Smoothing the flow
Anglian Water serves about six million industrial, commercial and domestic users across East Anglia and the East Midlands, covering 27,000km2 - from the Humber to the Thames and from Milton Keynes to the East coast. Paragon software is keeping it on track.According to Anglian Water's special projects manager, Les Johnson, its primary focus "is to deliver high-quality drinking water and wastewater services, together with a total commitment to sustainable development".
Anglian Water completes around 2,000 sludge tanker collections a week, taking 45,000m3 of wastewater products from 1,076 local WwTWs, many in rural locations, with delivery to 25 treatment centres for further processing.
Having introduced Paragon Software Systems' scheduling software, Anglian Water now has a fully automated planning system which, says Johnson, "has undoubtedly exceeded our expectations in cutting transport costs and planning times".
Like other water companies, Anglian Water faces several complex logistical challenges. In managing the distribution process, the sludge destined for a treatment centre has to be blended. As a result, planning has to ensure the right quantities of each type of wastewater product are delivered to ensure the correct balance.
"Equally, we have to make collections in a timely manner, in order to ensure other parts of the Anglian Water business are able to meet compliance criteria laid down by the Environment Agency (EA)," says Johnson. "Failure to meet these strict regulatory demands can result in financial penalties from the EA or Ofwat."
Anglian Water recognised the need to move to a more automated planning process, if it was to improve efficiencies throughout the operation. Previously, a schedule was created weekly at its central control office in Cambridge. "This took two days to complete," recalls Johnson, "and relied heavily on individual experience and knowledge.
"In moving away from an essentially manual process, we were keen to automate the mundane repetitive elements of the task. Although operator experience and skill remained important, we also wanted to take away the mystique surrounding the planning process."
In line with its strict procurement process, Anglian Water looked at what the market had to offer and selected Paragon's multi-depot software with integrated fleets capability as best-suited to planning and managing its waste logistics operations across the region.
"Paragon offered a strong off-the-shelf package with the right functionality," he says. "At the same time, the company had a reputation as the established market leader, and clearly understood what we wanted. And, critically, it was prepared to support the product and develop it to further meet our demanding requirements both now and in the future."
Initial implementation was undertaken at the same time as the development by the internal IT team of data capture and data transfer systems, designed to automate the complete end-to-end planning and scheduling process.
At the outset, Anglian Water explained its requirements in order for Paragon to tailor the ideal solution. "What rapidly became clear to us during this process was just how complicated the process was in balancing treatment centre delivery with collection times and frequencies," recalls Johnson.
Several key operational issues had to be addressed including:
- The 42 waste management vehicles comprise a variety of sizes and types, and several rural sites have restrictions as to access and collection times
- Vehicles are not based centrally but at 30-plus outlying locations, not all of which are treatment centres - a depot may be a treatment centre, local source works or vehicle out-base
Though Anglian Water began to derive significant benefit almost immediately, one important aspect of the implementation has been the joint commitment to continuously refine the system in response to the client's evolving needs.
"In common with other Paragon clients, over the past two years our dedicated support and development teams have continued to work with Anglian Water to make adjustments necessary to streamline and maximise cost-savings within its operation," says Charles Nockold, Paragon's marketing and business development director.
Treatment centres frequently suffer technical problems that can suddenly take them out of commission. When a treatment centre suddenly goes down, it is essential that Anglian Water knows where its transport resources are in order to respond effectively.
Using Paragon software, Anglian Water has greater visibility of the fleet, enabling the planning team to make informed decisions based on actual resource allocation and use. Anglian Water can also make better and faster decisions - it can see the impact that any decision will have on revenue.
Anglian Water's workload fluctuates, with regular peaks and troughs. In response, the fleet is sized to be always busy, with the result that a part of the work is sub-contracted to deal with peaks in demand.
Previously, in some weeks, as much as 30% of the work might be sub-contracted. With the scheduling improvements achieved with Paragon, this has been cut substantially and currently runs at around the budgeted level of 18%.
And this represents a significant saving - £2,000 a week or £100,000 annually - compared with the previous financial performance delivery through manual scheduling processes.
Also, when emergency tankering arrangements have to be made in response to a problem, the increased visibility of the vehicle fleet means it is much more likely that it can be dealt with without recourse to costly third-party transport.
There has been an improvement of circa 2.5% in driver performance against budget, and a decrease of greater than 50% in planning time each week, which is now undertaken in a way more closely aligned to the new automated process.
Anglian Water operates a rolling collection programme and is currently introducing Paragon's Multi Period Planner tool, as it looks to extend planning over a four-weekly cycle.
"Multi Period Planner is a tool which enables users such as Anglian Water to plan schedules for longer periods," explains Nockold. "It is ideally suited where delivery frequencies vary between customers, smoothing the workload across the period, at the same time respecting permitted delivery patterns."
Johnson agrees, adding: "Some of our sites collect 15 loads per week, whereas others may be just once every six months. A longer period will thus enable us to plan more effectively: ultimately we anticipate building a rolling programme that incorporates the final 8% of collections not currently included."
Johnson is delighted with the positive way the relationship with Paragon has been established. "We have benefited from the proactive way the planning and scheduling package has been enhanced, to meet precisely the unique and demanding requirements of the water treatment industry in general, and Anglian Water in particular," he says.
The company encourages its schedulers to have a healthy scepticism in implementing change. But it has recognised Paragon as providing a valuable tool in helping it provide a better service to the company and its customers.
Drivers too have a wealth of knowledge and a training programme is under way to explain to them how Paragon works, and ensure their full buy-in to the automated planning and scheduling process.
The haulage service provided by the internal Anglian Water team has been benchmarked successfully against external suppliers as part of parent company AWG's competitive tendering project.
"As part of a broad programme of IT investment, Paragon's scheduling capability has proved central to our ability to deliver the most cost-effective solution to AWG and so maintain the service in-house," says Johnson.