Load Planning Software: Essentials, Benefits, and Implementation Process in 2023
Updated 01 Mar 2023
Today, delivery and freight services are going through a significant transformation amidst a range of technological evolutions, making digitalization a necessity across the logistics industry. With a variety of cargo, transport, and destinations, it becomes harder to manage the supply chain effectively. And load planning, as one of the integral parts of the transportation processes, should also be digitized.
In this article, we’ll discuss how the load planning software will help logistics and transportation companies to enhance their transport and load efficiency.
What is Load Planning Software, and Why Business Needs It?
Before talking about all the benefits and peculiarities of the load planner system, it’s worth starting with the basics, namely, load planning meaning.
Load planning, also called load optimization, implies the process of consolidating shipment to use the power of trucks, railcars, pallets, and any other kinds of containers in the most effective manner. The main goal is to cut down transportation costs by reducing the number of vehicles on the road. Moreover, optimizing loading prevents cargo damage, saves loading and unloading time, and boosts clients' satisfaction.
When deciding to build a load planning software, you should also consider container and trailer types and make it possible to switch between them easily. You might not utilize all kinds of containers to ship your items, so concentrate on the ones that you need.
Containers can be divided depending on the mode of transportation and products types:
- Standard maritime containers (e.g., general-purpose, flat rack containers, open-top containers, etc.)
- Railroad transportation containers (e.g., high cube containers)
- Air freight containers are also called Unit Load Devices
- Shipping containers (e.g., dry van, step deck, flatbed, etc.)
With so many options available, it’s pretty challenging to load the maximum number of orders into a single container. There are a lot of factors that need to be considered, such as a vehicle's specifications (refrigeration, for instance), loading sequence, destinations, type of cargo, and much more.
In addition to that, a manual approach is a tedious task, leading to substantial operational overhead. Plus, your embarkation specialists’ job can be complicated by the number of items increased in the vehicle or container, primarily if they deal with odd-shaped objects. That's why you need load optimization software to take the inefficiency out of the cargo planning.
Load planning in supply chain
The load planning system can help your business do more optimal load planning, lowering the transportation cost and reducing the carbon footprint by simply needing fewer truckloads. This technology solution automatically creates a loading plan for your route, evaluates and streamlines each pallet during the pick, pack, and ship processes. Then, after optimizing your routes, the system ensures an effective loading process into your trucks.
Let’s discuss how exactly software solutions can help you enhance loading performance.
it is essential to reduce operational and delivery costs to maintain your profit margins and keep customers satisfied through the truck load planner software use. Improved loading and routing operations lead to decreased mileage and driver costs as well as greater delivery capacity, resulting in enhanced profit margins. Providing competitive pricing can help you acquire new business without impacting your profitability.
According to World Economic Forum’s “Autonomous Trucks” research, 15%-25% of trucks on U.S. roads are driven with no loads, resulting in ineffective container utilization. Without automated solutions like warehouse management system, managers are often insecure if a given load matches the vehicle's size. Because of this, they typically hold off on rising trailer capacities and push back on high-volume loads. Applying advanced algorithms, truck loading software allows you to optimize the cargo space, resulting in better trailer utilization. Logistics personnel can determine the max load the truck can carry based on cargo volume, weight, and dimension.
Reduce planning time
Manual load planning involves human errors resulting in delays, improper time and resource management, and low productivity. This, in turn, leads to high operational costs. With automation solutions, there is no need for manual number processing for determining the most optimal delivery route or selecting the right truck and driver for a load. As a result, you'll be able to reduce labor costs and quickly adapt to last-minute orders and directions from clients.
Find out how the route optimization API can enhance the logistics processes
Driver time can be saved
The driver is able to efficiently complete the delivery as the location of each case is known and precisely defined. By organizing cases prior to delivery, the likelihood of a "late truck" is reduced, thereby avoiding expensive redelivery fees and credits.
