Why we built our own routing technology

You’ve got thousands of parcels to deliver, just as many addresses to take them to, a team of drivers and a fleet of vans. Now all you have to do is work out how to make those deliveries as efficiently as possible – and in a way that ensures the people receiving them are left feeling as happy as possible. 

This crucial logistics component is known as routing, and it’s seriously tricky to get right. There are many reasons why this is – a big one is that there’s practically endless routes to choose from…

Routing is… hard

Let’s say you have two vans delivering parcels to 20 stops. How many different ways could those parcels be delivered? A few thousand? A few million, even?

The answer is around 2.5 quintillion – a number so big it has 17 zeros in it. That is quite frankly a lot. And it’s a number that’s put into context when you realise that two vans and 20 stops is a very, very small operation.

Factor in other everyday considerations like traffic congestion, road closures and – especially relevant to us at Packfleet – vehicle battery life, and you quickly see why efficient routing is a monster challenge.

A tool created by Packfleet engineers, and steered by Packfleet drivers

Now feels like a good time to mention that we built our own in-house routing platform at Packfleet (we call it ‘Pathfinder’).

Whereas other delivery companies often rely on third party routers, we’re in the business of doing things differently. So, we began building what is now a cutting-edge routing platform – combining the latest research into the vehicle routing problem with our deep infrastructure knowledge – that optimises driver routes around predicted traffic on the road.

Engineered to meet the needs of a fully electric-powered van fleet (for obvious reasons), today Pathfinder can generate routes for thousands of stops within minutes – routes that aren’t only logically efficient but translate into the real world based on how our drivers work best.

Because we own our tech end-to-end, we’re able to collect and process thousands of live data points on the ground every minute – information that we very quickly turn into insights that steer how we’ll be evolving Pathfinder next week, next year and beyond.

We built our routing technology to give us total ownership over it, and really what makes the biggest difference to it isn’t the data we collect but the conversations we can have about it.

Our team of engineers who develop Pathfinder every day work in the same building as the Packfleet drivers and hub staff who use it every day. Better still, every two months our engineers (and all of our office staff, in fact) go out on the road with our drivers to see first-hand how their software works in action. 

While yes, they build fantastic software, the chances of Google and Waze engineers committing to regular ride along in our vans feels slim.

We prefer to keep things in-house where we can.