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Will Q4 of 2020 Change the Way We Look at Bid Season?

If it were a normal year, the fourth quarter would bring a steady increase in trucking rates. However, 2020 has been anything but normal, so what does that mean for Q4?

Given that everything this year has been so drastically different from what we would expect, 2020 has been guided at best by short term predictions. It was predicted that Q2 would have lower rates due to lockdown, and while they were low, they still exceeded predictions. During Q3 we saw a surge in trucking rates, likely triggered by the e-commerce boom, and it’s expected to continue throughout the year. All signs are pointing to a prolonged trucking rally, despite the pandemic and political uncertainty in the U.S.

Ultimately, we’re in for something completely different for the fourth quarter than we’ve ever seen before.

Ultimately, we’re in for something completely different for the fourth quarter than we’ve ever seen before. All historical data is essentially being tossed out the window as 2020 has been unprecedented in so many ways. With bid season fast approaching for shippers, understanding what Q4 has in store will have a tremendous impact on how you go about your bidding process for 2021. 

High Q3 Rates Will Lead to Even Higher Rates in Q4

The pandemic has caused a shift in consumer spending due to social distancing measures and the lockdown period across the United States which has caused a spike in trucking demand. Despite the economic strains and widespread job loss that was experienced by many consumers, retail sales haven’t weakened. Instead of eliminating non essential spending, consumers have shifted their purchasing habits away from services and over to material goods, especially through e-commerce platforms.  

This means that retailers have been seeing peak volumes well in advance of the holiday spending season, causing them to struggle to keep stocks replenished. The demand has been reducing inventory levels, while sales remain strong (and continue to grow) leaving no buffer period before sales really start to climb in November and December as consumers begin their holiday shopping.

These two factors combined can result in elevated truckload spot rates and capacity shortages through the end of 2020 and potentially continue well into 2021.

With reduced inventory, a rise in demand for consumer products such as retail and grocery, and the continued recovery of industrial production will continue to push growth in truckload demand. However, challenges in the U.S. with the dwindling pool of truck drivers will continue to result in capacity shortages throughout several industries. These two factors combined can result in elevated truckload spot rates and capacity shortages through the end of 2020 and potentially continue well into 2021.

To add to the logistic nightmare, consumers now have an inherent expectation for fast shipping from e-commerce sites as well as a wider availability of pickup options which means that retailers are pressured to offer competitive shipping times or else lose out on sales to companies like Amazon.

Even with the current unemployment rate, the housing market is growing and consumer spending remains high.

The United States continues a strong economic climate despite, or perhaps in spite of, the uncertainties 2020 has given us; from social unrest due to the presidential election, to the ongoing struggle with COVID-19. The stock market is high and there is a growing optimism for an economic upswing ahead. Even with the current unemployment rate, the housing market is growing and consumer spending remains high. However, the economy could still be vulnerable, especially if the stock market is responding primarily to low interest rates and has an underlying weakness to its overall stability.

What can shippers do to manage current market volatility?

If we’ve learned anything from 2020 is that historical data is all but useless, as everything is different from the years we’ve seen prior. With bidding season on the horizon for 2021, it’s important to make sure that your organization has a clear direction on how to manage its bids to avoid redlining your freight budget.

An important place to start for your business in 2021 is with your routing guide procedure. Take another look at this document, make sure it’s up to date. Make sure you adjust for current rates and that it contains all your current requirements. It might be necessary to rebid for the short-term when the truck capacity is tight. Perform detailed research on market conditions and decide how long this customized “mini-bid contract” will last. As always, utilize freight forecasting and reporting to help manage your spot bids and awards.

How BlueGrace Can Help You Get the Most Out of Your Bid Season

In this year, more than ever, we need to think outside the box. In a constrained and uncertain market, this creates challenges for shippers. Last year, when demand was low and supply was outpacing demand, shippers had easy RFP cycles with carriers and brokers undercutting each other for rates. Programs like our Low Volume Aggregation program are attractive in the current market and can help shippers make sustainable bids for the upcoming year that will help them thrive during the uncertainties ahead.

Read more about our LVAP program here, or contact us using the for below to see how we can help your company succeed.

How Can A 3PL Help My Organization Grow?

Now, more than ever before, businesses are being tested. Between the political climate of a tense presidential election year, the global pandemic, and natural disasters, many organizations have been finding it difficult to keep their doors open, let alone grow. However, there are a few paths forward that can lead to a company’s growth and financial well-being. One of those paths that is being chosen more frequently by companies in various industries is to partner with a third-party logistics provider. 3PLs offer a vast wealth of knowledge and experience in improving and streamlining operations and bringing new technology to the table. Combined, 3PLs have the potential to help companies overcome the logistics obstacles that block the way to overall growth.

Supply chain operations are often ignored so long as they’re operating within industry standards and customers remain relatively happy with the service these operations provide.

Business growth is often hindered by the limitations of supply chains and the silo of logistics operations. Supply chain operations are often ignored so long as they’re operating within industry standards and customers remain relatively happy with the service these operations provide. The issue with this is that there is little room amongst the status quo for improvement and growth, or to unlock potential savings. Logistics operations, even logistics operations done well, sometimes lack a view of the ‘big picture’, partially because of the way that these operations are often pushed into their own box to maintain operations.

Oftentimes, supply chains are viewed as a separate entity from the rest of the organization. However, the supply chain and the logistics and transportation operations that make it function directly relate to the overall success of the business. When the C-Suite looks to the supply chain as a partner in growth, collaborates to find solutions that both cut costs and creates opportunities for expansion, they may find that partnerships with third-party logistics providers are a viable option to achieve the desired growth.

To help shippers better understand how 3PLs can help their organization grow, we’ve put together a comprehensive white paper that breaks down the various assets a 3PL can bring to the table.

3PLs and Technology

New technology is always something of a double-edged sword for companies. On the one hand, new technology is costly and the setup can be disruptive to business flow and production. On the other hand, however, new technology is often the key to growth and higher levels of efficiency and customer service.

As 3PLs often develop their own proprietary software systems, there is none more qualified to help get it integrated into your current systems to augment and strengthen what you’re currently using.

Third-party logistics providers offer a huge advantage in terms of technology. Not only is the logistics solution tried and tested, but it often comes at a lower cost than buying a new ERP outright. As 3PLs often develop their own proprietary software systems, there is none more qualified to help get it integrated into your current systems to augment and strengthen what you’re currently using.

For example, we’ve discussed how integrating a TMS into your ERP system can be highly beneficial to your operations and help to streamline shipments while increasing overall visibility. This is just one of the many benefits that come from the technological aspect of working with a 3PL.

Is your organization looking for new technological solutions to manage your supply chain but you’re not sure which direction to take or is balking at the sticker price of a new, off the rack, software system?

3PLs can Improve Your Processes

Having an efficient process to the way you do business affects many different aspects of your overall success. Not only does your process determine and control costs, but it also affects the overall satisfaction of your customers.

