TruckStops, one of the world’s longest-established and most widely-used vehicle routing and scheduling optimisation systems, has been rewritten from the ground up by its UK-based developer and proprietor, MapMechanics.
The new version of the software, TruckStops 20, has a more modern and intuitive user interface, can be configured more easily to reflect user preferences, has better data handling capabilities, offers easier integration with other systems, includes more sophisticated reporting features, and provides enhanced context-sensitive online help (including video).
New features include enhanced multi-language capability and support for dual monitors.
TruckStops offers both dynamic day-to-day scheduling of vehicles and people, and strategic fixed-route scheduling. It can handle multi-route, multi-depot, multi-day scheduling of mixed fleets, and is widely used by both large and small vehicle operators around the world, scheduling everything from bulk milk and aggregates movements to trunking and radial transport operations and home shopping deliveries.
TruckStops was launched more than twenty years ago, and has been progressively updated ever since. Since the early days it has been sold and supported in the UK by MapMechanics, which acquired full worldwide rights to the product two years ago.
This new rewrite is the most comprehensive since the product moved into the Microsoft Windows environment back in the 1990s. MapMechanics’ developers have re-coded the application using C# (C Sharp) and the .NET framework, retaining the elements of its robust and proven scheduling engine, but enhancing almost every aspect of its functionality and appearance.
Mary Short, a director and founder of MapMechanics, comments: “Existing users will immediately recognise all the established TruckStops elements, but will discover much quicker and more effective ways to accomplish familiar tasks, as well as opportunities to streamline their operations by using its new capabilities."
“We see this transition as a stepping stone to further future development of TruckStops. TruckStops 20 gives us an ideal platform to harness web and emerging technologies and deliver new features and further refinement.”
“Our investment in this project also underlines our commitment to the TruckStops product and brand. When we acquired the rights to TruckStops we announced our intention to develop and expand it, and this launch is a major step in that process.”
The most immediate visual evidence of the new version is the enhanced interface, which draws on styling elements from Windows and recent versions of the Microsoft Office suite, using a ribbon menu bar and cleaner, modern icons.
Users can now save their own launch configuration, so that TruckStops will start up with their regularly-used files already open and their own layouts in view. It is now even easier for users to configure and save screen layouts to suit their own circumstances – for instance, moving or hiding columns of data, hiding or displaying parameter lists, and filtering data by chosen criteria.
Third-party logistics companies can save entire configurations for different customers, and multi-national operators can save configurations for each country. It is now also easier to transfer sets of data between TruckStops and external systems such as order management software, handheld terminals and tracking systems, using its enhanced import and export capabilities. For instance, users can simply activate a command that exports data in the correct structure and format for each destination, and if necessary calls up the appropriate web service to “push out” data as required.
“We see it as vitally important that TruckStops 20 should work as seamlessly as possible with solutions from third-party partners and that they should have full control over the whole execution process,” says Mary Short.
Internally, TruckStops 20 now saves data in industry-standard XML format, which makes it much easier to integrate with external applications. However, TruckStops also continues to support databases such as Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle, and also spreadsheet formats such as Microsoft Excel, if the operator prefers this approach.
By supporting the Unicode as well as ASCII character set in both the user interface and data structure, TruckStops 20 is a strong contender for use in a country’s local languages, for instance Classical Chinese and Hindi.
Report-writing has been enhanced in TruckStops 20. A wide range of report formats can be configured and saved, and reports can be presented attractively with custom fonts, logos and thematic shading to highlight important information. They can be output in a variety of formats including spreadsheet, PDF and HTML.
The new dual-monitor capability will help users organise their work more effectively, taking advantage of extra screen real estate to park selected items where they remain in view. In particular, the map showing routes can be undocked from the application and moved to a separate monitor as and when required while analysis is done on the first.
All the map data, postcode data and road speed data needed for optimising routes is included with TruckStops in the UK. In addition, TruckStops 20 has links to HERE – the new cloud-based location platform from Nokia – giving users access to worldwide backdrop mapping, as well as geocoding and route calculation functionality.
On the map, the routes calculated by TruckStops can be displayed either using line of route along actual roads or in direct point-to-point diagrammatic mode. Users can now also place custom icons on the map – for instance, pictures or graphics representing their own delivery points, vehicles or depots.
Finally, TruckStops’ online help system has been completely rewritten. As well as being context-sensitive, it includes explanations of basic principles, a full search capability and videos of commonly-used processes.
Existing TruckStops users on fully paid-up service and maintenance contracts will qualify for the upgrade to TruckStops 20 free of charge, and new users in selected markets will be supplied with TruckStops 20 automatically, starting in the UK. The product will be launched progressively into other TruckStops markets worldwide.