before looping clockwise.

     

  10. For certain block configurations within the route, specific routing patterns should be applied that best fit the layout.

 

As you can see, since the implementation of these changes in 1974, only a couple of the Heuristic rules have become outdated, but in general still today make up the rules of routing.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2011 in Route Optimization

 

Solid Waste Routing – Improving Efficiency in Solid Waste Collection Part 2


Analyzing Current Operations

It is safe to assume that if you are reading this then you already believe you have room for improvement in your collection operations. There are a couple of ways that can test the efficiency of solid waste routes.

For a troublesome route, try putting one of your better drivers on that route for a couple of weeks. If the better driver takes just as long as the regular driver then the problem is likely the route and not the driver. Bear in mind that your “better” driver will most likely always get done faster.

There are some industry “thumb rule” counts for stops per route. As “thumb rules” they will not pertain to every area. For example, very rural areas will require more driving and therefore collect at fewer stops. For automated collection, the maximum number of stops per route is 1,000 stops per 8-hour day, and 1,200 and for Semi-Automated (with one helper) it is 800 stops per 8-hour day and 1,000 per 10-hour day. So, in a dense city area where automated routes collect 600 stops in an 8-hour day, there is room for improvement.

 

A Driver’s View:

“When I started driving a garbage truck, I was trained by the driver that was running the route. He was taught by the driver before him and I taught my replacement. That is probably the start of the problem. I ran my route like the driver before me and my replacement ran my route just like I did. That didn’t mean that the route was being run in the most efficient manner.

There were plenty of times that I wondered if there were a faster or better way to run the route but we were always just trying to finish the route on time. With overtime being taboo and already working a five day per week schedule, there just wasn’t any time to try a different approach.

I think what really hurt us was when a driver was out sick. We all knew our routes but very few knew the other routes. When I started, there were no maps or route books to speak of. I myself created one when I was learning my route by going home every day and printing out the route area that I ran. I would then highlight the streets that were in my route. Most drivers didn’t do this and so it was chaos when a driver was absent.”

 

Route Optimization Strategies

Regardless of whether you are a Private or Public organization, many of the following techniques or strategies can assist to improve efficiency with your solid waste collection:

Heuristic Routing

Heuristic Definition: Logical, commonsense thought-process learned through experience that helps organize ideas, concepts, and information into a useful form or solution. In 1974, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released an outline for solid waste routing strategies.

Right Turns

The use of right turns and turnarounds saves time and fuel.

On-board Computers

On-board computers provide accountability and increase driver efficiency.

Optimize Dump Trips

Selecting the optimized location to leave route and head to transfer station/landfill.

Automated Collection

If your area is suitable for automation, it is the preferable way to go.

Optimize Customers

It may sound counter-intuitive, but sometimes canceling customers can save you money.

Routing Software

From point-to-point commercial collection to high-density residential collection there are many software solutions available.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2011 in Route Optimization

 

Solid Waste Routing – Improving Efficiency in Solid Waste Collection Part 1


Here is the first excerpt of my paper on Solid Waste Routing.  I will have several parts to this…

In today’s struggling economy we are all forced to look at ways to reduce expenses. This applies to Private and Public operations equally. For the Private operation, it is all about making a profit and not losing money. This is difficult due to the competitiveness of the industry. Raising rates can often open the door for a competitor to move in as well as being met with high resistance from customers. For the Public operation, it is all about staying within the dwindling budget. It is quite difficult to get approval for a rate increase on even more difficult to get an increase in budget.

Basic business rules state that to increase profit margin, one must either increase revenue or decrease expenses.

Many strategies or techniques exist for improving solid waste collection. Any of these, if applied, stands to cut expenses and improve efficiency. These strategies can range from simple operational changes to more extreme collection day changes. Many of these strategies are common sense and can be used for most types of routing. With advancements in technologies there are now many options to choose from for computerized routing.

As collection costs make up between 40 and 60 percent of the total solid waste management system costs, this area is generally where the biggest savings can occur.

This article will be broke down into two separate areas for improving efficiency:

  • Route Optimization
  • Operational Changes
 
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Posted by on February 8, 2011 in Route Optimization

 

Solid Waste Routing tip of the week


UPDATE Today was Part 2 of Solid Waste Routing Tip of the Week.

I will soon be posting a solid waste routing tip of the week.  These will be ideas or strategies for improving efficiency in solid waste collection.  I will also be offering my new paper “Solid Waste Routing” as a download.

Feel free to contact me if you would like more information or to comment on my Route Optimization blog articles.

BR

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2011 in Route Optimization

 

Welcome to my blog…..


I started to learn Python programming last year to use in ArcGIS.  I read a couple of books about Python and jumped right in.  I had help in the beginning from an avid forum user.  Since then I have continuously ventured into new areas of using Python.