3PLs are experts in logistics, that is their sole purpose. Their business model revolves around the concept of streamlining and simplifying their customer’s operations so that they, the customers, can be more efficient.

3PLs are experts in logistics, that is their sole purpose. Their business model revolves around the concept of streamlining and simplifying their customer’s operations so that they, the customers, can be more efficient. A third-party logistics provider can help improve processes in two ways: first, by reviewing current processes and making suggestions for changes that will lead to smoother-run operations, and second, by actually taking on those processes through outsourcing.

  • Process Improvements: 3PLs have seen the inner workings of countless organizations, identified potential improvements, and helped those organizations effect changes to improve efficiency and cut costs.
  • Outsourcing to 3PLs: 3PLs employ a host of veritable experts in these specific processes, which makes processes more efficient, more effective, more flexible depending on changing needs and less expensive overall.

Is your organization operating at peak efficiency? If not, does it have the capabilities in-house to identify and correct inefficiencies?

3PLs can Help Audit Your Operation

3PLs often offer supply chain audits, and with their deep industry knowledge, they frequently have great insights into improving operations and strategizing for and executing meaningful growth. The 3PL’s knowledge of industry best practices combined with their tendency to stay at the cutting edge of the industry make them extremely qualified to hand down advice. When these audits are performed on a regular basis, say bi-annually, logistics practices can be assessed by a qualified, unbiased third party. These assessments can help root out second nature practices at the company and are therefore not questioned but aren’t truly serving their purpose in the most efficient way possible.

Does your organization have an in-house auditing process that is geared to making necessary operational changes?

Want to Learn More?

Of course, this merely scratches the surface of what a third-party logistics provider can bring to the table. If you’re looking to make your organization grow, regardless of what events the rest of the world has in store, a 3PL can help you reach your goal. Want to know more about what a 3PL can do for you or answer the above questions? Download our whitepaper today to learn more.

What the Freight Industry Might Learn from COVID-19

When the pandemic began to spread, the world was simply not prepared. Businesses and governments had to scramble to move an unprecedented volume of critical supplies around the world faster than we’ve ever thought possible.

Lockdowns caused a massive surge in e-commerce, leaving small and large businesses alike struggling to keep pace with the demands. The healthcare industry was pressed even harder as the call for life-saving medical equipment, medicines, food, and PPE. All in all, it had the potential to be a disaster.

What kept everything together was the express delivery industry, which not only rose to the challenge but exceeded it in many ways.

What kept everything together was the express delivery industry, which not only rose to the challenge but exceeded it in many ways. However, that is not to say that everything ran smoothly, far from it in fact. Many uncoordinated efforts led to significant disruptions even though they were based on good intentions. 

  • Some governments quarantined cargo freight crews systematically, even if they showed no symptoms or did not come from a COVID-19 hotspot.
  • Some cities imposed neighborhood-specific curfews for no reason (starting in the early hours of the afternoon).
  • Border crossings closed to all traffic, including international trucking.
  • Drivers faced inconsistent health protocols.
  • Officers at border customs operations could not reach their post because of public transportation lockdowns, nor could they work from home thanks to paper-based clearance systems.

Intense industry lobbying has managed to reverse or change these measures to allow the movement of critical goods across borders. International organizations that understand how interwoven global supply chains operate have similarly issued guidelines in order to better align with government initiatives.

However, there are still barriers in place that continue to disrupt global supply chains.

Practical Policy Changes

One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned from the pandemic is about how to streamline an imperfect system, including protocols that make global cargo supply chains not only safer for workers but more predictable. The pandemic has also highlighted the need to modernize the border clearance process as well as the need for trade agreements to promote economic recovery around the world.

The pandemic has shown the world that in order to prepare for future, large-scale disruptions, governments, and international organizations need to join forces with the private sector.

The pandemic has shown the world that in order to prepare for future, large-scale disruptions, governments, and international organizations need to join forces with the private sector.

UPS and the Global Express Association, which represents the three leading global express delivery carriers, have provided practical policy recommendations to keep supply chains operating smoothly.

Implement protocols to ensure the safety of cargo crews and other workers: Health protocols differ from country to country. Having a standardized approach would mean more timely shipping operations while limiting the spread of COVID-19.

Such protocols could include making sure that all freight industries, regardless of mode, have access to adequate PPE to prevent the spread of COVID-19. There will also need to be a more precise focus on safety management principles, using recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) as a foundation.

Approach border clearance like a gateway, not a checkpoint: Customs clearance creates some significant obstacles for express delivery. However, inconsistent rules and restrictions from one country to another country makes trade unpredictable.

Customs modernization is critical for fast border clearance. This means leveraging the right technology including electronic records, e-payment systems, and a digital risk management system. Countries should also embrace more progressive regulations that would help transport life-saving shipments and reduce physical contact at border crossings and during last-mile deliveries.

Existing international treaties such as the Revised Kyoto Convention and the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement make this possible. To work, though, governments must fully implement the agreements.

Building a More Resilient Supply Chain in the Wake of the Pandemic

These solutions are aimed at streamlining commerce, revitalizing businesses, and providing humanitarian relief where it is needed most. The biggest take away is that these measures aren’t just for the current pandemic, but would help the world be a step ahead of the next global crisis.

Day by day, the world comes closer to putting COVID-19 behind us, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t hardships ahead. To truly maximize the efficiency of a global supply chain, it’s going to take a holistic approach, harmonizing all the players around the world. When that happens, there’s no telling what kind of potential we can see from the global supply chain.

Digitalization Is Ushering Visibility Into Supply Chains

The North American trucking industry is extremely fragmented, as over 90 percent of all fleets own six trucks or fewer. This fragmentation, aside from inhibiting technology incursion, has impeded visibility and transparency in freight movement.

The opacity in operations impacts stakeholders across the trucking value chain. Oftentimes, this lack of visibility or transparency within the supply chain is due to outmoded and dated systems of communication.

The opacity in operations impacts stakeholders across the trucking value chain. Oftentimes, this lack of visibility or transparency within the supply chain is due to outmoded and dated systems of communication. Not only do these systems impede efficiency, but they also result in a number of missed opportunities for shippers, brokers, and carriers alike.

The adoption of digitalization within the trucking industry has spiked in recent years. A lot of it has to do with the rise of e-commerce and its associated ‘Amazon effect,’ which has created the need for expedited supply chains, especially the last-mile. This necessitated that trucking operations shed off inefficiencies especially with respect to visibility, which in turn led to a rise in innovations and the digitalization of the industry.

The Data Differentiator to Visibility

Stakeholders within the freight industry, be it fleets or traditional brokerages, suffer from siloed operations that do not interact with other functions within the same organization. This leads to data streams being trapped within workflows, thereby reducing operational efficiency and visibility.

