Gone are the days when a trucker settles down to an uninterrupted 700-mile haul on a full tank of diesel, with country music blaring from the radio and an occasional CB radio conversation.
IP-enabled trucking now gives headquarters almost on-the-spot visibility into the ride -- and this is paying dividends for logistics providers, their customers, and their drivers.
Technological adoption is spurred, in part, by government mandates. Ordered by regulators to demonstrate progress in their green initiatives, companies need tools to monitor and manage sustainability. Environmental changes can be slow to impact internal operations, but organizations often draw from reports on reduced carbon footprints from their transportation providers to beef up their own report cards -- and, thereby, earn passing grades.
Trucking companies like Pitt Ohio understand the importance of sustainability for itself and its customers.
The Long Haul
Truckers, once connected solely by CB radios, are now wirelessly hooked in to corporate offices, which monitor their vehicles, routes, performance, and loads.
"We measure our carbon footprint, and have established target goals for improvement," said Geoff Muessig, Pitt Ohio's chief marketing officer and executive vice president, told me. "This carbon footprint is comprised of 12 percent infrastructure carbon and 88 percent rolling stock [trucking] carbon, so the focus over the past five years has been on improving the fuel efficiency of our fleet."
Pitt Ohio and other logistics providers use IP-enabled tracking and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to monitor the performance of trucking fleets, to improve safety, and to maintain the quality of the goods they are transporting.
For example, major carriers now use route mapping to determine the most fuel- and time-efficient routes for deliveries, and then use GPS over Internet technology to track the progress of trucks on routes, whether deliveries are on time, and even the rate of each truck's fuel consumption. Transporters such as United Parcel Service (UPS) use IoT trackers that are hard-wired into delivery trucks. Companies also use IoT sensors to monitor the performance of brakes, engines, and other parts to determine which drivers are doing the best job with respect to safety, speed, and fuel efficiency.
Auto part suppliers in particular are trying to reduce their brick-and-mortar distribution center footprints and the amount of stock they carry by using in-field truck fleets with "moving inventories." If a truck covering a certain territory does not have a particular part for a customer, it can quickly communicate via mobile IP to another truck in the fleet that has the part on board -- and it is then quickly dispatched to fill the order. These IP-connected trucks also process orders in real time to create a centralized inventory database that is never out of date.
For their part, food and beverage companies are tracking highly perishable produce, from the time it is picked in the field to the time it is stocked on grocery shelves. Each lot is tagged and monitored, enabling producers to trace back food sourcing in the event of contamination and recall. When the produce is trucked, food freshness is further enhanced with the assistance of IoT sensors on the truck that monitor refrigeration, humidity, and other factors to ensure that the goods being transported are at optimal environmental conditions to prevent or retard spoilage. Using mobile IP-enabled communications, these trucks can quickly change routes if necessary. In other words, a truck bound for Atlanta with a load of tomatoes from California can be redirected en route to Washington, D.C., if an unforeseen spike in demand occurs there.
Trucking is fast becoming a highly sophisticated logistics operation with the help of IP-based technologies that monitor and track everything -- from truck and driver performance to route execution and the health of goods. This comes at a time when rail is taking over many of the old long haul routes because trains are cheaper and more fuel efficient, and there is a shortage of truck drivers because fewer people are opting for a lifestyle that keeps them on the road and away from home. IP communications help combat the isolation -- while new IoT sensor technology makes positive inroads into on-the-road safety and customer satisfaction when the goods arrive fresh, secure, and on time.
— Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data