Southern Star’s 3-Month Nationwide OptimoRoute Rollout Increases Capacity by 100%
September 19, 2019 4 min read
INSTALLATION & MAINTENANCE, NORTH AMERICA
Southern Star maintains almost 6,000 miles of
Nationwide rollout in 3 months
Powerful custom mapping features
Complex workflow supported, with stable planning according to all constraints
The capacity to complete 100% more orders per day
About Southern Star
Southern Star is one of America’s major transporters of natural gas. Its pipeline system and facilities are located in seven states: Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, and Nebraska. There are 500 employees at Southern Star, and the company headquarters are in Owensboro, Kentucky.
The natural gas transmission pipeline covers approximately 200,000 square miles and is approximately 5,800 miles long – enough to run from Los Angeles to New York, and back!
Every week, 250 technicians perform up to 2,500 preventative pipeline maintenance activities. The organization of maintenance work orders for the entire company is headed by Brad Carter, Planning and Scheduling Leader.
Length of the pipeline system
Number of employees
OptimoRoute Has the Capacity to Commit to a Fast Rollout
Brad Carter gets straight to the most crucial benefit of using OptimoRoute: once Southern Star had decided to partner with OptimoRoute for its route optimization needs, OptimoRoute was able to do a nationwide rollout in three months. Going live in such a short timespan is hugely beneficial for large organizations with complex workflows. It minimizes the risks and costs associated with implementing new systems and enables companies to start reaping the value of the investment as soon as possible.
OptimoRoute was capable of a three-month nationwide rollout because of its flexible and well-designed infrastructure. The software handles the most complex workflows – without compromising on speed, stability and the quality of the routes produced:
“We have a number of different qualifications that each of the operators and technicians needs to have in order to perform this work, and it was a big deal that OptimoRoute could handle that.”
Carter admits that the process of choosing a SaaS vendor felt like a gamble in some ways. However, he became increasingly confident in OptimoRoute’s software and customer support during the evaluation and trial period:
“Going into this we didn’t know what the customer service would be like, because companies vary. But with OptimoRoute – it’s stellar. The support team has been spot on, I can’t sing their praises enough.”
From the very beginning, OptimoRoute gave Carter and his team
Flexible Mapping Systems and Powerful Software Fully Support Southern Star’s Workflow
Before using OptimoRoute, Carter says that Southern Star’s method of routing and scheduling promoted inefficiency, and was badly suited to its specific workflow:
“The managers would determine what needed to be done – we used to have an old legacy system that would just give us the due dates for preventative maintenance activities. They would get a report that showed the due dates and they would determine who was available at that time and just send them out.”
For a new route optimization solution to be of benefit, it has to completely support Southern Star’s complex workflow – and OptimoRoute delivers. The software is designed to accommodate even the most complex workflows, without affecting planning speed or the efficiency of the routes produced. This robustness also contributed to the quick nationwide rollout.
The fundamental characteristic of Southern Star’s workflow is that all work orders take place on thousands of miles of gas transmission pipeline. And these work locations are defined by hundreds of thousands of GPS coordinates, rather than addresses. OptimoRoute is powerful enough to integrate these GPS coordinates into the software – recognizing them as unique locations that are used to do Southern Star’s routing every day.
Carter also wanted a detailed pipeline overlay to be displayed on the route optimization maps. The ability to see the entire Southern Star operation was made possible by OptimoRoute’s flexible mapping system. The software is ‘expandable’, so it can easily handle the additional overlay. For Southern Star, this means that the user experience is exceptional – it isn’t a blurry, static collection of lines on a map. Instead, Carter and his team have an interactive overlay that is a precise depiction of the pipeline. Information loads quickly (without freezing!), and zooming in and out is smooth.
Southern Star’s workflow is also made up of many planning constraints, thanks to the nature of the maintenance work that needs to be performed. OptimoRoute lets Southern Star plan routes according to time windows, scheduling ranges, skills needed for each maintenance order, multiple maintenance orders at a single location, and other constraints.
For Carter, the resulting planning process is simple and effective:
“The planners will get the orders that are generated in the EAM for preventative maintenance. When they plan the routes in OptimoRoute, the software looks at the date range and determines the best possible time for the qualified person to perform that work.”
OptimoRoute Puts Southern Star in the Position to Make Efficiency Gains
Thanks to OptimoRoute’s capacity to fully support Southern Star’s workflow, and its ease of use, planning staff embraced OptimoRoute. This confidence in the software means that OptimoRoute could immediately perform to its full potential and bring Southern Star several efficiency gains.
Before switching to OptimoRoute, inefficient planning meant that Southern Star simply wasn’t completing all of the maintenance work that had to be done:
“A lot of the smaller things, more menial tasks were being missed – maybe they were just recorded on a whiteboard somewhere and forgotten. Now, we can see people’s days and see how much time they have and actually add some of those smaller activities to get done. We can see what they have on and what they are doing every minute.”
Carter describes the efficiency gains in numbers: technicians used to be scheduled an average of three activities per day. With OptimoRoute, the workload is now five or six activities per day. Thanks to this, Southern Star has been able to achieve one of the main goals it had for implementing new route optimization software:
“We never purchased this to cut headcount. We just want to see if there’s a way for people to be able to fit in more work. There’s tons of work to be done and we have a better insight into how much time it’s taking them to complete so that we can get other tasks done – the ones that have been on the books, but we just didn’t get around to.”
Since the pipeline covers a massive geographical area, the organizational structure is divided into five regions, each with three or four districts. Before planning with OptimoRoute, the district heads were all involved in planning, as were various other managers and leads. The cumbersome process involved up to nineteen people – and even then, Southern Star wasn’t able to schedule in all of its low-priority jobs. The efficiency gains made in the OptimoRoute planning process are game-changing: planning up to 2,500 orders per week, for 250 technicians, now involves eight people at most. Staff is happy that the streamlined process enables them to spend their time more productively:
“Our schedulers know that everything is going to get easier and be more efficient for them, and that means more time to meet with leads and management in the field so that they can make appropriate changes – they’re really excited with everything that OptimoRoute is doing for them.”
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