Companies should phase out paper documentation and adopt digitalization in order to usher in visibility, and reduce complexities in gathering and processing documents. Aside from increasing efficiencies, this will also reduce material consumption, helping companies reach their sustainability goals.

With data streams being streamlined, stakeholders can leverage them via data analytics to gain insights into operations.

With data streams being streamlined, stakeholders can leverage them via data analytics to gain insights into operations. For instance, data analytics helps brokerages prime their operations to be more proactive to market volatility as opposed to only remaining reactive to change. This is particularly crucial in the age of e-commerce, where logistics businesses are expected to be malleable to continually evolving consumer expectations. To help meet expectations, leading companies are (or should be) taking advantage of linking their existing ERP systems to a TMS system.

For fleets, digitalization enables them to have visibility over driver behavior and freight movement. Aside from letting fleets provide an accurate estimated time of arrival (ETA), better visibility allows them to come up with flexible delivery models and faster shipping options.

On-demand fulfillment is a significant differentiator in the last-mile delivery segment. For this, businesses must understand customer behavior and buying characteristics – possible only by analyzing previous orders and having cognizance of market demand.

The Efficiency Perspective of the Freight Hauling Equation

Digitalization enables businesses to create greater visibility and increase cumulative efficiency across supply chains. Automation of repetitive manual tasks at the back office helps channelize worker hours in more productive and value-added endeavors. End customers gain access to shipping information, including real-time freight location, which improves overall customer service levels. Data streams are now stored in the cloud, making it easier to recall and share information between stakeholders in the value chain.

With technology like 5G coming up within the industry, high latency issues via the LTE network transmission will also be solved. Latency is the time it takes for data to travel from the place of origin (like a truck cab) to the destination – which is the cloud. High latency is a problem for data analytics, as it results in insights that are not, in essence, real-time. Bad cellular signals, which are commonplace when trucks haul through the country, result in high latency.

With 5G potentially becoming mainstream in a few years, the latency value can be expected to reduce. Stakeholders would then be able to access more ‘real-time’ insights, helping to further improve efficiencies.

Digitalization has helped businesses to eliminate cumbersome manual processes that have been an industry’s staple.

Digitalization has helped businesses to eliminate cumbersome manual processes that have been an industry’s staple. Data levels the playing field for shippers and carriers, whatever be their size of operations. With visibility being ubiquitous across the industry, the overall market can learn to handle volatility better, especially in the context of economic recession or a black swan event like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of course, adopting new technologies is a costly and time-consuming endeavor, which discourages many companies from adopting newer innovations. This is where digital freight management, specifically third-party logistics providers (3PLs), shine. Partnering with a 3PL allows companies to reap the benefits of these digitized systems without the heavy investment cost of overhauling legacy systems.

Truck Load Freight Contracts: Understanding Contract Rates and the Spot Market

With the global pandemic still in effect, freight capacity is fluctuating even more than usual. Over the past few months, we’ve seen a tightening of capacity for numerous reasons, not the least of all being several smaller carrier companies going bankrupt. Whenever there is a change in the overall availability of capacity, changes to both spot and contract rates are right behind it.

Understanding those rates can help your company make better decisions about how to move your freight, saving you both time and money, while keeping your operations flowing smoothly. But what is the difference between the two different rates, and which one should you be more focused on?

Understanding the Relationship between Spot Rates and Contract Rates

Freight rates are broken down into two different categories, contractual rates and spot rates. Contractual rates make up about 70 to 80 percent of overall market rates and are governed by the average spot rate at the time of bidding. Contract rates offer peace of mind for both parties. For carriers, there is guaranteed volume, while shippers have the peace of mind knowing that trucks will show up, on time, to move their freight, even when capacity gets tight.

However, there are situations in which shippers will opt for a spot rate instead. For inconsistent freight volumes, seasonal or one-off shipments, shippers might not benefit from a contracted carrier. However, spot rates are incredibly volatile and change with demand. While demand is low, shippers can often get a better rate, but run the risk of going over their shipping budget when the overall available capacity swings the other way.

Shippers Should Start Considering Contracts

When the Covid-19 outbreak first started, overall consumer spending dropped drastically. This led to a significant drop off in freight demand which, in turn, dropped spot rates and opened up capacity. While this was incredibly beneficial for shippers, carrier profitability comes under pressure. Couple this with the Trump administration’s trade war with China, and many smaller carriers couldn’t afford to keep their doors open. With fewer carriers, and continued pressure on underperformers, the available capacity will continue to drop. As the U.S. begins to open back up, and consumer spending picks up, this means that demand will see a sharp uptick.

“After six consecutive quarters of deflation, the market is rebounding, heading back towards an inflationary environment, the spot market will reach an inflationary environment by Q1 of 2021,” William B. Cassidy, of JOC.com

This means that spot rates will climb, rather quickly. So what does that mean for contract rates?

Like we mentioned above, spot rates affect contract rates, which means an increase in both. However, for shippers, bidding out a freight contract for a carrier might prove to be more beneficial in the long run due to the following:

  • Spot rates will continue to climb as reopening continues across the country and demand increases.
  • Shipers have likely already seen the floor for spot rates, meaning we’ve seen it at its lowest point so it has nowhere to go but up.
  • Shippers will begin to experience capacity issues. This perhaps the most important issue. Whenever there is a capacity crunch, carriers can cherry pick freight for the best rates which means you’re either paying a premium, or your freight ends up sitting on the loading dock. 

The secret to maintaining operations is to find the balance between contract rates and spot rates. As carrier operations begin to capitalize on the effects of continued increases of the spot market rates, it will be time for shippers to start looking for more carriers and fulfillment options to fill the void.

Want to Learn More?

Want to learn how to better manage your contract and spot rates? Curious about what the second half of 2020 holds for freight rates? You can watch this webinar, as well as all of our past sessions, as part of our free resource library, to learn more. Every month, we here at BlueGrace will have a new webinar on the topics that matter to you! Stop in for next months webinar and receive a free supply chain analysis for your business.

Digitalization In Trucking

Digitalization, as an industry trend in the logistics world, has emerged quite late. However, now that digitalization and innovation seem to have caught up the industry’s pace, much transformation can be expected. Digitalization refers to using advanced technologies to integrate physical and digital worlds through a seamless exchange of information occurring at different supply chain nodes. Hence, the process helps improve productivity, use data analytics for informed decisions, automate mundane manual tasks, reduce the scope of error, and induce process excellence throughout the supply chain.

Logistics, as a whole, is experiencing this wave of innovation in automation and digitalization initiatives.

Logistics, as a whole, is experiencing this wave of innovation in automation and digitalization initiatives. When we refer to trucking, digitalization may refer to a comprehensive and automated system where processes are monitored and controlled by technologies that optimize operations while directly contributing to the bottom line. The extensive growth of e-commerce is a driving force behind driving digitalization in trucking. Changing consumer behavior, prolific e-commerce discounts, same-day deliveries are all changing the way products move at different stages of the supply chain. The need for digitalization in the industry is greater now than ever.

