What is a typical day for you?
Our fleet management group is fairly small – me, plus people in China, Belgium and one more in the US. A typical day consists of two things. First, checking emails and looking for problems that people have found overnight and checking that those have been taken care of. I also check the systems to see if I can spot any issues. The second half of the day is more forward planning – looking where we’re going to be in 6 months, 5 years from now and making sure that we are prepared. I’m a liaison between the business units and the manufacturing units.
Albemarle serves customers in over 100 countries. How does it manage its transport and logistics functions?
We handle logistics in many countries. There is a logistics unit in each plant and then there are headquarters in different regions, for example in Baton Rouge, Shanghai and in Belgium. Those logistics units are managing the day to day moves – what needs to go where, billing orders, that kind of thing. Fleet management is more concerned about whether they have the right tanks out there and are they going to have the right tanks available moving forward.
What services do you use to keep track of your fleet?
We have two different types. The first is SAP-based, so as moves are made such as filling a tank, shipping a tank, receiving a tank or, in the case of overseas, tanks coming back into the US, then those moves will be marked in SAP. We can look in SAP and see where the tanks are supposed to be. The benefit of that is that you don’t have to actually see the tank – as long as you have the information coming to you from anywhere in the world, you can make a move and everyone suddenly has visibility. The downside is that there are a lot of transactions so if someone misses a transaction or, if something was supposed to have happened but didn’t then the system can break down.
We also use GPS systems provided by IONX. The GPS unit is going to be receiving signals anywhere in the world so that we can see where the tank is, regardless of whether that is where it is supposed to be or not. It’s a physical device so, if anything goes wrong you have to get to the tank in order to service it. Both have their benefits and their downsides. Both of them provide data to us in a way that we’re able to analyse and see whether we are on the right track.
How do you use that data?
We use dashboards that IONX has built. A lot of those are customised for us and they are a very good tool for things that we want to look at repeatedly . A lot of the work that IONX did for us was focused on working out where things were, how long they had been there and what the process was and how all of that came together. That was the background. A lot of the customisation was around our unique logistical operations and making sure the tools could capture the information necessary to help with resizing and balancing. It was organised in a way that made sense for us. For example, I have one particular fleet what we are looking at resizing, possibly a 50% increase. We can use that data to see where we can make specific spot improvements so that we don’t have to spend the capital on even more tanks. They also provide a download file that is sent to us each night. I can take that file and run a visual basic programme and get other information I need.
[pullquote]Getting that data in real time is one of the biggest issues[/pullquote]
What are the biggest challenges you face in your role?
Normally, if I get involved and it’s not forward planning, it means something has gone wrong with the system! Either something was shipped in an incorrect state or it was held up for some reason – the customer didn’t return the tank on time, that kind of thing. When that happens we have to make sure whatever the planned use for the tank was next – there is a replacement available. Getting that data in real time is one of the biggest issues. On the SAP system I may know that it was shipped out of Asia a month ago, but I have to go to IONX or the shipping line’s website to be able to see where it is now, so not all that data is available in the same place. That makes it difficult to plan. IONX has proposed integrating the GPS data into SAP, which would reduce the steps required to solve issues.
Are there any changes in government laws or regulations that you, as a fleet manager, would like to see?
Standardisation would be more helpful than anything else. A good example of this would be the allowable shipping weights. Those depend on where you are in the US and it’s different for overseas. If I’m shipping internationally I have to know not just that it’s legal to ship here, but that it’s also legal to ship when it gets there. The reason for the limits is to cover damage on the road. However I’m shipping product and I need to know how many pounds of product I can ship, not necessarily how much the total truck weighs. If we ship a truck across from Houston to the East Coast then the truck driver might bring a sleeper-cab truck that weighs more and all of a sudden I could be overweight, have to unload, and change all the bookings. It would be better if it was simplified, even if the limit was slightly lower as long as it was standard across the board.
How did you end up working in fleet management?
I spent most of my career in operations – out in the field, particularly in production. One of the things that they are looking for with this role was someone with real world experience who was able to understand what was going on in a plant and at the same time was available for business to make sure the business team is getting what they need for servicing the customers. This role has a lot of different challenges – and the work is quite interesting.
[pullquote]We are already expanding the fleet but we’re trying to do that judiciously and our IONX GPS systems can help get the balance right[/pullquote]
Where do you see the company growing in the next five years and what challenges will that create in fleet management?
We just bought out Rockwood Holdings, which was comprised of both Chemetall and Rockwood Lithium. With Rockwood Lithium there is a lot of synergy and with this integration process we are looking at ways we can track both those fleets using just one common system, which would make it easier for customer service representatives.
There are also a lot of opportunities. We have been growing our business in organometallics and Rockwood is poised to grow quite a bit as well. I think there will be synergies there. The sales team now have a bigger portfolio with more solutions. From that, I think we should be seeing more sales over the next few years. I have to make sure the fleet is ready for that. We are already expanding the fleet but we’re trying to do that judiciously and our IONX GPS systems can help get the balance right. We don’t want to spend money too soon but we don’t want to be behind the curve, either.