Independent foodservice distributor Pate Dawson Company of Goldsboro North Carolina incorporates technology into its fleet warehousing and business operations to continually evolve and grow To improve fleet utilization and efficiency which averages some 75000 miles weekly it recently added automated fleet management systems and mobile computing technology

Independent foodservice distributor Pate Dawson Company of Goldsboro, North Carolina, incorporates technology into its fleet, warehousing, and business operations to continually evolve and grow. To improve fleet utilization and efficiency, which averages some 75,000 miles weekly, it recently added automated fleet management systems and mobile computing technology

Technology drives efficiencies, cost savings at Pate Dawson

Founded in 1885 as a retail grocery operation in Wayne County, North Carolina, Pate Dawson Company is one of the largest and most progressive independent foodservice distributors in the southeast.

Headquartered in Goldsboro, North Carolina, about an hour’s ride southeast of Raleigh, it uses a mixed fleet of all-refrigerated vehicles to serve independent restaurants, chain accounts, and other hospitality operators.

It distributes such center of plate food products as meats, seafood, and pork; beverages; frozen foods; dry and canned goods; fresh produce; and other ingredients, along with paper products, cleaning supplies, and kitchen equipment.

The forth generation family-owned business has experienced significant growth over each of the past five years.

Last year, annual revenue was $220 million, about four times that of 2001. It was ranked the 26th largest foodservice distributor in the nation.

Company officials attribute these accomplishments to the quality of its people, hard work, and taking advantage of opportunities to continually improve and grow.

International is Pate Dawson’s truck of choice. Five straight trucks are non-CDL (commercial drivers license) model DuraStar 4300s with Kidron refrigerated bodies and Thermo King refrigeration units. Twenty daycabs are TranStar 8600 models. The 22 sleeper tractors are 9200i models.

All have 425 horsepower diesel engines with 10-speed Eaton Fuller manual transmissions. The engines are governed at 65 mpg to help reduce fuel consumption.

Equipment and routes are assigned to the 94 drivers and helpers, of which 44 drivers are driver teams on the sleeper tractors. Drivers are issued uniforms.

Kidron is the predominate supplier of Pate Dawson’s refrigerated trailers, all with air-ride suspensions. The majority are 48- and 53-foot multi-temperature models with movable insulated bulkheads for frozen, refrigerated, and dry products.

Some 28-, 36- and 42-ft refrigerated trailers are part of the fleet. Trailers have Thermo King refrigeration units, with the latest purchases being Whisper models.

Each trailer has two curbside doors with a R-O-M Corporation SidekicK side-door delivery system. A folding ramp stores conveniently in a carrier mounted transversely under the trailer. The ramp wheels easily from door-todoor.

Trailers have rollups doors and a R-O-M Corporation RoadwarrioR retractable safety walkramp.

Pate Dawson’s newer equipment is maintained by a full-service lease from Idealease Truck Rental and Leasing. The leasing company does all preventive maintenance and minor repair work onsite. For major work, vehicles are taken to an Idealease shop.

Initially, Pate Dawson’s fleet was all daycabs, says director of transportation Scott VanLue. As routes expanded, drivers stayed overnight in hotels before sleeper tractors were added.

Typically, the daycab tractor trailers make seven to eight stops per route, he says. The driver teams make from seven to 12 deliveries, usually running four routes per week, being out 16 to 18 hours for each route.

The average number of cases on any 48- or 53-foot trailer is around 1,200, VanLue says, the vast majority of which must be wheeled into customers’ locations with hand carts.

The five straight trucks are used for smaller deliveries, averaging about 15 stops per day. The fleet logs between 74,000 and 76,000 miles per week.

Technology integration

One area of opportunity for improvement within the company has been adapting technology to be more efficient, says Pate Dawson’s director of information technology Mark Grady. Over the past few years the company has added automated fleet management systems and mobile computing technology and upgraded warehousing and inventory management technologies.

Appian Logistics Software’s Direct Route automated route scheduling system can “route stops quickly, efficiently and affordably,” VanLue says. The system automatically builds and optimizes routes by incorporating a wide range of factors, including customer delivery time windows, distances, vehicle capabilities, and dispatch parameters.

To get a better handle on fuel costs, a Cadec fleet management system has been integrated into Pate Dawson’s computerized business systems, adds Grady. The Cadec system combines on-board computer technology, wireless technology, and GPS tracking to monitor drivers and trucks.

These systems have helped Pate Dawson improve fleet efficiency and driver productivity, he says, and that has improved customer service. “Three years ago we were running our trucks with 500 to 600 cases. Now we’re loading them to the max and we’re running fewer routes.” Gains in efficiency also have resulted from pay packages that reward drivers and warehouse workers for their productivity and safety efforts. There are also monthly bonus programs.

“About a year ago we added Cadec’s fully electronic driver log-keeping system to help with compliance to US DOT hours-of-service rules, and our drivers love the system,” VanLue says.

To improve fleet utilization and efficiency, Pate Dawson is setting up an operation with Burris Logistics in Atlanta, Georgia, Grady says. It is shipping loads and staging delivery trucks at a Burris facility. “This will help us cut down our mileage even further.”