Improved customer services
Customers demand accurate and quick delivery services. Using automated diagrams built under your business guidelines and clients’ requirements, you'll be able to plan loads correctly each time. This also means that creating load diagrams isn’t dependent on the individual employee, which needs to keep rules remembered, and you aren’t concerned when that person wants to take a leave.
Load Planner Software: Types and Options
Forming optimal cargo is crucial for different logistics industry players, especially those who deal with loading multiple goods. Thus, let’s take a quick look at two main container/truck filling approaches.
Full container loads (FCL) or full truckloads (FTL) shipping is cheaper than partial loads shipments (in price per unit or cubic meter comparison) and easier as it requires fewer arbitrators. These types of shipments imply that shippers (manufacturers and retailers) stuff the shipping containers themselves and turn them over to the carrier to deliver to the last destination.
The challenge arises if such freight consists of diversified items. In this case, shippers and carriers that move mixed cargo and/or manage different kinds of packaging have to define how to stack their freight in the trailer in the best possible way. This is where it’s better to consider consolidated shipments.
Less-than-truckload (LTL) and less-than-container load (LCL) transportations engage freight consolidation to reduce shipping costs. That implies carriers, 3PL (third-party logistics partners), and freight forwarding organizations that deal with numerous shippers have to combine cargo and arrange it in the truck considering different restrictions like balance, fragility, stackability, etc.
So, if you appeal to a transportation company to move, for example, auto spare parts, it will be LTL shipping, and the carrier will mix your goods with other freight. After that, the consolidator gathers such LCL loads from all shippers and uses a container load planner to group them into FCLs. Then, when the cargo is delivered to the destination port, it is deconsolidated and dispatched by truck to the end customer.
The problem is that load plan development is complicated and error-prone if made by hand. So, applying specialized software can enhance the load planning process, save time, and gain the load calculations accuracy. But, the keystone of implementing load planning software in cooperation with a reliable technical company with confirmed expertise in Logistics software development services.
The difference between FCL/FTL shipping and LCL/LTL shipping
Popular load planning software providers
In this section, we’ll briefly discuss some leading SaaS-based load optimization software, allowing shippers and carriers to digitize manual operation throughout the load planning processes. The majority of such solutions are universal and can be applied in different industries, but there are also suppliers that offer industry-specific ones.
General-objective load planning tools
General-purpose tools cover loading pallets, truck trailers, standard shipping containers, rarely air, sea, rail, and land transportation. The most significant example of such a solution is EasyCargo.
EasyCargo is a user-friendly truck planning tool with rich functionality and open API documentation for allowing integration with the business ecosystem. You can enter your items, and the software calculates the loading plan for you. The load-plan results are shown in an interactive 3D model and also can be adjusted manually, if you wish to. Among the exciting features are:
- An infinite amount of load plan calculations
- Ability to insert 10 000 items of up to 250 different kinds in one shipping
- Enter items directly from an MS Excel file
- Priority groups that arrange freight items based on the last destination
- Integration with SAP (Systems Applications and Products in Data Processing)
- The item description is displayed directly in the 3D visualization
Omnimodal load planning solutions focus on several kinds of transportation, thus requiring software that supports a large number of containers/trucks as well as complies with safety standards and other constraints. The most prominent example of multimode solutions is MercuryGate.
MercuryGate is a freight management system that allows for managing cargo across any mode of delivery and submitting a load planner as one of its modules. The system enables carriers to procure, plan, optimize, execute, and settle their cargo movements with full rein toward visibility. This solution provides users the following features:
- Supporting all modes
- Global reach capabilities
- End-to-end optimization
- Market rate index
- Prioritized exception management
- Dynamic workflows
- Fleet management
Check our Fleet Management Software Guide and how fully benefit from it
Aviation load planners
Weight and balance are critical for air transportation. So, when planning loads, the weight of crew and passengers has to be taken into account. Also, freight has to be allocated so that the center of gravity is sustained throughout the flight. CHAMP's Weight & Balance is a leading player in the industry.
