Netherlands Carrier Reaches Out To Opportunities in European Union

IN THE late 1990s, Wim HG Vos, owner of Vos Logistics, positioned his Netherlands company to take advantage of new opportunities that were occurring in Europe. He conducted a restructuring that he defines as re-engineering to respond to a marketplace stimulated by the organization of the European Union (EU). The EU agreements eased cross-border cargo movement, and EU members worked together to standardize transportation regulations. A snarl of red tape that had plagued carriers historically was eliminated.

"There was more and more commodity business," says Vos. "Our customer demand was growing at a fast pace. Shippers were looking for carriers with sophisticated computer management systems that enabled them to handle large orders."

Making the decision to restructure the company and institute an e-commerce system enabled Vos Logistics to power an operation that had grown into a $500-million-a-year enterprise.

"We have many advantages with this reorganization, but the most important is that we can offer a more efficient service to every client," Vos says.

The restructuring condensed several Vos companies that were operating throughout Europe. The companies were consolidated and divided into three centralized management units-Vos Bulk, Vos Tank, and Vos Cargo. The company is now directed entirely from corporate headquarters in Oss, Netherlands, with 26 branch offices throughout Europe.

"Regionally, clients have the same contacts with Vos employees, and there is no direct difference to how we've done things in the past," Vos says. "But behind the scenes, there is a great scope for improved efficiency and better returns."

In addition to the corporate reorganization, Vos introduced a company-designed e-commerce software system, LOVOS99. "We got a lot of our ideas for our fleet management from United States companies," says Vos.

LOVOS99 is used in logistics management, fleet management, and online analytical processing. The system enhances the company's wide range of logistic services that includes flow management; bulk and package storage, handling, transportation and distribution; platform logistics; inbound- and outbound-related transport management; and dedicated onsite concepts. Because LOVOS99 operation modes are integrated, the system is available to all departments for specific tasks.

All Vos vehicles are equipped with Eutel Tracs satellite communication hardware and ICS onboard computers. Through satellite communication and global positioning programs, the system allows the company to monitor its fleet 24 hours, seven days a week. As vehicle locations are updated, their onschedule status can be determined. The fleet manager can communicate with the driver through satellite communication. Assisted by the LOVOS program, managers monitor shipments that are enroute and, if necessary, inform the Vos customer service department of any abnormalities. The customer service department will, in turn, contact the customer. All customer interaction is handled by the Vos customer service department.

The driver can send free form and macro messages. For example, macro messages are composed at the loading rack, when the tank is full, when it is empty, at tractor fueling stops, at a rest period, etc. In every macro message, the onboard computer encloses the current odometer reading for the vehicle. This data is then processed by the program to determine the exact number of kilometers driven.

Once the driver has sent an unload macro message, the program generates an invoice and performance report for the shipment. Customers are informed of the last known positions of their shipments through the Internet. The Internet information is updated every 15 minutes.

Information is stored in encrypted files with customers assigned a user name, password, and a decryption key to retrieve the information. The program can be installed at any customer location without cost.

Another program that works in conjunction with the program, LOTREX, was developed for Vos Logistics to handle warehouse administration and intermodal transport. In addition, European Transport Information System (ETIS) is used by a number of Vos facilities to further handle warehouse output.

"Integrating the different stages of product handling and administration into one system results in fast and direct communication between all parties concerned," says Vos. "Thus, we provide optimal service, quality, and efficiency. Our customers can be connected to the system in order to monitor the progression of their orders. We see this as an excellent marketing advantage."

Equipment Units Because of its large size, the company's electronic adaptations have proven especially successful. Vos Logistics operates 600 dry bulk and 600 liquid bulk tank trailers. The company has 1,200 tank containers. About 30% of the business comes from the dry bulk division, 20% from liquid bulk, and the remainder, 50%, from the cargo division.

European petrochemical companies are the company's primary customers, but Vos Logistics has a long established relationship with traders and industrial users of different kinds of plastic in bulk. Foodgrade products are also handled by the company.

Among the liquid products hauled in the foodgrade category are oils, milk, and orange juice. In a separate liquid classification are chemicals such as resins and corrosives. On the dry bulk side are foodgrade products such as starch and potato starch, and plastic pellets.

Vos Logistics owns several warehouses and liquid storage facilities, and operates intermodal facilities. The company provides product bagging, debagging, and other activities for customers. Most recently, Vos purchased three locomotives to move rail cars within Holland with plans to expand into other European sectors.

Currently, the company provides land transport services throughout Europe, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom. Tank containers are shipped around the world.

Company History Wim Vos joined the company in 1963. His father, Harry Vos, founded the business in 1944 with one truck, focusing on parcel delivery services between Oss and Nijmegen. The younger Vos led the way for the beginning of international transport in 1967. Several acquisitions and continued customer growth resulted in a decision to move to a new location in Oss with depot facilities in the harbor area. Tank containers were added to the fleet in 1982. Gradually, the expansion positioned Vos Logistics to operate throughout Europe. Today, the company has 30 sites, all ISO9002 certified.

Just as Vos Logistics has introduced the latest technological advances, the company stresses the importance of vehicle upgrading, maintenance, and appearance. The company operates seven tank wash facilities, five in the Netherlands, one in Belgium, and one in France. Preventive maintenance schedules call for a 50-point vehicle check twice a year. At every 45,000 kilometers (27,962 miles), oil filters are changed. A synthetic oil program from ExxonMobil allows 300,000 kilometers (186,411 miles) to 450,000 kilometers (279,617 miles) between oil changes.

Tractors are from Scania in Sweden and DAF, a Paccar subsidiary, in the Netherlands. Scania tractors have 360- horsepower engines with 12-speed transmissions. The DAF tractors have 380-horsepower engines and 16-speed transmissions. Vos specifies Michelin and Bridgestone tires.

Almost all of the tractor maintenance is outsourced. For the most part, tractors are leased and come with a maintenance agreement. Company mechanics do perform most maintenance for tank trailers, though. Walk-around inspections are conducted daily by mechanics and drivers.

The company purchases tank trailers from the French company, Fruehauf Benalu; the German company Feldbinder Spezialfahrzeugwerke GmbH; and the Belgium manufacturers, Van Hool Nv and LAG Trailers Nv. Tank containers come from Van Hool.

Unloading pumps are supplied by MAN GmbH of Germany and Drum, a Syltone Company of the United Kingdom. Product hoses are from Walter Gondrom of Germany. The unloading valve is supplied by Buchner of Germany.

Driver Training In conjunction with equipment maintenance is the importance of driver training. The training curriculum is tailored to the experience of the driver, says Vos. Training includes company orientation and policies, official regulations, and defensive driving. If drivers handle hazardous materials, they receive additional training. Each year, refresher training is required for all drivers in order to renew driver qualifications. They also receive training at plant locations for handling loading and unloading equipment.

Vos emphasizes the importance of driver training and its role in maintaining a sound company foundation for future growth. He projects that the European market will continue to grow and stimulate the carrier's current 15%-20% annual increase in revenue. With the company restructured and the latest technology on line, Vos Logistics appears poised for expansion.

"We focus on our core industry to remain competitive and flexible," he says.

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