CHICAGO — AmeriPride Linen & Uniform Services, headquartered in Minnetonka, Minn., provides linen and towels, uniforms, floor mats, and restroom and cleaning supplies to nearly 150,000 customers across the United States and Canada, according to Ben Saukko, spokesperson for AmeriPride and Canadian Linen.
“We are recognized as one of the largest textile rental and supply companies in North America,” he says.
Those goods are processed at more than 115 production facilities and service centers.
And that means a lot of pickups and deliveries. Saukko says that AmeriPride’s fleet includes 2,000 vehicles.
How does a company with so many goods to be picked up and delivered, and so many vehicles, keep track of it all? How does it do it efficiently, both in terms of service and energy use?
“At AmeriPride, we believe that efficient pickup and delivery is achieved as a result of our newer vehicles, our eco-friendly technology, better planning and comprehensive training and service management,” says Saukko.
AmeriPride’s delivery model offers laundry and linen service companies that pick up and deliver goods some ideas for creating a more efficient delivery service—from the fleet to technology to driver training.
Of AmeriPride’s 2,000 vehicles, Saukko says that 45% have been replaced since 2010, giving the company one of the newer fleets in the industry.
One of the recent fleet enhancements that have boosted efficiency and reduced its carbon footprint includes using mid-sized sedans instead of cargo vans, which has improved fuel economy from 12 mpg to 29 mpg, he says. Also, the route service team generally makes deliveries using step vans, and AmeriPride’s service managers drive fuel-efficient sedans.
Enhancements to larger delivery vehicles have also boosted efficiency, according to Saukko. Placing trailer skirting on all semi-trailers has increased mileage efficiency by 5.3% for the company.
“Adopting aerodynamic double-decker trailers has allowed us to carry 60% more product per shuttle run and increase fuel economy by 1.2 mpg,” adds Saukko.
The company has also programmed all delivery vehicles to shut off when idling for more than a few minutes, reducing CO2 emissions by 7,196 tons since 2012, he says.
AmeriPride is also going the hybrid/alternate fuel route when it comes to its delivery vehicles.
Saukko says the company is in the process of incorporating 36 compressed natural gas (CNG) trucks (including 20 new in Vancouver), 26 XL Hybrid™ vehicles (including six cargo vans and 20 step vans), three hydraulic hybrid trucks, 14 propane-fueled trucks and one all-electric delivery truck into its fleet.
“We are adding nine more all-electric delivery trucks to our fleet,” he says.
“AmeriPride is absolutely committed to the environment and expanding our alternative fuels program across the company,” says Bill Evans, president and CEO of AmeriPride. “The company has a strong track record of piloting and incorporating new technology into our delivery operations. We are setting a new standard for clean operations in our industry and continue to invest resources to leverage and help advance green technologies.”
The company’s latest, the new CNG vehicles, are manufactured by Freightliner Custom Chassis and Morgan Olson, with the conversion completed by Green Alternative Systems. The vehicles are powered by a General Motors 6L engine, and the tanks have 52 usable gallons of capacity.
Compressed natural gas is a cleaner-burning fuel that is produced almost completely in North America, according to Saukko. It produces fewer carbon emissions and lowers exposure to fuel price rate increases.
The CNG vehicles are expected to result in 24% less carbon emissions as compared to similar diesel vehicles.
It’s no secret that the laundry and linen services industry has been moving forward in terms of technology and software. That includes advances on the delivery side of the business.
AmeriPride uses both a specialized delivery optimization team as well as routing software, Saukko says.
“Our delivery optimization team works with local service personnel to restructure routes to reduce miles and increase the stops each service representative can complete during the workday, eliminating 359,000 excess miles each year,” he says. “We also use GPS telematics technology to track our vehicles, and routing software, which will reduce mileage by 5% year over year.”
Richard Warren, president of Linen King in Conway, Ark., says there are many programs in existence that will calculate the shortest distance between points. However, he says the routes provided by the programs will probably be “perfect” examples of the routes the drivers take in the first place.
“What is more practical is tracking the truck by satellite or cell towers,” he says. “Then it can be seen if the truck veers off the obvious route, the speed of the unit, whether the truck is idling too long. You would also be able to determine some personal driving habits, speed in parking lots, and, heaven forbid, if the truck is stolen, you will know exactly where it is.”