CHAMP's solution is a powerful tool specifically designed and optimized for freighter aircraft to make the load planning more effective, cut costs, and increase space utilization. Besides, the solution also generates required legal documents and is essential to the safety of operating an aircraft, all while integrating smoothly into your existing business systems. Among the valuable functionality provided are:
- Rich graphical load display
- Drag-and-drop planning facility
- Dynamic checking of load limitations
- Optimized autoload including intelligent planning of multi-leg flights
- Total management and control of complex loads
- Supports industry-standard messaging
- Audit trail including access to all load sheets
Vessel stowage planners
Along with trucks and aircraft, ships carry an incredible amount of mixed freight, making accurate load planning crucial to ensure efficient space utilization and safe transportation.
AMT Marine Software is one of the most striking representatives of this type. The service offers a variety of ship planning products depending on the set of cargo shipped: RoRo cargo, general cargo, oversized and overweight cargo, etc. Moreover, the company provides consultancy services to experts in the marine transportation industry.
- Graphical rendering of the block and odd-shaped break bulk cargo on plans
- Real-time feedback of stability parameters and floating status
- Manual input, BAPLIE, and electronic import/export of freight data
- HC optimization of dead space
- Simple drag-and-drop function to stow, move and rotate freight
Even though there are a lot of ready-made solutions to choose from, not all are managed to cover your unique business needs. Moreover, off-the-shelf solutions are harder (in some cases, impossible) to integrate with the existing systems, while managing logistics solutions separately isn’t efficient. So it’s better to focus on custom app development to get a scalable solution meeting your load planning logic. Making a personalized product means getting software highly adaptable to your enterprise's business logic, its processes, and units, including your corporate colors, icons, and unique functionality.
What Features Should Be Included in the Load Planning System?
It’s time to consider the functionality needed to build load optimization software. We’ve put together basic (MVP) and advanced features to make this section more useful for you.
MVP features to build load planning system
The core idea behind the MVP is to create a truck load platform with enough functionality to satisfy basic business needs, considering all the security matters. MVP development service will allow you to get a working product without investing a lot of money in creating a full-fledged software solution. After you ensure product viability, you can add more sophisticated features.
Axle weight balancing
This feature automatically adjusts load plans to balance weight distributed to each axle according to the chosen tractor-trailer configuration.
Like axle balancing capabilities, this feature allows logistics staff members to ensure that the trailer is not getting out of balance from a side-to-side basis by more than certain utmost.
Container capacities and assignments
Each cargo has its own place and is assigned to a specific container. There may be numerous containers in each position as well as different classes of containers (e.g., pallets, undersized pallets, coolers, totes). And each container varies depending on its own capacity. This feature allows logistics managers to assign the products to different kinds of containers based on their characteristics.
Commonly, containers are designed to be positioned in a way that minimizes the length of the pick path (such as by utilizing the number of aisles to be covered and the distance between those aisles). This functionality makes it possible to determine the proper pick sequence to reduce selection time.
Capacity override by door and position
Certain positions within a trailer may be appointed as limited capacity due to being close to a door, or there may be restraints in the ceiling such as cooling units or roll-doors. This functionality makes it possible to place the cargo considering these limitations.
This feature allows managers to control product assignment to particular containers to avoid damaging other items when goods are stacked onto each other.
Load software can automatically detect the goods in each load that should be bulk-loaded (e.g., full pallets of an item) to remove crate picking in the warehouse and boost employees’ productivity.
Double-stacking of pallets within a trailer refers to a specific loading strategy and the in-built algorithm automatically identifies which positions are single-stacked and which are double-stacked relying on load volume and axle loading assessments.
Generally, loads are built using fixed standard capacity. This feature is valuable if you deal with large-volume loads, allowing managers to quickly choose a maximum capacity so that the items are loaded as tightly as possible. In addition, all the products are automatically displayed on the diagram, preventing excessive manual intervention.
Unlimited trailer types
This feature is required for multi-modal shipping. In this case, logistics experts need to consider various kinds of trailers to model equipment available for loading. The trailer types can differ depending on multiple characteristics such as number of positions, capacities, pinwheel configurations, compartments, door positions, etc.