Elements of Digitalization in Trucking

Digitalization can be witnessed in broadly four segments of the industry: Goods, Conveyance, Infrastructure, and Business Processes. Therefore, the elements of a digitally enabled trucking system can be an autonomous communication system, remote diagnostics, real-time tracking and tracing capabilities, and seamless exchange of information among integrated systems. The large-scale penetration of mobile connectivity, smartphones, geo-location tracking systems, and sensor technologies like the Internet of Things are all contributing to the logistics industry’s digital revolution. With the growing need for data analytics, the future of trucking will be mostly dependent on critical insights from analytical systems to drive forecasts, meet demand, manage risk, and reduce costs.

With the growing need for data analytics, the future of trucking will be mostly dependent on critical insights from analytical systems to drive forecasts, meet demand, manage risk, and reduce costs.

Goods: Inserting tracking devices such as a tracking bar, QR code stickers, and RFID tags in goods are common. RFID tags are quite useful in providing real-time information about location or GPS and external climate conditions such as temperature and humidity. Having such tracking systems in goods and containers that carry these goods is particularly relevant because tracking them while on transit across geographies is necessary to provide real-time data and shipment status. Sensors, connectivity, and the application are the three elements that comprise the tracking technology for shipping containers. Sensors tell the containers’ location, and through connectivity, the data transmits to the application. APIs are used to extract this data further and put it on the logistics platform to be analyzed.

Conveyance comprises the trucks, delivery vans, and other vehicles equipped with sensors that report their location, speed, engine condition, etc. to the systems.Routing and navigation are integral elements of this aspect as they facilitate improved operations considering constraints such as congestion. Autonomous trucking is finding increasing mentions in enabling digitalization in the industry. PwC, in a 2016 report, predicted that trucking and logistics would soon comprise an ecosystem of autonomous vehicles, combining driverless, cabless trucks and delivery hubs staffed by robots. It further stated that a fully automated end-to-end supply chain would be capable of building a product on a digitized assembly line with digital capabilities that signal and book transport for its delivery when it is close to being completed. The customer’s address that the goods are shipped to will be already coded, and the freight-matching system would match the available capacity on trucks destined for the specific route. While this may seem a bit futuristic at present, autonomous vehicles are invariably gaining momentum, and companies like TuSimple, Aurora, Daimler, and Embark Trucks have aggressively ventured into this avenue. German automaker Daimler AG is also experimenting with ‘Platooning’ to improve efficiency for long-haul transport. Platooning is when a single truck pilots a fleet of trucks that follow the same route and instructions as made by the driver. The trucks in platoons will be controlled centrally to ensure uniformity in speed, fuel consumption, and delivery speed.

The digitalization of infrastructure is also of utmost importance, including the things that support the transportation activities. The road infrastructure is the central element in the planning and management process of road transport. Thus, digitalizing roadways, terminals, distribution centers, logistics parks form an integral part of the initiative. Equipping infrastructure with sensors helps monitor their use and condition that enable effective traffic management systems to optimize capacity. Similarly, smart roads with sensors and data collecting devices that can detect collision points and warn nearby drivers can be of great use in avoiding road accidents.

Business processes are the glue that binds all the different elements of a supply chain. These processes support the transactional functions of freight distribution. Business processes such as inventory management, demand forecasting, assigning load to carriers, managing and allocating warehousing capacity, freight invoicing etc can all be digitized using TMS, WMS, and their integration with ERP. EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) has, for long, governed the integration of information between systems. Lately, APIs have enabled seamless data sharing for easy management of platforms and extraction of relevant data. Another technology that is enabling automation of business processes is Robotic Process Automation (RPA). This technology is non-intrusive in nature and leverages the existing IT infrastructure of organizations. The increasing adoption of Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) as a replacement for paper logs is also an initiative to move to more digitized systems.

Benefits of Digitalization in Trucking

With the proliferation of e-commerce and the need for trucking growing leaps and bounds, the digitalization of trucking is needed more than ever now. The digitalization of trucking comes with its share of benefits that enable optimum fleet and space utilization, enhanced efficiency, significant cost-cutting, and integrated systems.

1. Optimum utilization

Empty runs of vehicles is a major cost in trucking. Inefficiencies of dispatching systems where trucks travel to pick-up destinations without load contribute to additional costs and wastage. Digital platforms interconnecting systems help in the consolidation of truck capacity are a necessity.

2. Enhanced integration

Digitization facilitates the integration of trucks in sync with the logistics chain through real-time data of locations, estimated shipment arrival times, and information regarding departure times to factories, warehouses, and customers. Such integrations foster timely delivery, better performance, and customer satisfaction, enabling them to track the shipments’ status remotely.

3. Enhanced efficiency

Digitized trucking enhances efficiencies at granular levels as well as in the broader scope of processes. By incorporating cutting-edge materials handling practices into daily operations, better allocation of space, capacity, and resources, enhanced inventory control, and significant cost reductions contribute to enhanced efficiency and productivity.

Digitized trucking will enable faster transfer of goods in and out of distribution centers and to end customers.

Digitized trucking will enable faster transfer of goods in and out of distribution centers and to end customers. Through easy track and trace capabilities and smooth booking processes, customer experience can be improved. Measurement of key performance indicators can further help improve operations. Furthermore, blockchain can enable the complete transparency of the social and environmental footprint of purchases shared with end-users. All in all, the digitalization of trucking as an industry is a win-win scenario for all.

Questions on how digitized trucking and other technology will be changing the logistics landscape for your business? Ask an expert with the form below.

Automated Logistics is On the Horizon

Boston Dynamics new CEO, Robert Playter, has his sights set on the logistics market as the company’s first vertical. BD has proven that it has the ability to produce robots at scale as Spot, a versatile quadrupedal robot, as just recently entered into commercialization.

Automation is a goal for many companies across many industries as there is a myriad of applications.

Playter, who has only recently stepped up from his role as COO of the company, spoke publicly for the first time on the company’s behalf, “We weren’t sure exactly what the target verticals would be,” he admitted, and seemingly neither did the customers, who have collectively bought about 260 of the $75,000 [Spot] robots and are now actively building their own add-ons and industry-specific tools for the platform. And the price hasn’t been a deterrent, he said: “As an industrial tool this is actually quite affordable. But we’ve been very aggressive, spending a lot of money to try to build an affordable way to produce this, and we’re already working on ways to continue to reduce costs.”

Automation is a goal for many companies across many industries as there is a myriad of applications. This has only been further enforced by the global pandemics as many industries are still working remotely or only now beginning to phase in their workforce.

