Darling Ingredients’ embrace of multiple technology systems has increased its efficiency.
By Jim Harris
Darling Ingredients’ fleet operations can best be described as diverse and multi-faceted. “Darling’s transportation needs can be quite different from plant to plant, depending on what they do there,” says Patrick McNutt, vice president of fleet operations for the Irving, Texas-headquartered company. “Our operations are very complex across our platform.”
Although this diversity can make it difficult to pinpoint continuity across the company, two threads tie together all of Darling Ingredients’ fleet operations. Logistics processes and techniques, as well as overall fleet management, lay the foundation for the company’s diverse fleet structure. “Part of what sets us apart is our use of technology to improve our management processes, and we believe in a positive street image,” McNutt says.
The company employs more than 1,400 drivers in the United States and Canada. The fleet includes more than 1,700 power units and 4,500 trailers, all of which are owned and managed by Darling Ingredients.
Darling Ingredients, through its global family of brands, collects and repurposes millions of metric tons of edible and inedible meat by-products annually. Materials processed by the company include beef, poultry, pork by-products and used cooking oil which are converted into specialty ingredients such as gelatin, tallow, feed-grade fats, meat and bone meal, poultry meal, yellow grease, fuel feedstocks and natural casings and hides. These ingredients are sold to industries including pharmaceuticals, food, pet food, feed, fuel, bio-energy and fertilizer manufacturing.
The company dates its history back to 1882, when the Ira C. Darling Co. was formed in Chicago as a partnership between the Swift family meatpacking business and the Darling family fertilizer company. The publicly traded company has had its current name since 2014, following the acquisition of several processing and rendering companies. “We are an organization that is built on legacies from different organizations,” McNutt says. “We have many years of pride behind us.”
A Wide Reach
Darling Ingredients operates more than 120 collection and manufacturing facilities located across the United States and Canada. These facilities may focus on one business line, or serve multiple divisions of Darling Ingredients’ operations. For example, a location in Blue Island, Ill., provides customers with grease trap services, while the company’s facility in Bryan, Texas, transports and processes inedible breads, cereal, pasta and snack food products from commercial bakeries and retailers. Many of Darling’s locations in North America operate more than one line of business, with multiple fleet requirements.
The company’s facilities are purposefully spread out across the continent. “We’re very localized. The sheer nature of the raw materials we handle prevents us from transporting them too far – we need to get to a plant and process it in a short period of time,” McNutt says, noting that trucks typically only travel within a few hundred miles of facilities.
Darling Ingredients’ fleet includes tankers used to pick up bulk materials such as cooking oil, as well as open-top trailers to transport other raw materials. Darling Ingredients purchases trailers and other equipment from manufacturers as well as dealers. “Our relationship with our suppliers on the fleet management side is very strong,” he adds. “We are fairly particular about who we do business with – we expect them to have the same level of professionalism that we have.”
Darling Ingredients has integrated three main types of technology into its operations in recent years. The first was on-board technology, which includes computers used to collect customer data and maintain electronic logs, as well as systems used to track the location of fleet assets, McNutt says.
The company also uses routing systems, as well as fleet maintenance and asset management technology. “All three of these have a benefit to themselves, but they also all intertwine, and are used collaboratively,” he adds. “Overall, we use technology to measure our route efficiency and effectiveness. We want to build routes that are effective and meaningful, and then measure our drivers’ efficiency across those routes. Having these capabilities has made us more profitable.”
Darling Ingredients first started using this technology 10 years ago, but initially faced challenges in its rollout. “Our attempts to implement routing software and onboard technology across our platforms failed at first for various reasons such as technology challenges and change-management,” McNutt says.
As an example, many of the company’s drivers at the time were resistant to the idea of computers planning their routes. “We had to fight through that,” he adds. “We learned that if you don’t have a solid plan in place for how you will deal with the change-management aspects of new technology, you are setting yourself up for failure.”
The company started to see success with its installation efforts seven years ago. “We started getting onboard computers and routing systems installed, trained our people in how to use them, and got them to really embrace the technology,” he adds.
Darling Ingredients took an organic approach getting the organization to accept the new technology. “We first found willing participants who had some thirst and interest in making the change, and built momentum from there,” McNutt says. “We grew from early adapters to a nucleus of people who were initially on the fence. There were still some laggards, but we got to the point we had enough momentum to get them to where we needed them to be.”
The most recent system installed by the company enables it to track the location of its trailers. “We not only know where our assets are, but feed that information into our other systems,” McNutt adds, noting the system also enables it to know how far trailers have been driven and can gauge how they are being used.
Darling Ingredients, like most fleet operators across the United States, is facing a significant challenge when it comes to hiring and retaining qualified mechanics and drivers. The company’s ongoing investments in its fleet and technology, as well as a positive working environment, help it attract and keep employees.
“Our fleet operations team is always trying to improve the working environment for our drivers and department staff,” McNutt says. “We make sure that we have up-to-date and well-maintained equipment to help keep our drivers safe and efficient, and try to provide an atmosphere where people can be proud to work for us.
“Many of the things we do have a ‘human touch’ aspect that is meant to keep our people involved and make them feel like they’re a part of the organization’s overall success,” he adds. “Our plants operate a bit like individual businesses, with their own goals and incentives, as well as activities to involve their employees like charity events, sponsored sports teams, employee cookouts, etc. Our CEO likes to say we are a family company, with international roots. Our plant management tries to connect with their employees on that same level, and it’s helped to generate a very pleasant working atmosphere.”