TIMMINS, Ont. – The Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada (FERIC) is developing a Virtual Transportation Manager (VTM) that can plan forest hauling routes for log haulers.
The project is aimed at using the Internet to reduce hauling costs through better routing and vehicle optimization. At the same time, it will reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions and allow forestry companies to better mange their inventories, according to FERIC’s Jean Favreau.
“The VTM is a dispatching system used to dispatch trucks on a regional basis,” Favreau said at FERIC’s recent transportation conference – Keeping Costs in Check: From the Forest to the Mill.
The VTM will ideally reduce the number of trucks required, but with the impending driver shortage Favreau said that shouldn’t create a backlash among contractors. The VTM is still in the early stages of development and won’t be operational until 2007, he said.
In addition to the driver shortage, Favreau said there are many other reasons for creating a VTM. Transportation accounts for 50 per cent of wood costs and haul distances are constantly increasing. There’s a need for trucking companies to do more backhauling in the forestry sector and the VTM can help organize this. Also, new hours-of-service rules also make it more important to better manage routes.
“It’s getting more and more difficult to complete a haul in 10-12 hours,” Favreau pointed out.
Owner/operators and fleet managers should welcome the development because although there may be fewer trucks required, they will also benefit from the technology, Favreau said.
Reduced fuel consumption, increased backhauling, reduced wait times and better communications are a few of the benefits that will be realized by trucking companies, he added.
The VTM is a complex program to develop. Currently, two universities are working on creating the algorithm for the program. FERIC is managing the project and looking for firms to host the VTM. Industrial partners are also required to provide information and test the virtual manager.
“It’s a real challenge to develop this – it’s not an easy task,” admitted Favreau. “We have to resolve the complex routing problems in a forest hauling context. We also have to change the traditional way of thinking for truckers and owner/operators.”
A similar program, known as Kok-Web exists in Sweden, and FERIC is loosely basing its program on it.
If the VTM can reduce hauling costs by as little as five per cent, than the forestry industry could realize savings of $150 million per year, Favreau said.
“That’s the potential for a VTM system,” he said, adding other VTM’s have resulted in haul cost savings ranging from five to 15 per cent.
Whether or not the system will work remains to be seen. Trucking and forestry companies would have to be willing to share their routes with competitors in some cases to better manage their operations. Also, members of the VTM would have to decide how to best set rates.
But those are small challenges given the scope of the project.