Magazine Article | October 23, 2006

Driving Dispatch Efficiencies With GPS

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

A solution built around a global positioning system (GPS) has bolstered Heubel Material Handling’s labor utilization by 15%.

Integrated Solutions, November 2006

Brian Richardson can tell you a thing or two about the logistical challenges of managing a field service department. Richardson is director of aftermarket operations for Heubel Material Handling Inc., which is based in Kansas City, MO. Heubel provides companies in the manufacturing and distribution industries with material handling equipment and equipment services. Richardson’s department offers equipment maintenance and repair services to Heubel’s customers through a fleet of about 73 field service technicians.

About three years ago, management became convinced that Heubel had reached a plateau in terms of improving its service business. “Geography was a major obstacle for us,” Richardson says. The company services about 9,000 pieces of equipment, primarily forklift trucks, in a territory that spans 3,500 square miles and covers all or part of seven different U.S. states. Many facilities within this territory are situated outside metropolitan areas; others are in large, heavily trafficked cities. Such disparity made dispatching technicians in an efficient way a difficult task. In turn, customers weren’t always provided with the level of service Heubel would have liked. Additionally, the steady growth the company was experiencing created a need to add more technicians.


In late 2003, the company considered deploying an add-on wireless field service application for cellular telephones, but other issues compelled management to set the project aside until July 2004, when it was once again addressed. However, concern about the dearth of cellular towers in rural areas and limited cellular coverage inside some buildings eventually sparked a decision not to move forward with the technology.

By fall 2004, Heubel was ready to consider another option: a solution built around a GPS. Based on feedback from other dealers, it chose GeoManager, an on-demand mobile resource management (MRM) solution from @Road. Beginning in November 2004 and continuing through January 2005, the company installed the @Road iLM (Internet Location Manager) device in each of its vans. The MRM solution uses built-in GPS devices to deliver data to the GeoManager application. Data is accessed at Heubel’s corporate headquarters through the Internet, via an application service provider (ASP) model.

“The biggest benefit of @Road GeoManager is its effectiveness in allowing Heubel to keep close tabs on technicians and, in turn, improve customer service while better handling the flow of jobs and calls,” Richardson says. Every 15 minutes, supervisors log on to the system to access and download reports detailing the position of each van, arrival and departure times at each job, mileage, time spent in traffic, and more. Archived records containing such information are used to analyze routes and travel patterns and to make any necessary adjustments.

A feature called GeoManager Mapview enables supervisors to handle calls for last-minute service by inputting the customer’s addresses into the system. A map then displays the location of the five vehicles currently situated nearest the site. The technician chosen to head to the call is contacted via a Nextel two-way telephone using DirectConnect.

“With the GPS and the information it generates, we’re able to monitor technicians far more closely, making certain everyone reports to and leaves job sites at the correct time,” Richardson notes. “We also can dispatch technicians more efficiently. The end result is more timely completion of jobs, an easier time of justifying invoices to customers, and the billing out of more hours. Just as important, technicians like the technology; we haven’t lost one tech since the deployment. And despite taking on more work, we haven’t had to add many technicians at all. At the end of 2004, we had 69 on staff; we now have 73.”

In the first full year following the rollout, Richardson adds, Heubel achieved a 7.8% increase in gross margin, a 15% increase in labor utilization, a 16% increase in overall sales, and a 14% increase in labor sales per technician. The company’s gross margin rose by another 3.5% in 2005, and labor utilization was up by 5%. Year-to-date sales statistics for 2006 point to an 18% increase over figures recorded in 2005.