International Roadcheck: What To Expect and How To Prepare

Across North America, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s International Roadcheck will take place June 5-7. Inspectors will be looking over commercial motor vehicles’ mechanical soundness and driver operating requirements. The CVSA will inspect about 17 trucks or buses every minute during this three-day period.

This year, inspectors will be conducting North American Standard Level I inspections, a 37-step procedure. This includes:

  • Checking Break Systems
  • Cargo Securement
  • Windshield Wipers
  • Coupling Devices
  • Frames
  • Exhaust Systems
  • Tires
  • Seatbelts

During the 2017 roadcheck, of the drivers determined out of service, 32 percent violated hours-of-service rules. So drivers must make sure they have hours-of-service documentation ready, as this will be a focus of the 2018 inspection. This comes following the electronic logging device rule that digitally tracks drivers’ breaks and transporting times, which went into effect in December 2017. The 2018 inspection is the ideal time to see whether the rule has changed drivers’ compliance.

But truckers aren’t the only ones affected by the annual roadcheck.  Shippers should consider ways they can prevent delivery delays during the inspection that could cause service suspensions or generate higher costs for customers.

Shippers can prevent headaches by obtaining frequent and accurate tracking updates from transportation providers. Inform your customers that their deliveries could be prolonged due to these inspections. and ask to check their product supply to ensure a delay would not shut down operations in the event of a setback in delivery time.

Our customers have been successful in avoiding delays by utilizing dock scheduler tools. This helps shippers track delivery truck arrivals so they can have their products ready to load. If drivers are trying to curb delivery delays, shippers should allow them to arrive early if the facility is managed by appointments. Also, if the shipping facility has plenty of room, drivers should be allowed to park and wait on-site. This provides the shipper with easy access to the truck driver when it’s time to load, and the driver can start transporting goods to the destination as soon as possible.

Most importantly, shippers who work by appointment only should allow truck drivers a grace period when it comes to their scheduled appointment times June 5-7. Giving the truck driver an extra hour or so to arrive is helpful when there’s the possibility of being chosen in the CVSA’s inspection.

The International Roadcheck will go well as long as everyone is using scheduling tools and communicating effectively. Contact Sheer today to learn about how easy it is to utilize our technology to stay on top of your shipments — even during inspections.

Worried About the Driver Shortage? Here’s What You Should Know.

Have you ever tried filling a bucket with water when there is a hole in the bottom?  No matter how much water you pour into the bucket, it will continue to drain until you plug the hole. The logistics industry faces a similar situation on a regular basis.  However, rather than water, the trucking world is struggling to keep the bucket full of a different resource: drivers. The current turnover rate for truck drivers is about 95 percent, and driver shortages are affecting supply chains across the country.

A report from the American Trucking Association revealed that over 70 percent of the goods consumed in the U.S. are moved around by trucks. To effectively meet this demand, the trucking industry needs to hire about 900,000 more drivers. No big deal, right?

Carriers are pulling out the stops to raise pay and intensify recruiting to keep pace with rising freight volumes. Despite these efforts, fewer drivers are entering the workforce than ever before. On top of that, existing drivers are hopping between companies to chase better opportunities or leaving the profession altogether.

Additionally, truck drivers are an aging group. According to estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average age of commercial drivers is 55. The profession doesn’t seem to appeal to Millennial workers, which could be a major problem in the coming decades. Increased pay might be enough to tempt these young adults to explore trucking, but an investor report from Stifel Financial Corp. indicates that pay would need to increase by at least 50 percent to make a meaningful difference.

“Anything less is just playing the churn game,” the report concludes.

Ultimately, the high turnover rate is part of a larger issue that directly affects shippers. The ongoing driver shortage has created a capacity crunch in the logistics industry, complicating shipping operations and raising prices.

