Arriving on Time

Time is money, and at Saskatchewan Minerals, we’re committed to making sure our railcar fleet moves as efficiently as possible.

For us, efficient railcar turn time — the time taken for one loaded railcar to arrive at its destination, unload, and return to its point of origin — means faster railcars, more trips, and most importantly, better cost-savings for our customers. Depending on the car’s distance of travel, amount of time needed to offload, and railroad servicing, every railcar’s turn time varies greatly for each destination.

With an impressive average customer railcar turn time of 56 days in 2011, Saskatchewan Minerals’ overall average fleet turn time for a railcar in the same year was 5.94 trips, which also includes idle time for repairs and maintenance.

“Railcar turn times are an important analytical tool for our logistics department and a key source of identifying potential cost-savings for our customers,” says Anita Stettner, regional accounts and logistics manager at Saskatchewan Minerals.

Tracing track times

As part of its internal processes for tracking railcar turn times and shipments, Saskatchewan Minerals uses various online service providers that feed the company with important railcar information, including details such as loaded trip times, unloading and release empty times, and the transit time taken to travel back to the plant.

“We perform monthly analyses on this to achieve an overall snapshot of our railcar efficiencies, and we examine our statistics on a per-customer basis,” says Sherry Polley, logistics representative for Saskatchewan Minerals. “The information we gather from these reports is extremely valuable to us since it helps us to make important decisions regarding the amount of railcars needed in our fleet, and where we’re able to improve our efficiencies.”

Through the use of an Internet-based rail tracing program, the company offers its rail customers a daily update on the status and progression of their loaded railcars so they know where their railcars are at all times, and at a glance.

“We use this trace to track our empties and plan our loading schedules at Chaplin,” says Sherry. “The daily reports not only help us plan loading and unloading at either end of the shipment cycle, but it also helps to reduce our demurrage costs.”

The information found within the reports is also used to determine how many railcars are needed in the Saskatchewan Minerals fleet, as well as the costs of operating them.

Increasing efficiency

Having already used a number of methods to increase railcar efficiencies throughout the years, Saskatchewan Minerals has also adapted its railcar fleet to suit more customers by implementing the Smoot device and removing railcar brackets, and has employed the use of combination gravity/pneumatic gates to help accommodate a wider variety of its customers.

Applying food grade linings to all its cars also accommodates a wide variety of customers, and the continual maintenance and inspection of all cars that return to the plant site helps the company ensure that its fleet moves efficiently. The implementation of a gate changeout program also sees new pneumatic/gravity gates installed each year to reduce idle railcar time due to maintenance and repairs.

It all adds up to cost-effective, efficient and flexible service for our customers.