3 Ways Autonomous Trucking Will Change the Logistics Industry

Self-driving cars are all the rage these days, with everyone from Hyundai to General Motors getting in on the action. The technology represents big business, with Intel and Strategy Analytics reporting that the autonomous vehicles could add $7 trillion to the global economy by 2050.

We’re still a few decades out from that vision, but autonomous vehicles have already started to infiltrate the shipping industry. Startups such as Embark are using autonomous trucks to ship refrigerators 650 miles between El Paso, Texas, and Palm Springs, California. The trucks are fully automated, though human passengers ride shotgun in case of an emergency. Tesla, meanwhile, is working with major companies such as Walmart to test fleets of autonomous trucks.

Despite these exciting steps forward, it will probably still be at least 10 years before fully autonomous vehicles are a widely used method of shipping freight on American roadways. Even with prototypes logging miles on the road today, it’s still a bit early to say exactly how the industry will change. The only certainty is that the logistics industry will never be the same again.

The Benefits of Autonomous Trucks

To examine the short- and long-term future of this technology, we must first differentiate between fully autonomous and semi-autonomous trucks. Semi-autonomous trucks, including the vehicles Embark and Tesla are using, require partial engagement from humans in the truck cabs. Fully autonomous trucks that would require no human operators whatsoever probably won’t be hitting the roads until there are dedicated lanes for trucks.

Even a slight degree of automation can create opportunities for cost savings in transportation. Platooning, one semi-autonomous technique, enables carriers to save up to 10 percent on diesel fuel costs. Trucks use advanced sensors surrounding the vehicle to stick together in close lines. This minimizes drag, reducing the work that the engines must perform. When one truck leaves the line or another vehicle disrupts the line, the other trucks in the platoon automatically adjust for the changes.

Automation has incredible potential in the shipping industry, but many business leaders naturally gravitate toward how it can boost their budgets. For instance, some Caterpillar mining trucks in Australia have helped save 500 hours of work annually by handling small shipments. Imagine the results if automated trucks were to handle the entirety of your freight needs.

The benefits of automation extend beyond just cost savings and efficiency, though. Autonomous vehicles obey safety protocols to the letter, and they can operate during the middle of the night, when the roads are relatively free of drivers. That means fewer tired truckers, faster shipments, and a likely reduction in accidents.

Some drivers understandably fear that these trucks will take their jobs, but autonomous trucking will redefine what it means to be a truck driver rather than replace the position entirely. New skills, like logistics management and repair specializations, will take priority both within the cab and outside of it. Human drivers will still be necessary to take trucks to their final destinations, refuel the vehicles, and load and unload shipments.

Major fleets might experiment with the technology sooner, but the high cost of early adoption means many owner-operators will be slower to switch over to fully autonomous trucks. Independent contractors will be able to sit back and assess the landscape as new regulations, safety protocols, and other factors take shape. Once the dust clears, experienced drivers will still have a seat at the table — though their responsibilities will change.

How Automation Will Forever Change Shipping

While it won’t happen tomorrow — or even next year — autonomous vehicles are going to spark a dramatic shift in logistics. The technology will set off major shockwaves in three key areas: driver employment, delivery times, and costs.

  • Evolving Job Duties
    The ongoing driver shortage will not disappear with autonomous vehicles. Companies still desperately need drivers, and that won’t change before the autonomous shift or during the transition period. The fewer drivers that are available, the longer and more difficult the transition process will be.President Donald Trump’s plan to allow some form of apprenticeship for new drivers could help, but technology will play a larger role than policy in this issue. Fully autonomous trucks won’t need drivers in the traditional sense, but they will need human logistics managers, maintenance professionals, and other skilled laborers to remain operational. The drivers of today will be able to gain new skills and embrace exciting opportunities.
  • Shortened Delivery Times
    Robots don’t have to obey laws related to hours of service. Computers don’t need to sleep, eat, or live their personal lives off the clock. They will need a tuneup every now and then, but robots are able to stay on the road much longer than their human counterparts.Existing HOS laws exist to protect everyone from sleep-deprived truckers hauling loads to meet tight deadlines. Robots are able to adhere to incredibly rigid schedules, which are reduced thanks to the elimination of eight hours of sleep every day. With this increased efficiency, logistics managers will have a field day optimizing schedules.
  • Reduced Costs
    Not paying drivers is cheaper than paying drivers, but the savings extend far beyond shippers and carriers. Provided that autonomous trucks are safer than humans, we can expect to see insurance costs drop over time. As these costs go down, shipping organizations will be able to pass on the savings to their clients — all the way to consumer products in stores.