Another recent initiative was the integration of a voicedirected warehouse application to replace the manual, paper-based, order-picking processes, says Grady. It has improved productivity and order accuracy and reduced manpower requirements.

The voice-directed picking system is from Lucas Systems, customized for Pate Dawson’s operation. Known as Jennifer, the system communicates with order selectors through a headset with microphone, and a small, wearable voice-enabled computer, using a real female voice, “which is more user friendly than a computerized voice,” he notes.

The system holds a two-way conversation with order selectors, instructing them by voice to a location and the quantity of specific items to pick, explains Grady. The selector verbally acknowledges this using three digits within a five-digit check string printed on each location.

This process improves accuracy by eliminating the misreading of case labels or pick amounts, or going to the wrong bin location or aisle, he says.

Once a pick is confirmed, the system then directs the selector to the next pick.

Voice benefits

“Jennifer has definitely changed things for the better,” says Grady. “It has reduced our picking errors, improved our productivity, and reduced the training time required for new workers.”

“Our error rate was one in every 500 to 600 cases picked,” says Pate Dawson’s warehouse manager Joe Perkins. “Now it’s one in every 12,000 to 13,000 cases.

“There’s also been a tremendous improvement in accuracy.

We used to have at least two mispicks per truck. Since getting Jennifer, we have only one mispick for every 20 trucks. It’s made a big difference for our customers and us.”

Perkins says the system has lowered the company’s redelivery fees. “We figure each mispick costs us about $150.”

The voice-directed warehouse application also has helped increase productivity in the 116,000-sq-ft three-zone (freezer, refrigerated, and dry) warehouse with 7,500 items.

“It has eliminated the need for order selectors to return to an assignment desk to collect their next picking list,” Grady says. “Because it’s a hands-free, paperless process, selectors don’t need to stop to read picking instructions. They listen and speak while moving, a particular benefit for those working in the freezer and refrigerator.”

“Selectors can keep their eyes on product locations and carton labels, rather than continually looking at paperwork,” adds Perkins. “It also frees up both hands to grab items, many of which are heavy or bulky.”

With Jennifer, there is no need to rekey order amendments or do picking confirmations, he adds. Similarly, the recording of catch weights is faster, as these are spoken, rather than written or keyed.

Another benefit of the voice-directed warehouse application is that it has real-time stock updating, allowing immediate action to be taken on replenishment needs and stock discrepancies, says Perkins.

The systems have helped Pate Dawson increase warehouse productivity to the point where order selector workforce has been reduced by about one third, from 33 to 21, Grady notes.

Training aid

When new selectors are hired, their training time is reduced because of verbal prompts from the Lucas Systems voice-directed warehouse application.

“Our training used to take about two weeks,” says Perkins. “Now it’s about two days, and productivity is higher from the get-go because the selector doesn’t have to learn the layout of the warehouse. Jennifer directs him to where he needs to be.”

To set up the voice-activated system, every user has to build a voice template so the system recognizes their voice. The process takes less than an hour.

“With Jennifer, we’re able to do real-time activity reports on our selectors through their shifts,” Perkins says. “We can check on their productivity and accuracy, and see if there are any issues that need addressing.

“We began posting their rankings, and that has created a competitive spirit, further increasing our efficiency.”

Accurate performance

Another recent integration of new technology at Pate Dawson was the addition of Cadec’s DeliverTracker - a handheld out-of-cab barcode scanner.

With this application, all invoices for a route are downloaded into the scanner. At each stop, the driver pulls the appropriate paperwork and scans each item off.

“This helps us further streamline the delivery process, plus makes for more accurate deliveries,” says Grady.

“We’ve gone one step further and are creating a barcode for each customer. When our drivers make a delivery, they pull the items off the truck, then scan the customer’s barcode inside their location, and then scan each case. This assures that the right products get to the customer.”

There are times when a case or two is inadvertently left on a truck or is misplaced at a customer’s facility, he observes.

With all of its fleet managements systems, “we can track everything our drivers do,” says Grady. “By analyzing this information, we can measure how we are doing and can see where there are more opportunities for improvement.”

To improve the fleet’s fuel economy and safety, Pate Dawson recently revamped driver training program, specifically for type of operation and challenges, VanLue says. All drivers are participating in the new program.

Operational challenges

Like all fleets, one of the company’s biggest challenges is keeping drivers.

It has improved driver retention rate, says VanLue, by using personality assessments, a structured interview process, and an all-inclusive orientation program.

“We look for drivers that have the traits we feel are necessary for success here,” he says. “The orientation process is designed to give them a true feel for what to expect, and we pass along worst case scenarios.”

The company also “grows” drivers from within, usually from people in the warehouse or from the drivers of non-CDL trucks. “This has been very effective,” VanLue says, “since they know our operation and what the job is all about.”

Another major challenge is reducing operations costs. In the warehouse, for example, it has replaced the standard warehouse lights with more efficient sodium vapor lamps.

All lamps operate on motion detectors so that the lights dim when no one is working in an area.

It is investigating fuel cell-powered forklifts as an alternative to conventional battery-powered models, says Grady, because they would eliminate the need for recharging, cutting down on electric costs.

The company is always on the lookout for new business and computer systems that can be integrated into its operations.

“Our objective,” Grady says, “is to continually improve how we service our customers.”

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