“People are realizing that having a physical proxy for themselves, to be able to be present remotely, might be more important than we imagined before,” Playter said. “We’ve always thought of robots as being able to go into dangerous places, but now danger has been redefined a little bit because of COVID. The pandemic is accelerating the sense of urgency and, I think, probably opening up the kinds of applications that we will explore with this technology.”

A Not-so-New Trend In Logistics

Boston Dynamics isn’t the first company to look towards automation for logistics. e-Commerce giant Amazon has already begun blazing the trail for robots in the warehouse as a means of boosting productivity while lowering labor costs. Boston Dynamics is ready to dive into the market with a variety of different robots.

we’re going to have some exciting new logistics products coming out in the next two years. We have customers now doing proof of concept tests.

“We have big plans in logistics,” Playter said. “we’re going to have some exciting new logistics products coming out in the next two years. We have customers now doing proof of concept tests. We’ll announce something in 2021, exactly what we’re doing, and we’ll have product available in 2022.”

BD already offers Pick, a stationary item-picking system, and they are working on a new version of Handle, a birdlike mobile robot that can grab boxes and move them around without taking up too much space, about the same as one or two standing, human workers. The added mobility of Handle would allow it to unload things like shipping containers, trucks, or other confined and less predictable spaces.

BD has released a video of Handle working with an off-the-shelf pallet robot. Playter emphasizes the need for this type of cooperation between robots in general and not just those made by a single manufacturer.

“We’ll be offering software that lets robots work together,” he said. “Now, we don’t have to create them all. But ultimately, it will take teams of robots to do some of these tasks, and we anticipate being able to work with a heterogeneous fleet.”

What This Means for Logistics

Simply put, it’s an exciting time for logistics. As technology continues to advance, not only will it become more efficient, but it will also become less expensive. This means that many companies within the logistics field will be able to operate more efficiently and safely, be it during a pandemic or when working with hazardous materials.

This disruption will also facilitate a necessary skill shift for human workers. Not necessarily replacing them in the warehouse but instead shifting their focus to more value-added tasks than menial physical labor resulting in a more highly skilled and adaptive workforce.

While it will take time for these robots to hit the shelves, now is a good time to start considering how they can be implemented into your day to day operations. Questions on how technology like robotics will be changing the logistics landscape for your business? Ask an expert with the form below.

Seven Important Skills Every Supply Chain Leader Needs

The supply chain has become one of the most critical functions in an organization. Its dynamic nature and the high impact it has on the business makes it challenging to manage. Thus it is necessary for the success of the business to have a strong and well-informed leader at the helm.

However, good leadership skills and information savviness alone are not enough to handle the supply chain function and manage the team. There are other necessary capabilities apart from business know-how and general leadership skills that a supply chain leader needs to lead the function efficiently and effectively.

What are the most important skills that every supply chain leader should have?

While there are many skills a supply chain leader should have, tome impact the business more than the others. These skills are non-negotiable and a must-have. They are:

  1. Strong Analytical Skills: Supply chain is all numbers and analysis. To lead the function effectively, it is extremely essential for the leader to be comfortable with numbers, handling large amounts of data, analytics, and the various analytical models that are used for decision making. A lack of these skills or discomfort with analytics can be fatal for not only the function but the organization as well.
  1. Technology Know-How:  Since the past couple of years, supply chains have been adopting new technologies, digitalizing, and automating processes. In such a scenario, it becomes crucial for the leaders to understand and be open to adopting new and advanced technologies to manage the function. In fact, they not only need to understand, but they also need to lead the adoption of technology for their organizations.

A report by Gartner titled “Gartner Top 8 Supply Chain Technology Trends for 2020” says, “It is important for supply chain technology leaders to adopt a mindset that accepts and embraces long-term perpetual change”. Supply chain leaders should be able to identify what technology will work best for their organizations and be the champions for change. If supply chain leaders possess such a mindset, it becomes easier for them to convince the management to adopt new technologies as and when an upgrade is required and to lead the team through the change.

  1. Strategic Thinking and Operational Mindset: Supply chain is a function that involves both strategy-making and operations. To be able to make good strategies, the people leading this function need to have an understanding of business and the environment the business operates in. And, to make sure the supply chain functions smoothly, they should have knowledge of how things work on the ground.

In short, a supply chain leader should be able to think strategically and execute the plans operationally with equal efficiency. If either of the skills is missing, it becomes difficult for the supply chain to function smoothly and create value.

  1. Negotiation Skills: Leading a supply chain function means endless negotiations with internal stakeholders and external business partners. They need to know how to put forth their viewpoints and get a buy-in from the other parties involved. To be able to do this efficiently, they need to have a good grasp of the market dynamics, rates and pricing of services, and the latest industry trends.
  1. Quick Decision Making: Supply chain is a fast-paced function. In the supply chain, it is common to come across situations that require quick and on the spot decisions. At such times, the supply chain leader should be able to use the data and information on hand to make quick but informed decisions and follow through with them. He should also be able to train his core team to do so. A lack of this skill can lead to further disruption of operations and delays in completing the task. If this happens often, it can make the supply chain inefficient.
  1. People and Relationship Management: Today’s supply chain is usually not limited to one geography or location. They are spread across the globe. A global supply chain has many participants in the form of internal teams spread across regions, vendors, business partners, and business associates from different parts of the globe. Each team or partner has its own way of working, cultural mindset, and knowledge.

They should also know how to bridge the gap in knowledge of the function and technical understanding to make sure none of the team members feel left behind and are able to cope with the dynamic function. To do so, they need to have an understanding of different cultures, regional peculiarities, emphatic attitude, soft skills, and people management skills.

  1. Statutory and Legal Knowledge: Supply chains have to comply with a lot of taxes, duties, labor-management laws, and export-import formalities. Even a little slip up in any complying with a statutory or legal requirement can result in large fines. This is why, along with functional expertise, supply chain leaders need to have at least a basic understanding of laws and regulations of the regions they operate in. This also ensures that they can get the best solutions for such matters from their local teams.

Along with these skills, supply chain leaders also need trusted partners to make sure their supply chains are running smoothly. That’s where we – BlueGrace Logistics come in. Our team has expertise in analyzing supply chains and helping our business clients find the right solutions to improve their supply, make it more effective, and create value.

To know more about how we can work with your supply chain leaders and teams to take your supply chain to the next level, get in touch with us today!

Experts Warn 2020 will be The Worst Hurricane Season In Years: Is Your Company Ready to Weather the Storm?

Every company has contingency plans for when things don’t go as expected. Whether it’s a backup supplier in the case of a material shortage; or a different carrier for when capacity gets tight. However, when the weather picks up, is your supply chain ready to weather the storm?

Major weather events pose a significant disruption for supply chains, and hurricanes are no exception.

Major weather events pose a significant disruption for supply chains, and hurricanes are no exception. High winds and torrential rains can make travel all but impossible. Flash flooding and road damage can make typical routes impassible. After the more severe storms, much of the carrier capacity is consumed by rebuilding and relief efforts. All in all, if you don’t have a solid plan, you could find your supply chain washed out.