At Sheer, we aggressively vet the carriers in our network and rate them based on their levels of service. When fully autonomous trucks become a reality, we will continue to measure carrier performance to track the effectiveness of autonomous trucks. Once autonomous vehicles prove their potential advantages, we’ll be ready to leverage the technology to benefit our services and our clients.

Interested in learning more about the evolution of shipping and logistics? Download our whitepaperto discover how your company can get ahead of technological advances in the shipping industry.

How to Tackle the 5 Most Common Shipping Challenges

If you’ve ever seen a kids’ soccer match, you know how adorable yet ineffective these games can be. The kids still haven’t learned how to communicate and pass the ball well enough to get it in the right goal. When they do score, it’s at least partly due to luck.

In the world of shipping, anything short of perfection can make your company look a little too much like 5-year-olds sporting their first pair of cleats. Even relatively minor problems with deliveries can throw off schedules and disrupt the availability of goods. These issues cause major problems when trying to please customers.

The complex web of logistics that shippers deal with creates many opportunities for mistakes and financial losses. By overcoming these problems, however, shippers can deliver consistently excellent service and improve their bottom lines.

Here are the five most common challenges shippers face, along with real solutions for tackling those problems.

1.  Tracking Shipments

Your customers want to know where their valuable shipments are at all times. To answer their questions, you have to call the carrier. You usually speak with a dispatcher, who then has to call his driver to get answers. This chain of communication will inevitably give you and your customers a headache.

There are many technological tools available that create improved shipment visibility through real-time tracking. By utilizing digital tools provided by a Logistics Service Provider (LSP), you can deliver accurate shipment status, location, and ETA information to your customers whenever they want to see it. Even if you miss a delivery target, people tend to be more understanding if they’re kept in the loop.

On your end, real-time tracking gives you the ability to proactively communicate, reschedule, and expedite when needed. An LSP can expedite, reorder a stop, transfer a load to a different carrier, or even divert the shipment to another delivery location. In the long term, these insights can help you improve processes by changing order flows and deployment strategies.

2.  Managing Claims and Disputes

Even with a perfect strategy, unexpected hiccups and problems will happen. Items will sometimes break during their journey, and people will be understandably upset. In addition to potentially losing clients, your accounting team can spend hours making a case for who owes what.

Perceived customer service failures can cause you to lose business. We recommend outsourcing these tough conversations to someone trained in claim mitigation and dispute resolution. A third party like Sheer Logistics can manage these high-stakes tasks for you.

3.  Auditing Invoices

Incoming invoices are often incorrect, making you scramble to match them with corresponding quotes or contracts. You could lose a lot of money through invoice errors and overpayments. Avoiding this problem requires spending money on an auditing process.

This is another area where making use of technological tools can save you money, minimize errors, and ensure accuracy. Using advanced LSPs allows you to electronically match invoices with quotes and automatically identify discrepancies.

4.  Negotiating Carrier Contracts

Operating without a contract, routing on vendor recommendations, and fielding multiple quotes with little data can negatively impact your logistics operation. Contract negotiations sometimes save you money, but even if they do, carriers can still plague your business with shipment issues that go unresolved. Freight claims can cost you money through write-offs, and you can suffer surplus expenses for product replacement (and labor) not covered by the carrier freight claim.

An ideal solution is a custom approach to identifying and securing the best carriers for your product, as well as a method for regularly reporting carrier performance. A typical 3PL will be able to supply the complete data you need in order to choose the ideal carriers for your particular logistics situation.

A thorough process can guarantee that you get the least costly provider among vendors with contracts that take more than just monetary savings into account. It allows you to monitor the real performance of your carriers, including historic data on missed pickups, on-time delivery rates, claims ratios, and more. You can then use this information to forecast for annual budgeting and future carrier decisions.

5.  Measuring Performance

Transparency is not something that Excel spreadsheets or manual data entry and reporting can provide. As a result, staff members from various departments are slowed down by gaps in communication and a general lack of available logistics information. When problems aren’t resolved, time and resources are wasted, and more employees need to be hired to reduce initial waste.

Be proactive in managing all your logistics issues with a TMS that provides you with the necessary tools to maintain full visibility of your entire operation.