 

Shipping in an Age of Capacity Crunch

Most retailers are elated to be working in a booming economy, but more demand for products translates to more demand for shipping. Considering the lack of drivers, the supply of trucks can’t keep up with the demand of loads that need to be moved. This capacity crunch has severe repercussions.

Shippers must consider how this changes their shipping expenses, as well as new operations challenges that might arise. The capacity crunch will likely affect your business in the following ways:

  1. Spot Rates

The spot market for truckload transportation is highly reactive to any changes in supply and demand. When carriers know their capacity is in demand, they can increase pricing quickly. Industry statistics show that spot pricing is as much as 30 percent higher than one year ago.

  1. Contract Rates

Although they are not as quick to react as spot rates, contract carrier pricing increases more significantly when driver capacity is pinched. Carriers are paying more in driver wages and signing bonuses — not to mention losing money in turnover costs. Carriers naturally want to recover these costs when contract pricing is renewed. Even before renewal time, carriers will reduce their load tender acceptance compliance to allocate capacity to better-paying freight.

  1. Pickup or Delivery Failures

Carriers typically commit to load tenders even though they might not know which driver will be handling the load. When there’s a shortage, there’s a much greater chance that no driver will be available in time to meet service requirements. Carriers can respond by either handling the load and causing a service failure or declining the load after they’ve accepted it, which also typically causes a service failure.

  1. Poor Carrier Quality

Even if a shipment arrives on time, high levels of driver turnover often lead to poor customer experiences. Drivers who are unfamiliar with a shipper might not follow procedures or might not be prepared to handle the shipment as expected. Driver familiarity with the freight and facilities fosters high quality (and vice versa).

  1. Carriers Playing Favorites

In this setting, customers might have to compete for carrier capacity in a number of ways. They must efficiently load trucks, provide adequate driver facilities, and be flexible so they don’t detain drivers longer than necessary. Shippers who fail to provide a good experience for drivers will have a more difficult time acquiring capacity during times of scarcity, as drivers will gravitate toward their favorite customers.

 

Finding Solutions

The best way for shippers to tackle these issues is by choosing reliable carriers. A third-party logistics (3PL) provider that knows the market can help you find the best carrier for your business and the ideal balance between saving money and maximizing efficiency. However, don’t partner with just any 3PL.

Make sure the firm has a solid grasp of your business model right off the bat. It should understand and share your values and be knowledgeable about your industry and its challenges. Any trustworthy firm is also transparent about its rates, including initial and continuing fees.

Dismiss any company that tries to be subtle and “hands off.” Results only come from direct involvement in your operations, including learning everything possible about your supply chain. A 3PL cannot improve something it knows nothing about.

The shipping industry is likely to continue growing in complexity and uncertainty, and you want a partner you can trust. Whatever the coming years bring, a high-quality 3PL can help shippers navigate current and future challenges to improve operations and reach ambitious objectives.

 

If you’d like to learn more about how the ongoing capacity crunch might affect your business — and troubleshoot solutions to any problems — contact the Sheer team today.

Navigating the Increasingly Tangled Web of Supply Chain Laws

Compliance is a challenge in many industries, but it becomes particularly important — and more complex — when your company transports goods across state lines. Shippers that don’t prioritize compliance can discover too late that they’ve been breaking the law.

Whether it’s regulations on hazardous materials or guidelines on refrigerating perishables, the patchwork of state laws can quickly complicate even the most straightforward supply chain. For example, Michigan’s prominent agriculture industry means the state allows a maximum vehicle and freight collective weight considerably higher than its bordering states. While your gross vehicle weight can legally exceed 80,000 pounds on most Michigan roads, you cannot cross into Indiana or Ohio due to the lower maximum weight restrictions in those states.

Other laws that can be troublesome relate to load size, including restrictions regarding maximum trailer length and maximum payload. Certain states have more nuanced standards, with California posing unique challenges for logistics professionals. The Golden State historically is a lot stricter regarding emissions and agricultural inspections, though newer equipment is designed with these emissions standards in mind.

