With more than 400 ready-mix concrete trucks on the street at any given time, St. Marys Canada Building Materials (CBM) relies heavily on real-time data transmitted from those vehicles to its fleet management software to meet customers' construction schedules. The company uses Automate, the robotic process automation (RPA) solution from Fortra, to help maintain the data flow by monitoring the Windows Event Log for error conditions. When errors are found, designated personnel are alerted by email. This strategy has shortened outages, saved headaches for dispatchers and plant managers, and helped the company fulfill its main mission: ensuring that concrete arrives at customer jobsites when construction workers are ready to pour.
St. Marys CBM, a division of St. Marys Cement Inc., serves the Ontario market from 40 plants distributed over a 475-mile radius. On-time delivery is essential to ensure that the concrete maintains the proper consistency as well as to avoid causing construction delays.
The company uses Command Alkon's COMMANDconcrete software to track vehicle location and deploy trucks to the right place at the right time. If the network goes down or a virtual serial device driver or receiver at a given plant fails, dispatchers lose automatic visibility into truck locations. Before implementing Automate, there was no way to have timely knowledge of a communications breakdown or malfunction in the vehicle radio transmitter. "We wouldn't know about a problem until the plant or regional manager called us about it, and by that time he would be very angry," said Eric Epstein, a CBM production systems analyst.
Epstein wrote a custom application that records a variety of communications-related problems to the Windows Event Log to flag problems in near real-time, but manually checking the log on six different servers on a continuous basis was not a practical alternative. He needed a way to automatically monitor the activity and trigger an email when a problem occurred. Writing a DOS batch file for that purpose would have been difficult, taken several days, and required additional third-party tools that would in turn have to be configured and maintained.
Another St. Marys department had begun using Automate a year earlier to transfer files between the company's production and accounting systems. From that team, Epstein discovered that automation routines could be built using pre-programmed tasks and drag-and-drop workflow assembly, triggered by time or event, and executed with the same tool—all without the time or expense of writing batch files or custom scripts.
"The library of functionality available in Automate is significantly more comprehensive than what's available in a traditional DOS file, and I could do what I needed to do 10 times faster," Epstein noted. In just 20 minutes, Epstein compiled his own automation sequences using the software's Event Log trigger and pre-programmed "Send email" command.
Today, Automate detects network, serial driver, and receiver malfunctions that interrupt data flow to the company's COMMANDconcrete software. It also finds message delays indicating radio transmitter trouble, duplicate vehicle identification, and more. No manual parsing of COMMANDconcrete's log files or the Windows Event Log is required.
St. Marys CBM reaps the benefits of Automate on a daily basis, says Epstein. "Every day we get an email triggered by Automate that something has gone wrong. Usually it's minor, like an issue that can be resolved simply by restarting the serial link software, but every minute we shave off an outage in our vehicle tracking system can make a difference in keeping our operations running smoothly."
For him, the chief advantage has been replacing the task of writing and maintaining batch files with 20 minutes of dragging a few commands into a window. Like its recipe for ready-mix concrete, Automate helps St. Marys CBM keep on trucking—all the way to the bank.