Eric Smith, director of sales and marketing for Alliant Systems, a provider of route accounting and mobile computing applications for textile rental operators, says today’s textile rental services environment is more competitive than ever. The availability of systems that collect data—from GPS tracking to merchandise control to electronic invoicing—allows companies to not only collect data, but to also make more informed decisions on what to do with that data, he says.
“While we would caution textile rental operators to not let data decisions alone drive decisions relative to customer relationships, we believe the ability to track information and supply managers with timely and key information regarding exceptions and certain types of transactions will allow them to manage routes more effectively and efficiently,” Smith says.
Advancements in technology, particularly in mobile computing, continue to drive new functionality on the route, Smith says. He adds that most mobile devices carried on the route today are on data plans, allowing for the immediate delivery of signed invoices to the customer.
Smith goes on to say that improvements in Bluetooth scanning technology allows operators to perform bar-code and/or RFID scanning functions on the route in less time, with options to immediately e-mail customers a summary of items delivered, picked up or those that require special attention.
“Creating automated pre-route and post-route checklists that automatically prompt the route service rep for a required response can also simplify daily tasks,” says Smith. “Automating these tasks makes it simpler for a substitute route service rep that may need to step in and run a route.”
Saukko says AmeriPride’s drivers use handheld technology to efficiently manage customer accounts in real time, and its service managers have tablets with exclusive account management technology to make the best use of their time.
Saukko says the company is also introducing Inthinc™ safety technology, which verbally coaches drivers on safe and efficient driving practices while they are on the road.
“This technology has resulted in a 98% decrease in speeding, a 98% increase in seat belt use, a 95% reduction in idling and a 71% decrease in aggressive driving behavior since its implementation in 2014,” he says.
“I think we need to give our drivers some credit in knowing where they are and their ability to make decisions as conditions change, instead of micromanaging their activities,” Warren says. “That said, we could all use some help with docking procedures, maneuvering in customers’ parking lots, avoiding left turns, etc.”
While AmeriPride has made substantial investments in its fleet operations to reduce energy consumption and its carbon footprint, such as by replacing vehicles and also employing new technologies, the company also promotes awareness and behavioral change among drivers to increase safety and fuel economy, according to Saukko.
“We thoroughly train our drivers and service managers to understand and operate our fleet and technologies in a way that results in efficient, high-quality service for our customers,” he says. “Driver turnover makes training on new technology and efficient delivery practices a challenge. We place a strong emphasis on ongoing training and education so our personnel fully understand our fleet and technology, enabling them to use it in the most efficient way possible.
“For a company as big as ours that has over 115 production facilities and service centers, it is a challenge to ensure that our delivery operations are standardized across the organization and all locations are operating in the most efficient way possible. We have a large-scale initiative to ‘simplify, standardize and automate’ across the company to ensure we are taking full advantage of all the tools we have in place.”
Saukko says office staff and drivers maintain clear lines of communication with each other via phone, handhelds and tablet technology. In addition, the Inthinc technology reports driver data to management to ensure AmeriPride’s standards for safety and efficiency are being met.
The human side of the delivery equation is vital because most consumers’ experience with a textile rental company is driven by their relationship with the route service representative (RSR), says Smith. Today’s reps are tasked not only with providing prompt and accurate deliveries in a professional manner, but are also asked to manage customer relationships and to proactively identify customer needs. Many route service representatives are strong in managing the customer experience but struggle to keep up with all of the paperwork and manual tasks associated with running a successful route.
He says that eliminating tasks such as manual invoice adjustment and expediting route check-in and settlement is a key area where technology can have a significant impact on the route.
Training is a key component of implementing mobile computing, Smith says.
“Office personnel will see a shift away from invoice adjustment, manually settling routes and filing hard-copy invoice forms,” he says. “From an RSR’s perspective, their job becomes less about paperwork and manual adjustments and frees them up to manage their customers.”
A typical training for a rep would be to have them run their route manually with paper and then meet with them as soon as they check in, Smith says. The rep is then presented with a mobile device with that same day’s invoices where they are asked to replicate everything they did on the route that day. Typically, the route service representative is ready to move forward on the mobile device immediately.
“RSRs that are great with customers but have difficulty with managing paperwork will excel in a mobile computing environment,” he says.
And to excel is what every laundry and linen services company wants in both processing and delivery.
Saukko reiterates that when AmeriPride achieves efficient pickup and delivery, it excels because of its newer vehicles, eco-friendly technology, better planning and comprehensive training and service management.