When shippers need to go one step further and deliver goods internationally to Canada or Mexico, requirements increase exponentially. Between customer paperwork, taxes, and border crossings, the various considerations can create significant delays. While this hodgepodge of regulations can feel overwhelming, a little knowledge goes a long way.

 

A Slow Push Toward Standardization

Despite these complications, the logistics world is slowly moving toward more nationwide standardization. Aside from a few outliers, most states are aligned regarding equipment size, gross weight, and emissions restrictions.

On the federal level, government regulations dictate legal driving hours — and electronic logging devices (ELDs) to ensure those guidelines are met — for anyone operating via a commercial driver’s license in the U.S. These devices are designed to automatically track driving time to provide more accurate hours of service for truck drivers.

The next big change coming down the pipeline is the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which aims to standardize food chain operations. As a response to outbreaks of listeria and salmonella caused by unsanitary freight transportation, the Food and Drug Administration has been empowered to enforce regulations designed to increase safety.

Large companies have already been affected by the FSMA, but the compliance deadline for small carriers that make up the majority of trucks on the road won’t take effect until September 17. Food safety is indeed crucial, but the FSMA presents a steep challenge for smaller companies with more limited resources. But a tech-focused approach can help companies of any size implement these changes smoothly.

There will always be some growing pains tied to massive shifts of this sort, but standardization ends up being a net gain for the shipping industry. While some rules are still in flux, there are a number of key regulations that should always be top of mind.

As mentioned before, ELD mandates are forcing carrier compliance as it relates to driving regulations. This will continue to affect shippers — particularly for 400- or 500-mile trips that once were considered same-day shipments.

Hours of service (i.e., legal driving time) is a law that affects customers and carriers equally. Only 11 hours of consecutive driving is permitted within a 14-hour “on duty” period, after which drivers must take a mandatory break of 10 hours. While shippers might be aware of these regulations, they often overlook that a driver’s wait time during loading and unloading is considered “on duty” time.

These regulations might seem like a lot to keep in mind as you attempt to move products from point A to point B, but it’s important to remember that they’re in place to ensure the safety of drivers and everyone else on the road.

 

How an Outside Partner Can Lend a Hand

Whether you’re trying to move goods between states or countries, you’re going to grapple with a complex web of regulations. It takes intricate knowledge of this web to develop a shipping strategy that is both efficient and realistic.

A dedicated third-party logistics (3PL) firm should be familiar with numerous rules and regulations, including anything that varies by location. When a reliable 3PL engages with your freight program, it will typically complete the following steps:

  1. Define freight requirements.

    This includes determining the type of trailer, special shipping needs, and shipping and receiving hours of all participating facilities.

  2. Define transit times and routing of shipments.

    This involves securing carriers to complete each shipment. Carriers are qualified by geographical service area, special service offerings, and certifications (e.g., hazardous material endorsement, team driver service, etc.). The 3PL should match carriers that meet all state-specific and federal regulations with your particular freight.

  3. Execute freight shipments.

    At this point, the 3PL will monitor shipments, track progress, manage exceptions, and measure and report performance metrics and carrier compliance to shipping rules. While facilitating a customer’s freight program, a 3PL must tackle tricky situations such as working with multiple shipping locations or outside vendors.

Getting all parties fully engaged is one of the biggest obstacles at the outset of any partnership. A qualified 3PL should boast an implementation team of experts who can address these challenges and help set a positive tone for customers and other relevant participants. If you’re interested in partnering with a 3PL that can guarantee this level of service, contact the Sheer team today.

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.

Broker or Logistics Service Provider?

Investing in a logistics partner often requires a crash course in acronyms. Companies talk at length about 3PLs, 4PLs, and other equally confusing designations, sprinkling in terms such as “brokers” and “brokerages.” It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.
To cut through the confusion and determine whether your company needs to partner with an LSP or a broker, ask yourself a few questions.