To that end, we want to make sure that your supply chain is prepared. We believe that there is no such thing as being over-prepared, especially when it comes to hurricane season. We’ve created our 2020 Hurricane Preparedness Guide to help you make sure your supply chain is protected. But first, take a look at what’s expected this hurricane season.

2020 is set to be a Record-Breaking Year for Hurricanes

With the way the year has gone so far, is it really any surprise that 2020 is already breaking records for hurricanes? So far, the Atlantic Hurricane season is already in full swing, well ahead of the peak month which is typically September. Hurricane Isaias which caused significant damage on the east coast was the earliest ninth named storm on record. Now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting that even more records might be broken in the upcoming months with at least 10 more named storms.

The updated outlook released Thursday calls for a total of 19 to 25 named storms

“The updated outlook released Thursday calls for a total of 19 to 25 named storms (winds of 39 mph or greater), of which 7 to 11 are expected to become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or greater), including three to six that could become major hurricanes (winds of 111 mph or greater). This update covers the entire hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30, and therefore includes the nine named storms to date,” reads a recent Washington Post article.

According to the National Weather Service Director, Louis Uccellini, 95 percent of hurricanes and major hurricanes, form between August and October. “In over two decades of issuing storm warnings and forecasts, NOAA has never predicted that as many as 25 named storms would form in a single season,” says the Post.

The Long List isn’t Quite Long Enough

Interestingly enough, the list of names that are assigned to storms is predetermined ahead of time by the World Meteorological Organization. As it stands, there are only 21 names left on the Atlantic list. Afterward, forecasters will have to resort to using characters from the Greek alphabet. This has happened only one other time, back in 2005, which was the most active hurricane season on record. 

NOAA’s Initial Predictions Might have been Too Optimistic

The initial prediction from NOAA, which was released in May, called for a 60 percent likelihood for an above-average level of hurricane activity. The prediction called for a 70 percent chance for 13 to 19 named storms, with six to 10 having the potential to become hurricanes. Of the predicted hurricanes, three to six could become major hurricanes with a Category 3 rating or higher.

The updated forecast now places the chance for an above-average season at 85 percent, 24 named storms, which include 12 total hurricanes, five of which will be major.

The season has the potential to be one of the busiest on record, NOAA said.

Battening Down the Hatches

A busy hurricane season in of itself has the potential to be devastating to businesses along the coast. Supply chains can very easily become disrupted as carriers are pulled away to haul for humanitarian aid for the places most heavily affected. Couple in the fact that storms will continue to hit in quick succession, leaving little time for roadways and other necessary infrastructure to be repaired and you have the perfect recipe for disaster.

For companies that manage extensive supply chains along the Atlantic coast, now is the time to begin preparing for the rough season ahead. Fortunately, we here at BlueGrace have a lot of first-hand experiences with Hurricanes, being based out of Tampa Florida. Working with shippers and carriers alike, we have our 2020 Hurricane Preparedness Guide down to a science. Don’t get caught unprepared, download our white paper today!

11.84 Billion Tons Of Freight Moved And Other Trucking Trends

With the global pandemic still in effect, freight capacity is fluctuating even more than usual. Over the past few months, we’ve seen a tightening of capacity for numerous reasons, not the least of all being several smaller carrier companies going bankrupt. Whenever there is a change in the overall availability of capacity, changes to both spot and contract rates are right behind it.

Understanding those rates can help your company make better decisions about how to move your freight

Understanding those rates can help your company make better decisions about how to move your freight, saving you both time and money, while keeping your operations flowing smoothly. But what is the difference between the two different rates, and which one should you be more focused on?

Understanding the Relationship between Spot Rates and Contract Rates

Freight rates are broken down into two different categories, contractual rates and spot rates. Contractual rates make up about 70 to 80 percent of overall market rates and are governed by the average spot rate at the time of bidding. Contract rates offer peace of mind for both parties. For carriers, there is guaranteed volume, while shippers have the peace of mind knowing that trucks will show up, on time, to move their freight, even when capacity gets tight.

However, there are situations in which shippers will opt for a spot rate instead.

However, there are situations in which shippers will opt for a spot rate instead. For inconsistent freight volumes, seasonal or one-off shipments, shippers might not benefit from a contracted carrier. However, spot rates are incredibly volatile and change with demand. While demand is low, shippers can often get a better rate, but run the risk of going over their shipping budget when the overall available capacity swings the other way.

Shippers Should Start Considering Contracts

When the Covid-19 outbreak first started, overall consumer spending dropped drastically. This led to a significant drop off in freight demand which, in turn, dropped spot rates and opened up capacity. While this was incredibly beneficial for shippers, carrier profitability comes under pressure. Couple this with the Trump administration’s trade war with China, and many smaller carriers couldn’t afford to keep their doors open. With fewer carriers, and continued pressure on underperformers, the available capacity will continue to drop. As the U.S. begins to open back up, and consumer spending picks up, this means that demand will see a sharp uptick.

“After six consecutive quarters of deflation, the market is rebounding, heading back towards an inflationary environment, the spot market will reach an inflationary environment by Q1 of 2021,” William B. Cassidy, of JOC.com

This means that spot rates will climb, rather quickly. So what does that mean for contract rates?

Like we mentioned above, spot rates affect contract rates, which means an increase in both. However, for shippers, bidding out a freight contract for a carrier might prove to be more beneficial in the long run due to the following:

  • Spot rates will continue to climb as reopening continues across the country and demand increases.
  • Shipers have likely already seen the floor for spot rates, meaning we’ve seen it at its lowest point so it has nowhere to go but up.
  • Shippers will begin to experience capacity issues. This perhaps the most important issue. Whenever there is a capacity crunch, carriers can cherry pick freight for the best rates which means you’re either paying a premium, or your freight ends up sitting on the loading dock. 

The secret to maintaining operations is to find the balance between contract rates and spot rates. As carrier operations begin to capitalize on the effects of continued increases of the spot market rates, it will be time for shippers to start looking for more carriers and fulfillment options to fill the void.

Want to Learn More?

Want to learn how to better manage your contract and spot rates? Curious about what the second half of 2020 holds for freight rates? You can watch this webinar, as well as all of our past sessions, as part of our free resource library, to learn more. Every month, we here at Bluegrace will have a new webinar on the topics that matter to you! Stop in for next months webinar and receive a free supply chain analysis for your business.

Understanding The Need For A Stronger Supply Chain

As much as we’d like to believe that our supply chains are both quick enough to react to major disruption and flexible enough to maneuver around major obstacles, the global pandemic has taught us that often isn’t the case. It is the single major weakness of most supply chains, an inability to react to a sudden and massive large-scale disruption, which can include pandemics (such as Covid-19) massive weather events, and a myriad of other setbacks. This lack of resiliency is most notable in supply chains for life sciences, health care, and food industries in particular.

