Blog December 8, 2015

Let the tanks tell you

By Nicola Byers

Allocating tank containers can be a delicate business – operators need to meet safety and regulatory requirements while also increasing fleet utilisation and (ultimately) profits.

Currently, most tank allocation is done manually, which can simply mean that operators don’t always have sufficient information to make the best commercial decisions. Manual decision-making also leaves a margin for human error that could result in costly or even dangerous mistakes.

The solution is to increase the visibility of the entire tank container fleet and pair this with information about each tank’s trading history – to do so, tank asset management software can be invaluable. How?

Doing the tank planning in the system means you can have system validation, better control over the allocation of the tank to the order, and thirdly almost auto-allocating tanks, providing the user with an advised tank for each order selected – the ‘best fit’.

Using an “almost” automated system to allocate tanks also reduces manpower and associated labour costs, saving time and money.

The other benefit is reducing mistakes.  The worst case example might be that you send a tank without the right approvals to America and it will get rejected at the quay.  You would have to move it back or get it tested in the States, which is more expensive than getting it done in China.

MRI Intermodal’s tank allocation software uses system validation to help prevent mistakes like this. Warnings flash up when the operator allocates a tank that is inappropriate for the product to be carried, for example based on classifications or capacity full ratios.

But using an automated system cannot totally replace the expertise and experience of human operators. That is why MRI Intermodal’s tank planning system allows custom business rules to be written into the software that override what the computer might see as the most ‘logical’ tank to be allocated in order to make the ‘best’ commercial decision and improve fleet utilisation.

It might be that tank has been idle for a long time and is located a little further away than a tank that has just come off hire, for example. The business rules could be written to say that that idle tank is a better fit because you want to get it moving again.

MRI Intermodal’s tank asset management tool is able to import depot status reports using an electronic data interchange (EDI) module. These reports are used to give an up-to-date, live representation of the depot’s current status that is not so reliant on off-system manual processes.

Larger tank depots are already investing in EDI software solutions, and this is driving demand from smaller facilities too. Two of MRI Intermodal’s biggest customers are already using its EDI tank planning software, with more customers set to follow.