Recently the user forum at ESRI for Python Geoprocessing underwent some changes that makes it hard to sift through the posts there.

As I started to take Python outside of ArcGIS, I was immediately confronted with a lack of information on wxPython and using geoprocessing.  With a lot of help from friends I am well along in creating a GUI that uses wxPython as well as incorporating ArcGIS geoprocessing.

My goal for this site is to continuously add script examples and to create a meeting place for Python users.

I recently started to add articles about route optimization or Solid Waste routing.  I just wanted to explain the reason that I added this onto my otherwise all Python blog.

It is because of my job doing Route Optimization that I ever ventured into Python and the rest that followed.  Our primary software runs on top of ESRI’s ArcView.  From always using ArcView, I found a need (or more of a desire) to automate some of my daily functions.

As I have learned from programmers, it seems that the majority of the programmers that I know have the ideology that the least amount of work that they need to perform, the better.  This isn’t to say that they are lazy, this is to say that their goal is to automate as much as possible and work smarter not harder!

So Python was the natural way to go for me.

Although the company that I work for sells Route Optimization software, I felt the need to share my knowledge of “alternative” techniques to route optimization and/or improving efficiency in Solid Waste collection.  I plan on adding more posts regarding this in the future.

So even though Route Optimization itself has nothing to do with Python, it is what sent me down the Python Path.

 

Route Optimization Presentation


UPDATE: The presentation is now located in the Downloads section on the right ==>

 

I have put together a Power Point presentation for a Route Optimization talk that I am going to give next week.  If you are interested, please contact me and I will be happy to send you a copy of it.

I will be adding more posts regarding vehicle route optimization in the near future as I am putting together a full article on the subject.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2011 in Route Optimization

 

Vehicle Route Optimization


More than just software, it is a way of thinking

Route Optimization is simple put, finding the most efficient route. In this economy where fuel costs keep rising it is harder than ever to remain in the black. For private companies, this is all about making a profit and for public organizations this is all about staying afloat. Basic business rules provide two basic options for improving profit margins; increase revenue or decrease expenses. There have been plenty of articles written on vehicle route optimization and the use of software. In this article I will try to take it a step further and show proof that route optimization software’s work in addition to providing other ideas and or suggestions to create optimized routes.

 

Am I an expert?

Would I consider myself a route optimization expert? It depends on how you would define an expert. I guess at this point I would consider myself maybe not an expert but pretty darned close. I have been in transportation for many years now and I once drove a garbage truck. I was trained on my route by being shown which way to go. Oh there were archaic maps done in pencil from a few years earlier but that was it. Every day I went home and created map printouts and then highlighted the streets that I was responsible for. I was told that if I did nothing but right turns and turnarounds I would eventually come back to my starting point.

 

Right turns

Interestingly enough right turns and turnarounds seemed to work. What I didn’t know at the time was that this is actually a successful technique in route optimization. Businessweek had an article on March 5, 2007 entitled “How Technology Delivers for UPS.” I think that an excerpt says it all:

“Not so long ago, UPS drivers worked off maps, 3-x-5 note cards, and their own memory to figure out the best way to run their routes. That changed in 2005 when UPS began to implement a $600 million route optimization system–think MapQuest on steroids–that each evening maps out the next day’s schedule for the majority of its 56,000 drivers. So sophisticated is the software that it designs each route to minimize the number of left turns, thus reducing the time and gas that drivers waste idling at stoplights.

UPSs innovation is an example of how technology can help companies capture institutional knowledge about their customers. Before, when a truck loader or driver walked out the door, the package- loading techniques or route tips they’d developed over the years usually walked out with them. Now that knowledge is accessible in a central system. That eases the burden on substitute drivers and shortens the training time for new ones, lessening the chances of a lapse in customer service. There’s no question the new system has enabled UPS to run its routes more efficiently. In November alone the company’s drivers logged 3 million fewer miles than they did the year before.”

If that isn’t enough proof about right hand turns then just search for “Mythbusters- Right Turn Only MiniMyth” and see where the folks at Mythbusters actually tested this and confirmed that even with more miles driven (as was the case in their test) making right turns resulted in using less fuel.

Right turns not only increase efficiency by reducing fuel consumption, but they also increase safety for the driver and other vehicles on the road, given that the driver no longer has to face oncoming traffic.

 

Is there a faster way?

There were many times that I wondered if there was a faster/shorter way to run the route but always being up against the time clock I seldom ventured out to try a different way. Most all of us drivers had nothing even close to resembling a route book or route map. We all knew our routes like the back of our hands but when somebody was sick and we had to fill in on another route that was a whole different story. Some guys were lucky with a shorter route or fewer stops and some were not. I went through 2 route changes while I was a driver where the route manager decided to shake things up a bit and split up a couple of routes. I didn’t mind the old routes seeing as I was getting about 20 hours per week overtime. Then the boss quit.

