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Technology and trucking

Experts talk about the trending technologies at this year's Surface Transportation Summit


TORONTO, Ont. – It’s a no-brainer that trucking and technology go hand in hand.

That’s why technology was one of the top discussions at this year’s Surface Transportation Summit held in Toronto on Oct. 11.

Five experts from a variety of new freight transportation technologies and solutions took the stage to explain the latest in their field.

Shipment Visibility
The ‘Amazon Effect’ has really brought shipment visibility to the forefront these days. With just the click of a button and a smartphone, you can track all of your incoming and outgoing shipments. Heck, you can even track your  Domino’s pizza delivery.

And while this is convenient to keep tabs on everything, there is a deeper meaning for your customers, according to experts.

“Certainly, in the last few years, there’s been tremendous growth in freight visibility,” Brian Hodgson, v.p., transportation strategy at Descartes Systems said. “People want to know ‘Where is my truck? Where are my goods?’ And it’s driving business benefits that customers are seeing. The biggest impetus is that (businesses now) they have a strategic initiative to serve customers in a digital way. So for them, they are incorporating visibility where they want to provide real time, 15 minute updates to their customers.

“From a competing standpoint, it ties into a bigger strategy. You can have track and trace teams….there’s efficiencies on transportation….now customers can get a predictive ETA, and it even cuts down on detention time. Because if a delivery is delayed for whatever reason, the customer will know and can shift things around on the dock….this can really cut down on detention time and on costs.”

Hodgson added that he is noticing a trend today where many companies are putting real-time visibility into their RPFs as a requirement.

Blockchain
The buzzword of trucking in 2018 (and I suspect for many more years to come) has been blockchain.

The technology, which is still new to the industry, is one that promises to help trucking and transportation immensely by cutting administrative costs and by finally putting to rest the issue of trust between shippers and carriers.

Blockchain, explained Ly Nguyen, management consulting manager at Accenture, is a digital ledger and complex technology that is made up of existing technology stitched together and repackaged.

“Blockchain allows multiple parties to access the same information and data through a network of computers,” she said, adding that what is most important for trucking when it comes to this technology, is smart contracts.

“Smart contracts are a whole bunch of 0 and 1s that are coded based on agreed rules and terms of parties and the process of steps,” she said. “So when the conditions of the contract are met, the smart contract will be executed.”

This way, she explained, if a condition of the contract isn’t met, the contract will not be fulfilled and then the shippers and carriers can deal with the problem directly. For example, you can spell out in the smart contract that detention pay will be triggered if the driver is waiting for longer than 60 minutes.

“The very key feature that resonates to the logistic industry is the provenance of goods,” she added. “We will be able to see the original and track and trace the flow of the goods. We know when someone tampers with the data or information. We can track where it’s from and can trace history.”

While blockchain sounds promising for the industry, Dave Brajkovich, the CTO of Polaris Transportation stressed that it will only be successful if the industry pulls together.

“Blockchain is something that’s interested me for a long time,” he said. “I’ve been involved in IT and systems for too many years. With blockchain, I got to see it work in finance, when I worked in that industry….There are many collaboration opportunities with blockchain. For this industry to grow and change, collaboration is critical and blockchain will help pave that way.”

Connected vehicles
According to Martin Abadi, counsel for Borden Ladner Gervais, two things need to happen before fully autonomous vehicles will be a reality in a mass application.

“First, costs need to come down, and second, laws and regulations need to catch up with the technology,” he said. “Right now, there are different levels of automation and we have many layers of regulation to go through here in Canada, like we have Transport Canada, and then in Ontario the Ministry of Transportation…for mass application we need to test first and make laws homogeneous across the country and we haven’t even reached that level. In Europe, they have lots of regulations for autonomous vehicles and there’s even some states in the US that do. But Canada doesn’t. And until that happens, we can’t answer how many years until we see (autonomous vehicles) in mass application here.”

Abadi also addressed the most burning question that comes up when autonomous vehicles are discussed – who is responsible in the unfortunate event of an accident when an autonomous vehicle is involved?

“I’ve looked at this issue, and in different jurisdictions, and I can tell you from every jurisdiction…the driver still remains responsible,” he said. “For example, Germany has advanced expression of autonomy and article seven of the German law places responsibility on the driver.”

Abadi added that in Germany however there is a pending law that would allow a “black box provision” that would discern if a system failure occurred at the time of the accident. This law is subject to review next year, he said.

“Conceptually, the more the driver is a passenger within the vehicle, the less likely he’s going to be held responsible, but that’s not what we have in Canada currently. Because we have Transport Canada, that doesn’t certify level four or five autonomous vehicles…The driver is supposed to intervene, so they are still responsible.”

Warehouse automation
Much like the trucking industry has a problem with finding drivers, the logistics industry has problems finding laborers to work in warehouses.

So naturally, warehouse automation is becoming more and more popular.

“Right now, some basic things automation can do in distribution centers, is sorting, moving, specialized tasks like palletization, packaging, storage and retrieval,” Charles Fallon, principal, LIDD Supply Chain Intelligence. “And what’s driving it, is the high cost of wages and benefits, and the availability or lack thereof, of labor. There are certain areas in Canada and the U.S. where finding someone to work a night shift is almost impossible.”

As well, Fallon pointed out, the high cost of land is forcing people to build up instead of out, so traditional fork lifts can’t do some jobs, so automated solutions are the only way to get the job done.

If you’re thinking of using automated technology for you warehouse or operation, Fallon offered some words of wisdom.

“For successful automation, you need to have a mature operation,” he said. “Meaning something you can define, because blank spots are the death. So, you want to make sure your operation has low volatility, which means low spikes in volumes in seasonality or within a shift. (Automated) systems like steady, constant work. They are not good at handling spikes.”

But the biggest piece of advice he can offer prospective users, is to remember first and foremost, using automation is an IT project.

“The biggest mistakes that I’ve encountered…as an expert in lawsuits involving automated systems…is not recognizing it’s foremost an IT project,” he said. “Getting a piece of steel to lift a pallet up and down, is not the challenge. It’s getting it to lift the pallet up and down at the right time, for the right reasons. Often, it gets neglected ends up starting too late in the process and that cascades into a series of problems…This is an IT project. If you don’t have IT engaged, you will run into problems. There’s so much work to do.”


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