Flexible unload sequencing
The diagramming algorithm mainly employs a stop sequence to allocate goods so that they're seamlessly unloaded at each stop. There are also options, allowing loaders to upload needed products before others at the given stop.
Most load planning options may be adjusted based on customer-specific delivery requirements. For instance, to boost the efficiency of dock deliveries, some clients demand that pallet contents not be mixed with other goods for next stops.
Split item control
With flexible batching of different product types, controls may be realized that either eliminate or reduce an item for one delivery destination being divided into more than one pallet.
How to Digitize Load Planning and Integrate the Truck Load Software With Your Workflow?
Load planning software development and implementation can be performed in many directions. We’ll describe the standard approach for logistics product creation, but the number of stages can differ depending on your business needs and requirements.
Establish business strategy
Firstly, you need to define your product’s requirements and business goals: what business challenges our client wants to solve. For example, you want to increase payload capacity to avoid factors such as wasted fuel and the “empty space problem.” Or you may need an automated solution to reduce overhead due to load and route planning optimization and better control of vehicles. Your business requirements and goals will help a technical vendor create the detailed project’s specification and select the right tech stack fitting your unique business needs.
Set up load optimization algorithms
Before integrating truck loading software, you should also think of the cargo placement in the transit vehicle. And here are some questions to consider:
- Should freight be located on the floor?
- Should load be positioned per order or stop off?
- Should goods be placed in a defined ratio?
- Should there be a maximum allowed layer or supporting weight?
- Should freight be floor loaded or in unit loads?
- Should freight have a certain standard when located in unit loads?
- Should loose freights be positioned on a mixed pallet?
- Should freight be stacked on another for stability and to reduce damage?
Answering these questions is essential, mainly if you deal with large-size or fragile cargo.
Choose trustworthy IT partner
The load software development will be better performed with a professional IT partner with deep expertise in the logistics domain. But how to find a reliable vendor? We’ll give you some hints of what to pay attention to while choosing.
Practical experience and cases. It is important to ensure that a software vendor has relevant experience in similar projects within your industry before engaging with them. Check if a minimum viable product is offered. MVP can be used to identify potential objectives and requirements for a business concept.
Customer feedback. To select a software development vendor, it is suggested to read reviews on professional platforms such as GoodFirms, Clutch, and others to see real customer feedback. Additionally, it is advisable to seek feedback from past customers to gain insight into the organization's methods and the caliber of their services.
Engagement and dialogue. Communication can suffer due to language barriers, stunted emotional intelligence, and more - creating inefficiencies that impact everyone involved. There is also a lack of motivation to focus more on comprehending the client's requirements. The vendor wants to ensure they are clear on all the details so that your future cooperation runs smoothly.
Adaptability. When selecting a software development firm, ensure they can adapt to changes as your business increases. Many factors can potentially have an influence, such as scalability, adoption of new technologies, potential price models, and the assimilation of knowledge.
Requirements and goals. To pick the best service provider for your software project, define your product needs and vision. Skilled developers should evaluate your potential and get creative with executing your ideas.
After you contact the software provider, the first step is to detail the general information about the project. All information such as business goals, work scope, baseline quality attributes and more is processed by the Solution Design team. At this stage, a rough estimate, team composition, and a timeline are compiled.
At this stage, Logistics Business Analysts scrutinize your business needs, user and tech requirements. After all input data is studied, BA prepares specifications that detail each feature and tech aspect (platforms you want to covet, tech stack, 3rd party services, etc.). Next, the designers create an intuitive and user-friendly system’s UI/UX. After that, we compose a team based on your requirements and make a final estimate.
Development and integration
Like any other IT solution, truck loading systems are typically developed during sprints, which are two-week intervals for certain functionality fulfillment. Each sprint starts with a planning session and ends with delivering a working product or feature. All teams are directed by PMI-certified project managers who can clearly communicate the requirements, coordinate workflow and communication between stakeholders and the team.
