Why Automation is Revolutionizing Logistics

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If you’re still not convinced that automation is the name of the game when it comes to working smarter, get a load of this: two technological trends —smart trucking apps and driverless trucks —are now poised to revolutionize the world of logistics.

In an industry that still relies upon whiteboards and pencils in place of clicking and swiping, the ensuing disruption could be huge; but so could the payoff. Greater operational efficiency, reduced dock congestion, and the ability to easily manage carriers are just some of the potential benefits.

SMART TRUCKING APPS: TRANSPORT LOGISTICS TAKES A LESSON FROM LYFT

Let’s begin with the rise of smart trucking apps, a technological shakeup that applies lessons learned from services like Uber and Lyft to the logistics industry.

First, the down-low on how these apps work: according to a recent article in Forbes, they “provide an all-in-one solution for freight shippers and carriers: fast, automated load matching based on location and equipment; turn-by-turn route planning and shipment tracking; algorithm-based instant pricing; and seamless proof-of-delivery, billing and payment.”

The basic idea?

The apps will eliminate the time (and cost) of the freight-broker middleman, and allow shippers to communicate directly with drivers and dock managers. It’s a clear departure from business as usual, but the fragmented logistics industry is ripe for the disruption that mobile apps bring. Today’s shippers say that dealing with multiple drivers, many of them independent or employed by smaller carriers, makes it difficult to efficiently schedule and execute last minute shipments.

 

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“The industry’s fragmentation creates the need for brokers to interact with multiple carriers on behalf of a shipper to determine their availability, followed by price haggling and back-office administrative headaches,” Dan Lewis, founder and CEO of Convoy, told Forbes. “It’s common for a broker to conduct more than 200 phone calls per day just to arrange, track and complete shipments.”

(RELATED: Learn how Sonoco automated their dock scheduling and said goodbye to detention fees.)

DRIVERLESS TRUCKS: TEST DRIVING INTO A DOCK NEAR YOU

And now for a departure that’s really going to ruffle feathers in the logistics arena: Driverless trucks.

Wait, what?

Take a look:

 

We’re not talking about Back to the Future here; driverless trucks are just around the bend. The upside of this logistics trend is real: greater fuel efficiency, increased road safety, a positive impact on the environment, and the ability to leverage a whole new generation of drivers.

Why are drivers still needed?

Because driverless trucks won't be truly driverless—they still require licensed operators to get them onto the highway and to take over in specific situations. However, the hands-free technology will free up drivers to multitask while on the road, for example handling paperwork faster and communicating with shippers and receivers.

Despite these benefits, driverless trucks have a long way to go in the court of public opinion, and the safety fears around a giant 18-wheeler without anyone in the driver’s seat shouldn’t be underestimated.

 An article in Inbound Logistics acknowledged these concerns, while also highlighting a potential silver lining in the fact that “public perception will demand absolute reliability with this new technology.”  

In other words, the public’s squeamishness with the idea of driverless trucks will force the logistics industry to create rigorous safety protocols and regulations. Time will tell if the work required to establish and maintain strict safety protocols may slow down an otherwise quickly moving industry trend.

PREP FOR THE FUTURE OF LOGISTICS BY AUTOMATING

While smart trucking apps and driverless trucks may ultimately be a real boon for logistics, the industry still has some big learning curves to navigate before it can embrace the trends with open arms.

Now more than ever, logistics professionals need to leverage the existing tools in their belts to maximize efficiency. Like it or not, warehouse managers will have major roles to play in testing these two technological trends. If they’re already working smart by using automated solutions, then driverless trucks and smart trucking apps are going to seem like a shorter haul.

Ensuring smooth dock scheduling and warehouse management are as important as ever, and digital tools like scheduling software will continue be in an ally in logistics pros’ ongoing struggle to manage their workforce and other resources.

Want to avoid being dazzled to the point of inaction when a driverless truck glides into your dock? Get your carrier arrival times off a whiteboard and into a scheduling software application first.

As this brave new world of logistics automation approaches, shipping and receiving insiders have their work cut out for them. Without proper management, new technologies like smart trucking apps and driverless trucks run the very real risk of adding to the chaos, not decreasing it. Teams that already have solid automated management systems in place will be better positioned to adjust, and get the show on the road.

Topics: Insights, Logistics

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