 

Manager time

After I was promoted to be a manager, one of my many tasks was route planning. I knew how to find my way around pretty good but fixing our routes and our ongoing issue of overtime was a whole different story. Wall maps and markers became my new friends. I would have the drivers come in after their shift and “try” to make portions of their existing routes into smaller pieces so that they could tell me how long it took to run. The thought was to put these smaller pieces together to create new even routes. After a couple of weeks it was quite obvious that my idea wasn’t going anywhere.

The internet had all of my answers just waiting me to search for them. A couple of demo’s later I had learned new words like “high-density”, “GIS“, and “geocoding.” After the whole procurement process, I had hired the company that I now work for to fix my routing issues. Granted using the software worked there were a lot of issues that needed to be fixed prior to letting it do its thing. It seemed like every customer service representative spelled all the streets differently in the database. Why can’t databases have a built in spell checker? To assist in the whole route optimization process, I cleaned up the database. I hated it at the time but now a few years later I have found that many databases are a mess and there are plenty that are worse off than mine was.

Putting the customers on the map was the next thing that needed to get fixed prior to letting the route optimization software perform its magic. I lived in a very rural area that part of which hadn’t even heard of the new 9/11 laws for addressing. In fact part of our customers used postal rural route addresses. If you know anything about geocoding, look to see how well it works to geocode a postal rural route address. Ultimately, a good GPS device and a lot of patience was all I needed to get those customers on the map.

 

Magic Software

Now that we had a clean database and I had a “dot on the map” for all of my customers, we were ready to see the magic of the route optimization software. I must say that I was impressed with the parameters that were used, some of which I hadn’t even thought of. I had to answer all sorts of questions:

  • How long does it take to dump at the landfill?
  • What breaks do you drivers get?
  • What about pre and post trip inspections?
  • How many tons do your trucks hold?
  • How many pounds of trash do your customers set-out?
  • How long does it take at each stop?
  • Etc…

All of the questions answered, I waited as they created my new routes. I used the service bureau option where they did all of the work and it was at least for us cheaper as we did not need to purchase a license for the software.

Soon, I was in possession of our new routes and route maps. It took the drivers a couple of weeks to get used to the new routes but after that just like magic our overtime woes were gone.

 

Men’s Hair Club

Much in the way that the Men’s Hair Club slogan used to be “I’m not only the Hair Club president, I’m also a Client” my slogan is “I’m not only a … employee, I’m a client.” After implementing the routes we literally eliminated our entire overtime issue. I had done what was to be done and still sane afterwards. I decided to move back west and I offered my services to the company that was my savior and had ended my routing troubles. They were happy to have me.

 

Other side of the computer screen

It has been a couple of years now and I really wish I could add up the money that my company and I have saved our clients. I know that I could have retired on the money that just one of them saved in the first year or implementation! It is great to have a product that I use that I know works.

When you look to route optimization, think of the intangibles that the company you select can provide to you. Are you dealing with fast tongued sale people or people that actually use the software? Will the software salesman know what it is like to actually take the output maps and have to go out on a route to use them?

There are other ways to save money and optimize your whole operation. I am a huge advocate of the four day per week collection schedule. Just look at the non-collecting time spent by employees. There are required by law to perform a pre and post trip every day. That is a minimum of 30 minutes for each route each day. Switch from a five day per week collection to a four day per week collection and there are 30 minutes saved for each route. There are still cities in this country that collect trash twice per week. You will never prove to me that this isn’t a waste. General industry thumb rules show that 60% of the customers will set-out for the first collection of the week and only 40% will set-out for the second collection of the week. What does all of this mean? Simply put, your trucks drive by 40% of the customers the first collection and 60% the second. That is a lot of driving to just collect 40% of your customers. I have heard every rational for twice per week collection but it just comes down to politics.

Route optimization software that can optimize the number of times or at what point in a route the truck geos to the landfill to dump can save you additional time. As an ex garbage truck driver, I always went to the landfill when I could no longer pack any more trash into my truck. Was that the optimal point in the route for me to go? I would have had no clue but the software does.

When I was trying to figure out my old routes they were for rear-loaders. Trying to mentally figure out the routes out when they require a pass for each side of the street with the new automated side-loaders is even more difficult. Granted I can do it in my head now, but it still is easier to let the software figure that out.

Times have changed and the so has technology. That being said, Route Optimization isn’t just using software; although that is the biggest piece of it. Management plays an essential role in how they set policies and make decisions. Day changes are generally a taboo subject when dealing with route optimization, but must of the time the current collection days are not optimized and they require more trucks to run on some days and less on others. This is sometimes hard to sell to a city council or a board of directors but a strong commitment by management can prove that it is worth the trouble.

 

Like I said, Route Optimization is more than software; it is a way of thinking.

 

©Bob Roberts 2010

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2011 in Route Optimization