Funding raised: Bootstrapped
The logistics sector in India is riddled with multiple challenges and inefficiencies, most of which could be overcome with technology solutions. Or so believed the five founders of Autoplant System while they carried out pilots for top chemical and cement companies in India in the early 2010s.
The Autoplant Co-founders – Venky Nayar, Hiten Varia, Suresh Sachdev, Uma Rajan, and Prabhu Natarajan – had been colleagues at i2 Technologies, a full-service supply chain management company in the US. Each had 12-15 years of experience in demand forecasting, manufacturing planning, warehousing and trucking solutions, and so on.
They moved back to India in 2012 to fill the gaps in the logistics sector at a time when tech adoption wasn’t mainstream. Possibly only a mobile app and GPS tracking had reached suppliers and truckers. But, most individual truck owners – nearly 90 percent of India’s trucking sector – weren’t using it.
“A company could have been shipping 10,000 tonnes and still have no idea where the trucks were. There was zero live tracking, live visibility and live decision-making,” Autoplant System Co-Founder Venky Nayar tells YourStory.
“Logistics was very expensive in India compared to the US. Planning was great, but execution was poor. We needed to start this company because we saw a huge opportunity around execution,” he says.
From then to now
In the six years since then, Mumbai-based Autoplant has developed an end-to-end cloud platform for supply chain management. The platform uses emerging technologies from machine learning (ML) and advanced data analytics to the Internet of Things (IoT) and helps automate various processes in the entire supply chain.
Autoplant focuses on all aspects of logistics execution of commercial long haul-movement, both in-plant and en route till last-mile delivery and freight settlement. It helps companies reduce turnaround times, improve plant throughput, bring efficiencies in transport, live-track trucks en route, digitise manual, paper-based processes, and most importantly, take real-time business decisions.
“We reduce turnaround time by almost 50 percent. So, if it took 12-15 hours to finish loading a truck, we can finish it in six to seven hours. Every truck that goes through our system saves Rs 600-700. There is a 30-40 percent reduction in delivery times too. Even manpower costs are brought down because follow-ups are now automated.”
Tech opportunity in logistics
Autoplant is riding the technology wave that is expected to bring about rapid growth and reform in the domestic logistics sector. Logistics is a $160-billion market now, according to the Economic Survey 2017-18, and is estimated to reach $215 billion in two years. The “sunshine industry” employs over 22 million people, and is considered to be critical to the country’s economic prosperity.
The Economic Survey outlined the importance of integrating technology in logistics. It said that India could “ease trading by harnessing the potential of emerging technologies, bringing in investment, creating human capital, removing bottlenecks, improving intermodal transport mix, automation, single window clearance system, and simplifying procedures”.
Autoplant is doing its bit by harnessing the power of Big Data and helping companies devise intelligent, real-time strategies that not only save indirect costs and reduce spillage, but also optimise available resources and reduce delivery delays.
Its entire solution can be categorised under predictive analytics (that looks at historical data and betters future trips), inline analytics (that tracks journeys of trucks and sends out real-time alerts), and post-mortem analytics (that draws business insights post trip completion). Autoplant also offers recommendations on how truck drivers can be trained or counselled for better deliveries.
Customers and use cases
The startup counts UltraTech Cement, Vedanta, Asian Paints, ACC, and several other large chemical and cement companies among its customers. Earlier in 2018, Autoplant was recognised by Gartner as a “Cool Vendor in IoT services” for “demonstrating IoT implementation expertise and using key IoT assets for project success”.
It all began with UltraTech Cement in 2012.
“They were our first client,” recalls Venky. “Around that time, many international cement majors were looking to enter India. So, UltraTech had to differentiate itself, which it managed to do with our logistics solution,” he says.
The Vedanta Group too has been a “flagship customer” for Autoplant. Venky reveals,
“They had to move large quantities of copper. Hijacking of trucks was very common because copper is an expensive metal. So, we installed Immobilisers and set up an entire control centre that would be alerted in case of en route emergencies.”
Immobilisers are sensors placed in trucks that get auto- activated if the vehicle deviates from its planned route. “An alarm is sounded, the truck is locked down digitally, and the police is informed immediately,” Venky explains.
Autoplant continues to implement such sensors, what it calls the “hardware part” of its business, and safety monitoring systems for its clients. It has installed over 35,000 devices in long-haul commercial trucks, whose ETAs, route possibilities, probable danger zones, etc. are predicted by Autoplant’s ML algorithms.
Besides that, about 10,000 trucks are being GPS-tracked through mobile phones, and that segment is growing fast. “Existing map providers do not give a very good estimate of truck transit times (unlike cars where they are very accurate). We have overcome that by building our own predictive algorithms,” Venky claims.
Team, funds, and expansion
The 300-member Autoplant, which primarily consists of sales development executives, service engineers, software developers, product strategists, etc. claims to generate about Rs 30 crores in annual revenues,”80 percent of which is recurring and growing at 60-70 percent each year.”
“That covers all our operational expenses. Customers pay us on a per-tonne-dispatched basis. We have never gone out looking for funding,” says Venky.
The startup has raised debt from NBFCs, and some undisclosed dollars from Hiten Varia (current chairman and former member at i2). “As long as we focus on India, it should be fine,” Venky adds.
Autoplant, however, does intend to expand overseas, starting with Southeast Asia. It reckons countries like Indonesia and Thailand have logistics industries similar to India’s. “Also, CIOs now are more open to cloud-based solutions,” Venky observes. “But, logistics is a local activity at the end of the day. We have to establish our value proposition,” he says.
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