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6 challenges transport managers face when planning milk collection routes

Balázs Bakos
April 17, 2020

Managing and planning milk collection routes at dairy companies is not a trivial task. People dealing with this task need to make sure they can manage various types of inputs and demands from key stakeholders such as farmers, hauliers and factory people. They are often faced with a balancing act between the optimal solution and an ever changing environment. In our short article we will list 6 main challenges these people have to deal with on a daily basis.

Juggling with many aspects

Regardless of the size of their operation, transport experts need to deal with large numbers of suppliers, know their exact locations in sometimes remote areas and know how to reach them from various factories. Not to mention road limitations (e.g. height, weight) that they must be aware of before sending any truck to those farmers to pick up the daily milk amount. There are farmers you need to visit on a daily basis while some others can be visited every second or third day. This all depends on the storage capacity on the farm and daily production of their herd. Cows at the farms are not machines hence the daily production can vary depending on many factors such as weather, calving, diseases just to name a few. Also milk amounts may change with time based on a number of factors like changing customer demand, outages, factory extension, etc. Good planning experts have to deal with all these changing parameters.

You have to be a map (GIS) expert with good computation capacity

Once you have all the data you must come up with a plan that includes all milk collection routes. These routes have to respect opening hours of both the farmers and factories, road limitations as mentioned above and make sure they are optimised from an overall cost point of view. Coming up with the right plan often requires many iterations and sometimes the need to consider specific requirements from farmers and/or hauliers. For example, a certain farmer may need to be visited first regardless of the longer opening hours or a certain hailer may have a limitation on a daily maximum distance they can run with a truck. All in all, the planning and optimisation task becomes a complex one which needs many iterations and exception handling to find the optimal plan.  

Cost structure

An optimised plan should fulfil various needs and demands from different stakeholders and at the same time be cost effective. Transport managers are always keen to understand the average money spent on every kilogram (or litre) of milk brought to the factory. This number can change in time as production changes at the supplier (farmers) and/or factory side. Experts often want to understand the reasons behind the change and drill down to certain parts of the plan. For example, to see what this figure looks like for different routes in one plan or to compare factories, to name but a few examples. In good planning exercises, understanding the detailed cost structure of a milk collection plan is a critical aspect of the daily job.

Revisiting plans

While there are many changing parameters, good planners can equally recognise patterns. Hence they can start from an existing plan, do small modification and thus create a new, up to date plan. This type of approach can reduce workload and planners can come with a good plan quicker. Essentially this means that experts should have a good practice in place to store their plans and when needed, quickly find the relevant plans.

Comparing actuals with the plan

Whether a plan is good or not can only be judged after it is compared with the actuals. Planning experts should routinely compare optimised plans with actuals to understand how big the delta is and do so without adding too much extra workload to their daily route. This type of comparison can greatly improve best practices and ultimately lead to better planning and performance.

Business continuity

Milk collection is a critical business process in dairy operations. Planning and running those operations require knowledgeable people and good practices. A critical aspect is to ensure that when someone is on sick leave or out of office, others can follow the same practices easily without disrupting the daily milk collection processes.

Pls. check out more about possible solutions for planning and optimising milk collection routes.

We at Zoosh are very proud of helping people at the dairy industry with our intelligent milk collection solution.