ACE Forwarding are industry leaders within Oil and Gas freight logistics. With air, sea and road freight services, ACE Forwarding provides custom-made end-to-end logistical solutions to meet the often complex and challenging demands of the sector. Having over 150 years’ senior level freight forwarding experience and offices throughout the world, ACE Forwarding is a business with global reach and a trusted partner for many world-class companies.
With a team that prides themselves on going about its business with real attention to detail and ensuring effective communication every step of the way, ACE Forwarding believed that Intellicore – with their similar mindset – would be an ideal fit to build an on-going technical partnership with.
As part of its drive to digitise its solutions and remain industry leaders, championed by Ed Arnott (Business and Commercial Director, ACE Forwarding), ACE Forwarding wanted to partner with Intellicore to develop a maintainable and scalable solution that would continue to evolve and grow with them. Having identified that there were improvements that could be made within their Heli-freight management department, Ace Forwarding looked toward a bespoke process-driven platform that could work in unison and be easily accessible to their whole team, from their most tech-savvy to their most seasoned of team members. Automating key processes and streamlining procedures could also raise their already high standards by improving their efficiency throughout and provide a significant increase in the level of transparency available to their clients.
The required solution would need to be accessible to their office-based staff via an online portal, warehouse staff via a mobile tablet app and their clients via a customer-focused online portal.
With the server-side solution acting as the heart of the system. For Intellicore to have the ease of access required for continuous support and maintenance of such a business-critical solution it was important to get the infrastructure right. We opted to deploy a cloud-based solution through Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a load-balanced Elastic Beanstalk instance. By load-balancing the server, it would allow a smaller, more cost-effective server to be used on a day to day basis. It also allowed their sources available to the application to horizontally-scale automatically as and when the demands on the server required it. As well as being where most of the business logic resides, the server-side Laravel solution acted as the main entry point into the platform. It served as the online portal for both ACE Forwarding’s team and their clients, with support for Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge and Safari.
For effective tracking, there had to be a simple way to identify each piece of freight. Through the collaboration with ACE Forwarding, the use of a QR-code based barcodes were identified as the best fit solution. These QR-codes would provide a unique identity to not only freight but also ACE Forwarding’s flight manifest and delivery note documentation generated by the platform.
Migrating from a predominantly paper-based system, it was clear that digitising these documents would be a key indicator of the success of the project. During the development cycle, we explored different options from scanning via the tablet’s camera to synchronising a shared drive within their internal servers. However, the best-fit solution was to develop a bespoke application for the Xerox photocopier that would be used in the warehouse. This bespoke application allowed the user to select from a list of 6 available document types. This would instruct the photocopier to scan the document which in-turn would interpret the QR-code that had been affixed to the document, thus determining the freight it belonged to. A digital copy would then be automatically sent to the online portal where it would be stored and associated with the correct freight.
It was important that the solution implemented would not slow down its existing flow. One area that posed a potential risk was their dispatch process. During this stage, a high volume of freight could be moved from their respective storage bays into vans. To mitigate this risk, we worked with Scandit to incorporate their MatrixScan technology into the tablet application. Rather than only being able to scan one QR-code at a time. MatrixScan provided the application of the ability to use the integrated camera to scan multiple barcodes at once. This allowed us to streamline the process of moving freight from storage bay to van to be completed within a significantly shorter time frame.
Due to the fast-paced nature in which freight can be processed through the platform, it was also important to present accurate real-time data to the user. This was achieved by utilising our web socket server to push new and updated data for flights, freight and notifications directly to the user’s browser or tablet. Providing them with instant access to accurate data without the need to refresh. This real-time data was also utilised in a custom flight-screen that was installed within ACE Forwarding’s warehouse facilities and provided the team with an always-available view of the current flights. We also implemented a time-based traffic light system for these flights to help them easily prioritise their workload and allow them to focus on processing and dispatching freight that had been scheduled to be on those upcoming flights.
Notifications played an important role within the platform. They acted as a primary gateway to time-sensitive information to ensure that ACE Forwarding’s team could prioritise processing the right freight at the right time. They also served as a key tool for promoting safety. Not only did these notifications alert their team of freight that exceeded 25 kg and were of an awkward shape/size, but it also alerted the recipient of the freight ahead of time. This meant that their clients could make the necessary preparations to safely take delivery based on the conditions on the offshore platform.
To maintain a high level of conformance with the new system, business rules and logic were implemented to automate key processes. This included the automatic printing of labels as freight was weighed during the receipting process via Zebra TLP-2422 plus and ZT510 Industrial printers. Documents affixed with a QR code were automatically uploaded to the online portal and associated with the correct freight. Automated checks to determine if freight had all the required documentation to allow it to be dispatched. Manifests and Delivery notes automatically printed when a flight is closed and all freight on the manifest dispatched to a van respectively. This automation ensured that the same high-standard process was followed for every piece of freight handled by ACE Forwarding.
Finally, the system would not be complete without the Android app that was developed alongside the Laravel-based solution. Developed with tablet-use in mind and deployed on to hardware supplied by Conker, the application would act as the primary platform for use by the warehouse team. Having been built using Ionic, it allowed Intellicore to use our expertise in Angular to build a hybrid application. The tablet app communicated with the server via an API receiving real-time data and notifications direct from the web socket server. Rather than add a dedicated barcode scanner into the tool chain, we carried out significant testing on how the tablet’s camera could handle QR-codes of various sizes and within different lighting conditions. The performance of the tablet drove the parameters of the final design. The result being labelling that could be reliably scanned each time, proving crucial in streamlining ACE Forwarding’s processes.
Over the last year, Ace Forwarding has been able to put the developed solution through its paces. With feedback from real-world use, some small tweaks have been made since the initial launch to further improve upon the usability of the system.
Reflecting on the brief, there were five key aspects that needed to be fulfilled to produce a successful solution for ACE Forwarding.