The Chinese market is massive, for one thing, and most companies can’t afford to withdraw completely, otherwise, they might lose any competitive edge they might have had.

After COVID broke loose around the world, the current administration issued a call for companies that have offshored their production to Asia, (China, in particular) to bring it back stateside. However, for many companies, this proves to be challenging and counterproductive. The Chinese market is massive, for one thing, and most companies can’t afford to withdraw completely, otherwise, they might lose any competitive edge they might have had. Additionally, because the Chinese market is now either the dominant, if not sole source, for thousands of different items, reducing the dependence on those goods will take a significant amount of both time and money.

Reshoring wouldn’t necessarily mean resiliency either. The meat shortage in the United States is a perfect example of this. The industry’s supply chain is entirely domestic. In an attempt to reduce costs, many companies focused on consolidating manufacturing activities, which means a smaller number of slaughter and processing plants are now producing much of the beef and pork products consumed in the United States. This created a vulnerability as shutting down one plant, even for a few weeks, creates a major impact throughout the country. Farmers, who get paid to raise the feedstock, are now stuck with taking a potentially devastating loss on their products while the rest of the country faces months of meat shortages.

Remap instead of Retreat

Instead of retreating outright from the forign market, the best approach to building resilience into the supply chain is by conducting an internal audit. More specifically it’s the process of mapping out the layers of suppliers, manufacturing plants, distributors, and the other various elements of the logistics network and then implementing a stress test to evaluate the ability to recover from the disruption of any of the various links. Understanding where various bottlenecks will occur means being able to create mitigation strategies which can include increasing manufacturing capabilities, adding more suppliers to the roster, or building up buffer stock.

The added advantage to mapping and stress testing the supply chain is that companies using this method can find unexpected weaknesses or high risks throughout the organization. The more complex the produced good is, the higher the risk of utter disruption.

“Work that one of us (David) did with the Ford Motor Company found unexpected high risk associated with small suppliers, including many local suppliers. One part it identified that fell into this category was a low-cost sensor widely used in its vehicles: If the supply of it were disrupted, the carmaker would need to shut down its manufacturing operations. Because the total amount spent on this item was low, Ford’s procurement group had not paid much attention to it,” reads a recent article from HBR.

Stress Testing on a Policy Level

Essential industries, such as pharmaceuticals and health care, need to have a level of government involvement to ensure that supply chains are resilient enough to continue operating, even during the worst-case scenario. Consider the mask and hospital supply shortage when the pandemic first started to hit the United States. While panic buying created part of the problem, the supply chain itself faltered and eventually failed under the crushing demand.

If such a test can be conducted for banks, it can similarly be conducted for all life-critical supply chains.

There is a precedent for such involvement, however. Back in 2008, during the recession, the U.S. government and the European Union conducted a stress test for banks to guarantee that the major financial institutions that prop up the entire financial system, could survive a major crisis. If such a test can be conducted for banks, it can similarly be conducted for all life-critical supply chains.

The Long Road to Resiliency

Creating supply chain resilience for essential products and services here in the United States could very well require domestic manufacturing. But that’s neither an easy nor cheap fix. Take the pharmaceutical industry, for example. Of the drugs sold in Europe, more than 80% of the required chemical components are manufactured in China and India. Because chemical production is a significant environmental hazard, it would require the development of clean technology and manufacturing processes to create a domestic supply chain. This process could take upwards of 10 years and would require a hefty financial investment. Could it be done? Absolutely. But not easy, and not cheap.

However, until companies have a full comprehension of the vulnerabilities throughout their supply chain, these kinds of decisions can’t be made. The pandemic has created an excellent opportunity and, perhaps more importantly, a motive to put in the necessary time, energy, and resources. Only then can they protect their supply chain from a potential devastating disruption that may be lurking on the horizon.

Do you have supply chain questions that you need answered? Do you need help bolstering your current supply chain to handle these new and disruptive global situations? Feel free to contact one of our logistics experts today and lets talk more about it today.

Detention and Dwell Times: The Menaces of Supply Chain Efficiency

Prolonged dwell times have been an age-old inefficiency that the trucking industry has been trying to curb. Longer dwell times affect the drivers, carriers and shippers alike. An estimated detention time or dwell time can cost trucking companies $3 billion per year as per the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The total time spent at a facility by a driver is called dwell time while detention is the gap between the allocated time to start loading/unloading and the actual time of loading/unloading. Longer detention at customers’ premises has largely impacted drivers’ available hours-of-service. Ideally, shippers and receivers are allowed a 2-hour window to load or unload a truck. Any time spent outside the allotted time calls for detention charges. Detention is thus used to offset the cost of a truck being detained at a shipper or receiver’s premises.

Dwell time in unprecedented times – A challenge

The month of March saw an unprecedented rise in panic-buying, which resulted in a tremendous spike in demand. The truckers continued to ply on the highways, making essentials available throughout regions. With increased demand, came the perils of heightened dwell times and detention times. The added safety protocols, social distancing, precautionary SOPs to be followed at the shipper and consignee facilities and the shortage of manpower had considerably impacted the driver detention times. On the other hand, transit times may have improved, owing to less traffic congestion during the lockdown period.

Improvement in the check-in process, ensuring social distancing, enhancing driver safety and the use of technology to manage appointments and improve collaboration between all parties have been the key drivers of change.

Improvement in the check-in process, ensuring social distancing, enhancing driver safety and the use of technology to manage appointments and improve collaboration between all parties have been the key drivers of change. While the world adapts to the new normal in supply chains, it is of utmost importance that more sustainable solutions are innovated and implemented.

Detention: Causes and Impact

Inefficiencies at the facility such as the lack of manpower to load and unload consignments, the unwillingness of the shippers or consignors to invest in manpower to accommodate increased freight movement and the inability at the individual level are the main reasons for increased detention durations. Additionally, mismanagement of appointment times such as goods not being ready for dispatch while the vehicle arrives at the premises lead to unwanted delays. Another common reason is the overbooking of appointments – when more trucks are booked than what the loading location can handle. All of the above contribute to increased detention times, which in turn amounts to losses for truck drivers. On average, truck drivers spend two and a half hours waiting at the shipper or receiver premises to load or unload goods. These hours are not considered as working hours, thus, leaving them unpaid.

We need to understand that most of the drivers are paid on a per-mile basis, therefore, every moment lost in delays is a direct loss of income for drivers.

We need to understand that most of the drivers are paid on a per-mile basis, therefore, every moment lost in delays is a direct loss of income for drivers. On the other hand, for LTL carriers, waiting at a certain facility for longer durations can mean skipping the delivery altogether.