If there is an established business process with other systems, we set up an integration algorithm to implement a new solution into existing processes. Here are some load planner integration options:
Integration with routing tools. Loading sequence is critical for consolidated cargo that encompasses multiple stops for either reloading, pick up, or drop off. Since routing software generates the delivery routes and schedules, sharing this data with a load planner would enable the creation of loads with an optimum loading sequence.
Integration with business management systems. It’s also valuable to establish a two-side integration with your business management system, such as:
- Enterprise resource planning (ERP)
- Transportation management system (TMS)
- Warehouse and inventory management system
- Customer relationship systems (CRM)
Combining different pieces of software into a single system will allow you to centralize and interconnect all your supply chain features and tools. This will improve workflow efficiency and prevent any disruption in the supply chain management system, ultimately reducing the freight cost of shipping your goods.
Integration with business intelligence (BI) and analytics tools. Monitoring performance is critical for effective decision-making. For example, knowing how much cargo you move, how loaded your trailers are, how many packs fit in one truck, how load planning affects delivery time, etc., can help you get valuable insights and make further modifications to streamline your supply chain and digital transformation performance.
Find out more about supply chain business intelligence, its benefits for entities and implementation principles
Support and maintenance
Cargo planning software solutions are complex interconnected systems that may require multi-tier technical support options and maintenance services. This work may include support for the deployed software, version upgrades, adding new functionality, code optimization, etc.
Cleveroad — Your Reliable Partner in Load Planning Digitalization
Cleveroad is a software development company from Estonia helping businesses create any-scale software solutions. With over 10+ years in software development, we have built up expertise in multiple domains, among which Logistics takes a leading position.
Our team has proven expertise in developing logistics solutions such as TMS, WMS, SCM, ERP, and other custom solutions that help transportation companies reduce operational costs, optimize inventory usage, decrease delivery time, and improve business efficiency. We start cooperation with in-depth business analysis to guarantee you concrete business values and high-quality outcomes.
By collaborating with us, you’ll receive a row of benefits such as:
- Hands-one software development experience in various business fields
- An initial project estimation from our Sales Managers, without any additional costs
- A consultation about your project with our domain experts
- Full-service development, including UI/UX design, cloud-based solutions, legacy software modernization, and other IT services in one place
- Signing Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA) per your request
- Innovative development approaches and a cutting-edge tech stack
- Flexible cooperation models: dedicated team, fixed price, time & materials
Recently, we’ve delivered one of the logistics management solutions, namely, transportation management system (TMS). The platform has a built-in automated route planning module to cut costs on planning, optimize fuel management, and create an organic and coordinated logistics ecosystem.
An interface of Transportation Management System designed by Cleveroad
We’ve successfully delivered end-to-end TMS, including the following modules (but is not limited to them):
A Fleet management module helps the company track and manage fleets. For example, fleet managers can create a group of vehicles utilized in transportation flow and modify it due to changing business processes.
Delivery points management module allows TMS users to determine everyday work location and track data changes in real-time.
An Access system for company staff enables access level management according to the employees’ role RBAC approach.
We have also added a “Jobs for delivery” module that allowed integration with existing WMS and CRM systems for smooth data transmission.
Logistics is a complex industry requiring a severe approach to implementing industry-specific software. Our team is prepared to help you architect a top-notch custom software solution for load planning and other parts of the supply chain. We’ll also take care of the entire software development life cycle: from the Discovery phase to maintenance for the long term. Let's cooperate and develop a powerful logistics solution in tune with your time, budget, and expectations.
Digitize your load planning with us
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Load planning means the process of consolidating shipment to use the power of trucks, railcars, pallets, and any other kinds of containers in the most effective manner.
The load planning software stands for the technology solution that aims to help your business do more optimal load planning, lowering the transportation cost and reducing the carbon footprint by simply needing fewer truckloads.
At the second stage of the load plan life cycle, you launch a generation process from Oracle BI Applications Configuration Manager that spreads the load plan properties to the ODI Repository, where the load plan is made.
There are three essential components of load planning: consolidation, cost optimization, and collaboration.