For anyone in the logistics world, communication and coordination must be flawless. Sheer provides the advanced tools and industry expertise to enable shippers to optimize their supply chain operations and take their businesses to the next level.

3 Steps Shippers Should Take Now to Prepare for the ELD Mandate

The holiday season always brings a sense of urgency to the shipping industry, but this year’s normal rush has been exacerbated by the impending Dec. 18 deadline for mandatory electronic logging devices.

Fleets and trucks found to be skirting the law will face fines through April 2018, but they eventually will be forced to adhere to the regulations or cease operations. Without a doubt, the fate of shippers is linked directly to the trucks and trucking companies that serve them. Consequently, they have more skin in the game than it might seem at first blush.

Read the full article here.

Press Release: Sheer Joins Blockchain In Transport Alliance

Sheer Logistics announced today that they have joined the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA). BiTA (www.bita.studio) believes blockchain is one of the most significant developments for the logistics industry since the creation of the internet. By providing more clarity and standards around blockchain through education and promotion of the technology, BiTA intends to be the leading […]

Blockchain and the Supply Chain

The creation of even simple products involves huge numbers of participants who don’t know each other. Leonard Read’s classic essay, “I, Pencil,” illustrates this point eloquently, showing that nobody in the world knows everything about making the pencil you buy in a store. He notes the “absence of a master mind” in its creation. People who live far away from each other and don’t know each other play roles in the supply chain.

Trust and coordination

The parties involved work together through contracts and judge one another by reputation and past performance. They can judge their suppliers, but can they be sure of their suppliers’ suppliers and the ones who supply them? Is there a way to maintain confidence all along the supply chain and catch those who cheat?

Methods for doing this do exist, but they rely on a central data repository. This implies an owner, a “master mind.” Participants might have doubts about handing over all their information to the repository, and they might wonder if the owner will really be a neutral arbiter. The database could shut down unexpectedly, or the price to use it might go up.

A better approach would be one that made information available to all participants, without the danger of revocation or alteration. Ideally, it should be a system which is as decentralized as the supply chain itself.

Enter the blockchain

The technology to do this exists. In 2009, a mysterious person or group using the name Satoshi Nakamoto devised a way to acquire and trade units of a virtual currency called Bitcoin without relying on a central authority. Perhaps it was just a technological curiosity to them, but one Bitcoin, which started out with no real-world value, today can be sold for around $1,700.

Other people recognized that the approach could apply to other domains besides money, and they generalized the concept into the blockchain. A blockchain is described as a “distributed ledger” with certain distinctive characteristics:

  • Multiple, independent copies exist, and stakeholders verify them against each other.
  • Entries in it are cryptographically signed. This makes faking an entry virtually impossible and claiming that one is faked implausible.
  • Newly created entries appear in one copy and are propagated to the others.
  • Entries are never deleted.

Some blockchain systems use “smart contracts.” These are pieces of computer code which set conditions and trigger an action when they’re satisfied. For instance, a smart contract might place an order when the records show that all the necessary parts are available.

Blockchain and logistics

How do you know if what you’ve received is what the vendor says it is? This is one of the basic problems of logistics. Even the vendor, who depends on components from others, might not always know. A blockchain can provide greater assurance. Participants indicate what they have produced and what components they used. The suppliers of the components have their own entries in the blockchain. Anyone reviewing the entries can see every participant’s contribution.

This doesn’t prevent anyone from entering false information, of course. What is does is to put every participant’s claim on the record. They can’t later deny having entered the information. This makes it easier to detect fraud as well as honest errors.

Trustworthy suppliers have an incentive to participate, since putting their entries in the blockchain shows they’re willing to put their reputation on the line. Their past performance is there for all participants to see.

Consumers benefit from the blockchain, since vendors have increased confidence in the provenance of what they sell. Blockchain certification will become a selling point.

What next?

The use of blockchains in logistics is still in its early stages. A critical mass of participants is necessary to make them useful. Startup companies are experimenting with various approaches, and they’ll have to agree on common standards so that all suppliers can use the same blockchain.  For this reason, Sheer has joined the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA) to drive the first set of transportation-specific Blockchain standards.

A system of authentication across the supply chain, not relying on any master mind, will benefit both suppliers and purchasers. It will increase everyone’s level of confidence and let distant trading partners work together more smoothly.