July 1, 2010
Good Ticketing = Changing the status quo
If it’s not broken, it still might need to be fixed. Here’s how one operation cut down its ticketing time from nearly a minute per truck to about 21 seconds.
By Tina Grady Barbaccia, News/Digital Editor
Before installing new equipment and revising the ticketing process, several operations of Lhoist North America weren’t as efficient as they’d like to be in their ticketing processes.
With nearly 20 mines as the result of a buyout of Franklin Industrial Minerals and Chemical Lime, Lhoist had different ticketing and accounting systems, some of which were inefficient or antiquated. But with close analysis, several of the operations — Texas Aggregates and Brierfield Quarry (see sidebar) in particular — have made changes to their systems that have resulted in significantly improved productivity.
“We are still in the process of merging companies into one cohesive operation,” explains Chip McClellan, director of information technology for Lhoist North America. “It’s a pretty big challenge.”
McClellan, who implemented many of the new systems for Lhoist, installed ticketing software and hardware from JWS, a division of Command Alkon. The software requires very minimal information to get a truck off the scale, which has sped up the ticketing process, he points out. Moreover, installation of a remote printer at the Lhoist Texas Aggregates facility (which was part of Franklin Industrial Minerals) has markedly increased productivity at the operation. The plant now averages more than 530 trucks per day over one scale. Prior to the installation of the new ticketing system, it took 50 to 55 seconds for a truck to enter the scale, have the scale settle, print a ticket, and give it to the driver. After the installation of a remote printer, the operation has been consistently moving a truck off of the scale in about 21 seconds, says Lenard Steglich, sales manager for Texas Aggregates. During one 11-hour shipping day after the new system was installed, the operation set a record of moving 598 trucks over a single scale.
More than 30 percent of contractors say ticketing influences their purchase of aggregates, while one in three says billing is very important.
“I have seen so many places just keep on doing things as they have been and not taking a fresh look at their business practices to see how they could be improved,” Steglich says.
But both Steglich and McClellan knew that there had to be room for improvement at the Texas Aggregates facility. “We only have one scale at that operation,” McClellan says. “One of the problems is that a truck would pull on the scale, the ticket is printed and handed to the driver, and then [he or she] would start talking to the scale master. So we wired a remote printer about 100 yards from the physical scale and hooked up some simple red and green lights.”
Now, as soon as the truck settles on the scale, the weigh master can hit print, turn the light from red to green, and have the truck pull down to the remote printer to pick up the bill. “This has streamlined the ticketing process,” McClellan says. “It reduces the impact of traffic in the plant. In many cases in an aggregates operation, your hauler is your customer because [the hauler] is funneling business your way.
“If they are generating business and coming into your plant, they aren’t going to haul as many loads if a ticket is being handwritten or the driver is sitting on a scale,” he adds. “If they are sitting on a scale, they can’t make as many circuits during the day and then can’t make as much money.”
Revisions in the accounting system, which is tied to the ticketing system, also have improved accuracy and timeliness. Using the new software has allowed the billing to be more accurate, McClellan notes. In addition to changing to the JWS software, the structure of billing also was altered. “We pushed the billing process back down to the local plants instead of being more centralized,” McClellan says. “Initially, we were centralized, but then we started looking at our rates of credits and rebills, and we thought, ‘This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We need to push this back out.’”
Billing for the ticketed loads was at the local plant level, but then moved to the corporate headquarters after Lhoist acquired Texas Aggregates. However, after taking a look at the ticketing and billing processes, it was moved back to the plant. If there is just one location, centralized billing isn’t an issue, McClellan says. But if there are several locations across the country, it may make sense to decentralize, he says.
“It puts the knowledge of the customer and the responsibility for invoicing at the same location,” McClellan says. “The location knows when a load got diverted from one customer to another, but central billing may not know that. Someone dealing with a smaller subset will have a better knowledge of pricing and the daily shipment routines. They are closer to the business and able to make better, more informed decisions, which translate into accuracy and better business relationships. No one likes to get a wrong bill, and this makes the transactions more efficient.” AM
Brierfield Quarry, an operation located just outside Montevallo, Ala., with an annual volume of 1.2 million tons of crushed stone, had been experiencing problems with truck times at the plant being unacceptable for the trucking firms serving the operation. The times were sometimes 20 minutes or longer.
But after adding automation products and streamlining the ticketing process, the operation was able to reduce its average time to less than 10 minutes from the time the truck entered the site to the time it picked up the ticket, explains Scott Killough, sales for JWS, a division of Shawnee, Kansas-based Command Alkon.
Additional benefits to this process included the ability to keep drivers in their vehicles from the time they came on site until they received their ticket and left the property. “This safety feature was very instrumental in the improvement (of) authorization for capital expenditures for new equipment,” Killough says.
The Process: The RFID equipment tags identify each vehicle as it arrives at the site. If the identified vehicle has valid orders in the system, the vehicle then is given a green light to proceed to a touch screen mounted on a stand to pick the desired product.
After being loaded, the vehicle then proceeds to the outbound truck scale and the RFID tag is read again. Once the scale stops motion, the software captures the weight and turns on a green light for the driver to proceed to the printer stand to retrieve the ticket. All of this is done without the driver leaving the vehicle.
“This process has relieved the scale person from physically handling tickets and concentrating on servicing customers calls and managing the truck process in a much more efficient method,” Killough says. “One benefit that was discovered after the effect was that certain trucks could process the loading and ticketing after hours without the scale person having to be on site, as long as there was company personnel available to watch the flow of traffic.”
Killough also notes that the use of laser printers instead of dot matrix printers for delivering tickets has improved the ticketing process. “Using laser printers allowed the purchase of plain bond paper with perforations, one perforation on an 8.5- by 11-inch sheet of paper — two tickets per page — or two perforations for three tickets per page,” Killough explains. “Using laser printers gave much more flexibility for printing information that the customer wanted to see on the ticket.”
For example, some of this flexibility included printing stone quality specifications on certain projects as an extra sheet for the tickets being delivered for a specific project. The clarity of the printing, in addition to being able to print state stamps on tickets, added more customer service value, Killough says.