Thursday 20th Oct 2016 - Logistics Manager

TNT picks DLoG for tug terminals

Express operator TNT has introduced a system using DLoG vehicle mounted terminals on its tugs to manage the movement trailers at its parcel hubs.

Systems support manager Mick Spragg says: “Ten years ago, we operated just two main hubs at Northampton and Atherstone and employed a manual system to control all on-site trailer movements.

“It was based on a modified taxi dispatcher system, with individually allocated moves. However, as the volume of business grew with the opening of our Kingsbury facility, we looked to automate the process – subsequently developing our first general management system in conjunction with AEG. This interfaced with an updated dispatcher system, which relayed instructions by radio to the tugs used to position the trailers at the required bays on the side of the building.”

The system eliminated the need for typed instructions, but some niggling shortcomings soon became apparent, notably an unacceptably high number of data drop-outs over the network. This led Spragg and his colleagues to investigate the implementation of an RF-based system using more ‘rugged’ terminals mounted in the tug cabs.

“Again, the solution was good in theory,” says Spragg. “But the terminals available at the time were simply not robust enough to cope with the conditions they were operating in. Vibration is the main issue. Most of our tugs have rigid suspension and we found that components would literally be shaken off the terminals’ motherboards in just a few months. None of them lasted for more than a year, but it wasn’t a functionality problem – simply a matter of finding terminals that were tough enough to withstand the punishment they endured in service.”

Following a demonstration of the MPC series of vehicle-mounted terminals, DLoG was selected as one of four suppliers to provide hardware for a 12-month extended evaluation programme at TNT’s recently opened Lount site. “Given our previous experiences, durability was certainly one of our key evaluation criteria – as was vendor support,” says Spragg. “Other important factors included build quality, equipment cost, warranty and fitness for purpose.

An initial 25 MPC terminals were fitted to tugs at TNT’s four national sortation centres: Northampton, Lount in Leicestershire, Atherstone and Kingsbury in Staffordshire. A further four units subsequently added to the fleet as business levels continued to grow at each site.

Operators are automatically logged on to the system as soon as they switch on the tug’s ignition and required moves are issued from the central management system directly to the onboard MPC terminal. Each move is broken down into five categories: offered, accepted, POB (passenger on board – reflecting the company’s original taxi-based system), STC (soon to clear) and complete.

“We have recently extended the system’s functionality to validate that trailers are positioned correctly at the appropriate bay before considering a move to be complete,” says Spragg. “Within a second of finishing a task, the next move will be displayed on the terminal’s screen, providing an uninterrupted flow of work that enables tugs to complete up to 100 separate trailer movements each during a shift.”

The terminals run on Cisco wireless LANs at each site and reflect TNT’s drive for standardisation across all of its worldwide operations.

“It simplifies maintenance and enables direct substitution of hardware if a unit does happen to go down,” says Spragg. “Not that we’ve experienced any real problems with the MPC equipment, or needed much support from DLoG since the units were installed. We confidently expect the terminals to achieve the five-year target service life we’ve set for them.

“What’s more, on the basis of their performance to date, we have already specified two new DLoG IPC 7 units with 15-inch screens for static applications at our Kingsbury site. We’re also planning to add two more MPCs to the tug fleet in the near future. In a business where you are only as good as your last delivery, dependable systems are central to the company’s ongoing success.”