If fresh milk collection doesn’t go like clockwork, there will be a few disgruntled stakeholders including farmers, the processors and the cows. But transport solutions designed for moving everyday commodities to and from central distribution points don’t work well for milk which typically involves hundreds of pick-ups and deliveries to and from farms and factories. In short, the sector was crying out for a system that would make the transportation process more efficient and Mullingar-based OptaHaul has stepped up to provide it.
OptaHaul’s system is bespoke for the dairy industry and its potential customers include processors, co-ops and milk hauliers. At its simplest, the system helps to reduce transport costs and emissions. But there’s a lot more going on in the background. It also monitors other variables associated with milk collection including the impact of bad weather, as well as preventing problems before they happen such as tankers getting stuck on unsuitable roads or finding access to farms restricted.
“On a normal map it may look like a road is okay or that it’s okay to make a left or a right turn. But in reality, it’s not, so we have built out the system to override local information thereby avoiding a tanker ending up where it shouldn’t be. This is significant for large enterprise customers with maybe 100 trucks collecting from thousands of farms and delivering to possibly 20 factories,” says company co-founder Gary Gallagher.
‘Complex and costly’
“Milk collection transport is complex and costly and is the highest single cost in milk production after the farmer is paid,” he adds. “Our state-of-the-art route optimisation software allows our customers to proactively manage their fleet operations to reduce costs, increase efficiency and minimise vehicle GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions.”
Before co-founding OptaHaul, Gallagher worked for cloud venture builder, Zoosh, which was asked by a Hungarian dairy processing client to come up with a software solution to reduce the cost of transporting milk. Having successfully cracked the problem, it was clear there was a wider market for the solution and a decision was made to spin it out into a standalone company.
“It’s a niche product, but an important one that addresses an international need. The Irish market is important to us, but in overall terms it’s tiny so we want to tap into the US which is actually quite far behind in terms of digitalisation. The dairy industry has been badly neglected from a technology point of view. Numerous attempts have failed to tackle the issues involved meaning mission-critical processes are still being managed on Excel or paper,” says Gallagher who comes from a background in technology sales and consulting. He is currently participating in UCD’s AgTech accelerator for agribusinesses with global potential.
OptaHaul charges customers a subscription fee to use the system with typical contracts running for between one and three years. The fee is based on the volume of milk involved and users log on, input their data (where their farms and factories are) and the system automatically calculates the optimal routes for the tanker fleets. This is significantly different from normal route planners which only offer a way of getting somewhere.
OptaHaul currently employs four people and there are plans to grow this to seven in the coming months. The company raised a pre-seed round of €300,000 last year from a combination of friends and family, a private fund and an angel investor with a dairy industry background. The company has also been supported by Westmeath Local Enterprise Office.
OptaHaul is platform-agnostic so it will work with customers’ existing hardware and software and with other systems already in use such as milk intake and fleet telematics. “Logistics software often involves significant upfront IT hardware costs and takes time to install. OptaHaul’s cloud technology eliminates capital expenditure and is up and running and generating savings very quickly,” Gallagher says.