Tablet with electronic ticket.
Command Alkon Tablet with electronic ticket.

Question: Three vendors have asked about providing electronic delivery tickets over the last six months. I’ve done just fine without them, so why should I change?

Answer: This question is a little different from the usual questions I get. It calls for an opinion and not a technical answer. Let me say up front that I have long been a supporter of electronic tickets and even worked on the effort to get them accepted in ASTM. Having said that, let me address the pros and cons.

What They Are, How They Work

Practically everyone has received a receipt electronically. FedEx and UPS led the way by requiring customers to sign a mobile device to receive packages. Now hotels, doctors, stores, and even my exterminator provide receipts in electronic format. Also, anyone with a credit card scanner on a mobile device usually generates an electronic receipt.

Electronic delivery tickets are exactly the same as printed tickets except that they appear on a smartphone or tablet screen instead of a piece of paper. All the ticketing requirements from ASTM C-94, “Standard Specification for Ready-Mixed Concrete”, apply to electronic delivery tickets. When C-94 was modified in summer 2016 to permit electronic tickets, all ASTM did was remove the phrase “written, printed or stamped” from the document so the same rules would apply to electronic tickets.

This means that not only must the ticket show the delivery information as required by the purchaser or specifier; it also must allow for a purchaser signature and provide the ability to note the quantity of water added to the load and make comments. The driver receives the ticket information from the plant on a mobile device (typically a tablet), records any water added to the load, and lets the purchaser sign electronically. The ticket is then transmitted to the purchaser via e-mailed PDF or on a password-protected website.

To implement electronic tickets, the producer must buy and install software or sign up with a software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendor. The software is connected to the batch or dispatch system, where it collects ticket information. You’ll also need to provide electronic devices, typically tablets, in truck cabs that require subscribing to a data service of some kind. The challenge here is that many other technologies – electronic driver logs; truck management and video monitoring systems – are vying for the same tablet real estate. Therefore, you need electronic ticketing software that coexists with all these programs.

As the final step, you must gather the e-mail addresses of all intended ticket recipients, including the purchaser, general contractor, owner’s rep and testing lab; and enter them into the software. This can take some time and coordination with the purchaser.

Why Go to All That Trouble?

Not every customer will want an electronic ticket, but many will – especially larger customers.

State and local transportation departments will be among the first to require electronic tickets because the U.S. DOT is pushing them to. The Federal Highway Administration’s Every Day Counts (EDC) initiative includes a program, called e-Construction, that encourages them to go paperless by moving all information gathering, including bids, change orders, and RFIs, to electronic media. Transportation departments have discovered electronic information is easier to store and retrieve and has a lower handling cost. For many, the concrete delivery ticket is the last paper document they accept.

Contractors that are implementing building information modeling (BIM) also want electronic tickets because they, like transportation departments, are going paperless. If you don’t provide electronic tickets, the contractor must scan the paper copies – a less-than-ideal customer-service scenario. At the jobsite, switching eliminates tickets being blown off a clipboard, rained on, or otherwise damaged before they get to the trailer. Finally, electronic media means no one must scrutinize impossible-to-read third-generation multipart forms.

Of course, this only reflects the desires of the owner and contractor. Why would you want to switch? Producers that changed say trucks leave the yard faster, drivers lose fewer tickets to wind and bad weather, they run a safer operation because drivers don’t have to leave their cabs after batching, and they get paid faster.

Mobile device in the cab.
Command Alkon Mobile device in the cab.

Then Why Wait?

At this point, not every customer is a candidate for electronic tickets. Some jobsites don’t have cellular Internet access due to terrain or a lack of cell towers. Some sites, such as military bases and secure manufacturing sites, don’t allow electronic devices. Some customers may not have Internet access or just don’t want to receive an electronic ticket. This must all be considered and negotiated before delivery.

One of the biggest drawbacks is that electronic tickets sometimes don’t fit the unspoken needs of a delivery ticket.

ASTM C-94 establishes a delivery ticket as documentation showing a “manufacturer” provided concrete to a “purchaser” in an agreed-upon fashion. In reality, tickets are used for much more. Independent testing labs use them to confirm the delivery complies with specifications. Pumpers use them to estimate, in advance, whether or not the mix will pump. Placing crews refer to them to determine how much concrete has been delivered and how much more is coming.

All these parties may need access to a ticket that won’t be around once the truck leaves the jobsite.

Finally, there are costs involved in implementing electronic delivery tickets. Not only must the software be purchased, but tablets may need to be purchased for the truck cab and a data plan for delivering the tickets must often be acquired. Of course, there is a cost for paper tickets, too – the tickets themselves, printers, and handling – which can add 5 minutes or more to the driver’s time at the plant.

Should I Wait Until Electronic Tickets Improve?

Although there’s potential for enhancement, it doesn’t mean electronic tickets aren’t useful now. They’ve been used by other industries for almost 20 years and for about five years in ours (even though ASTM didn’t recognize them until 2016). Even though the technology will improve, electronic tickets provide a lot of advantages over paper tickets right now.

For example, in the future if water is added to a load, the ticket might be able to report the new water/cementitious ratio or the new volume of concrete in the truck. Tying an electronic ticket to a project video scanner might allow the scanner to monitor the amount of concrete that’s been placed in the slab, compare that to the remaining amount to be delivered, and calculate whether additional concrete should be ordered or if the order can be cut back. Right now, transportation departments want their field technicians to receive the ticket, attach tests such as slump and air content, and transmit the complete information to the district office. The possibilities are limitless.

So should you switch to electronic delivery tickets? Only you can answer that question. If you supply big projects, you’ll probably switch sooner rather than later. If you’re a small producer that wants to collect cash upon delivery and can process a credit card remotely, you may also want to go paperless. Talk to your customers and software vendors to determine if electronic tickets are right for your operation. They may be the wave of the future, but that doesn’t mean you need to catch that wave today.