This article was published in the September issue of Global Cement in 2019.
Algorithms are a major efficiency driver for logistics assets in the cement industry. However, many producers still lose traction when it comes to creating optimal shift schedules for their human assets. This article will explore latest developments and technology in workforce management and discuss how they can be applied across the cement sector.
■ by Dirk Schlemper and Thomas Bergmans, INFORM GmbH, Germany
In the old days, shifting gears was hard work. Back then, commercial trucks came with unsynchronized manual transmissions and drivers had to use a method called “double-clutching” to prevent damage to the vehicle’s gearbox during shifting. It took some timing and practice, and it came at the expense of extra work for your left leg. Today, auto-shift gearboxes are commonplace in heavy trucks, and changing gears requires virtually no effort at all from drivers. However, when it comes to manage shift work, many manufacturing companies still use old technology that is neither suited to synchronize the competing interest of employee needs and operational objectives, nor provide the planning comfort or intuitive logic of the latest workforce management tools. This often results in expensive overtime, non-productive idle times, lower employee morale, poor customer service, and, worst case, loss of production. Failing to adequately schedule your workforce can become extremely costly in the long-run. Before we’ll review some potential application areas and benefits within the cement industry, let’s take a look under the hood to explore the basic technology that powers the latest workforce management tools.
Not all gearboxes are built the same, which is why there’s a myriad of different and often confusing brand names. The same applies to workforce management: Rostering, staff scheduling, employee logistics, shift planning, resource planning... Almost every organisation has a different term and approach. Employee logistics, however, is quite a fitting term since the latest workforce management tools are based on the same technology that has been deployed in the building materials industry for over 25 years to optimise the use of logistics assets: Operations Research (OR) and algorithms. In the mid-1990s, Redlands in France (now LafargeHolcim) was an early adopter in the aggregates and ready-mix business. Six years later, Hanson Australia (part of the HeidelbergCement Group), followed. Both have been using algorithms, real-time information and automated decision-making to run their fleets of trucks ever since.
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