As per a  2018 report published by the Department of Transportation Officer of the Inspector General (OIG) that sought to understand the correlation between driver detention times, crash risks and costs incurred, it was found that detention time may impact annual earnings for truck drivers by $1,281 to $1,534 per year in the negative. Shippers of essential goods have experienced longer detention times at facilities lately. For example, the recent crisis of toilet paper around the nation had trucks lining up at facilities for hours before being loaded with goods. Detention fees paid by shippers to carriers can only offset the loss up to an extent but that money fails to cover the driver wages lost by not driving. Primarily, the carrier efficiency and a driver’s payable hours-of-service are at stake, but the effects of longer detention times invariably trickle down to every stakeholder across the supply chain.

Is there a long term solution – that can increase efficiency, while ensuring optimum asset utilization and prioritizing driver safety in times of crisis?

Longer dwell times and increased detention times are not a byproduct of the current economic crisis alone. They have lingered in the industry for quite some time now and only technology can help provide long term solutions to enhance supply chain visibility. In a recent statement by Collins White, the president of Alabama Motor Express, he stated, “It has become progressively worse since 2018. We have bought software that automatically tracks when the truck goes over the allotted two hours of dwell time and automatically bills the customer.” Better technology that tracks the movement of trucks with a precise estimation of time spent at shipper or receiver facilities will help us give a clearer picture of the spots where the detention is taking place. Identifying these spots will further enable a better understanding of bottlenecks, allow correct allocation of resources and change practices to streamline the flow wherever necessary.

On the other hand, the tried and tested drop-trailer business model may have worked for some quite well. In the drop trailer method, a driver leaves a trailer at the facility for a stipulated time period until another vehicle picks it up. This doesn’t time-bound the shippers and they can load trailers at their convenience. Given the current situation of restricted labor availability, this method comes as an interim respite but cannot be considered as an all-round solution to the problem.

Investing in data-enabled technology is necessary to be able to make any supply chain more robust and induce complete visibility.

Investing in data-enabled technology is necessary to be able to make any supply chain more robust and induce complete visibility. Location Intelligence (LI) is set to make location data more accessible to participants in a supply chain. The use of LI is a promising trend as it uses geographical relationships to decipher complex data that can provide fleets with critical insights of accurate detention time calculations. It can provide accurate information such as time of arrival and departure of a truck at a site. They can also monitor a driver’s fuel stop time or break times which can further help enhance asset utilization. Insights into trends pertaining to a particular time of a day or week can translate to better prediction of transit times and estimated time of deliveries. All of these are elemental in aiding data-enabled business decisions through optimized route planning with reduced dwell times that boost overall productivity and enhance supply chain performance.

As the nation grapples with the ongoing economic crisis, a sudden surge in demand followed by flattening of the curve, the unpredictable rise of freight volumes and its correlation with increasing or decreasing dwell and detention times remain a cause of concern. What must not be forgotten is that these problems of detention and dwell times pose the opportunity for a permanent change towards creating a symbiotic relationship between carriers and shippers. There is an immense potential for cost savings and enhanced operational efficiency that will invariably impact the driver community’s way of life on the road.

Are Chinese Citrus Imports a Major Threat to Florida’s Agricultural Community?

The recent federal decision to authorize the import of certain citrus fruits from China has garnered significant attention since its announcement in April.  More so in an ongoing pandemic situation across the world, this came as a major shock to the indigenous farmers and authorities in Florida. While there have been neutral remarks by California industry representatives who do not foresee any formidable impact on the fresh produce markets owing to the smaller volumes of import, Florida seems to differ on the opinion.

What’s the USDA decision regarding citrus imports?

Towards mid-April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture authorized the import of five commercial citrus fruits from China. Chinese pomelos, Nanfeng tangerines, Ponkan tangerines, sweet oranges, and Wenzhou tangerines are the five varieties of citrus fruits that can now be imported into the U.S following systematic plant pest screening. The decision comes after the federal scientists reinstate that these five varieties can be safely imported given the farmers, packers, and shippers use a systematic approach to minimize pest risks.

Following the announcement US Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott penned a letter to Sonny Perdue, the USDA Secretary to reconsider his decision

Following the announcement US Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott penned a letter to Sonny Perdue, the USDA Secretary to reconsider his decision of importing these varieties that may be detrimental to the current scenario of Citrus trade in Florida. The impacts could be manifold pertaining to the safety of these produces in the aftermath of a pandemic.

Why are these five fruits such a cause of concern?

The four main things to know here are:

  1. The dwindling Citrus Industry of Florida.

Firstly, the sorry state of Florida’s Citrus industry over the past decade has been a major concern for the agricultural community as well as industry experts. The reasons for such a downward spiral are hurricanes, unfair pricing of imports, and citrus greening. Mike Sparks, executive vice president and CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, stated,

We need to take another look at this decision. Add to the fact it will hurt growers by flooding domestic markets with Chinese citrus and it really is a double whammy.

At a time when the indigenous growers are facing a steep challenge with the ongoing economic crisis, this move seems to come as a severe blow to the agricultural community in Florida.

  1. Citrus Greening

Citrus Greening or Huanglongbing, HLB, a disease that originated in China and entered the U.S. through imported citrus is a serious cause of concern. The disease primarily affects the growth of the plants and produces asymmetrical and stunted fruits with thick yellowing peel and a bitter taste. Citrus Greening has been majorly responsible for the dwindling citrus fruit production in the US and many other countries around the world.

  1. Potential invasive pest and disease threats.

Especially in the aftermath of the pandemic engrossing the world, there is a potential invasive threat of pests and diseases. While Florida industry representative Dan Richey finds the agreement of the country to import Chines citrus fruits close to lunacy, he emphasized the likely threats new imports could introduce to the nation. He stated

I am much more concerned with the invasive pest and disease risk, not only with the fruit but with pallets the fruit is shipped on. We are required to use heat-treated pallets to ensure no wood-boring insects are hitchhiking in the pallets. Again, the Chinese cannot be trusted to adhere to this rule and who knows what may arrive in these pallets and on our shores?

  1. Adherence to the Systematic Approach of Imports

Lastly, the USDA supported the decision based on the prerogative that if a systematic approach is adhered to in importing these fruits, then there is absolutely no cause of concern. But the question is who is to guarantee that such a systematic approach is being strictly followed?

This systematic approach demands that the growers, packers and shippers implement a methodical approach that minimizes the risk of pests. Limiting imports to commercial shipments alone, registering production sites & packaging plants, certifying the safety of the imports and that they are devoid of any pests or infections, regular inspection and sanitization of the production sites and proper disposal of waste. While these seem the best practices that must be followed to ensure safe consumption, Richey remarked, “If we think for one minute that China will hold their grower/packers to the standards required of a systems approach, we are fools.”

While the apparent impact of the imports on the market is believed to be small, the threat of introducing invasive varieties to the region is real and the subsequent adverse impact on the agricultural community cannot be overlooked. The decision seems to be ill-timed and irresponsible given what the industry has faced in the last decade as well as on account of the ongoing economic crisis.

How the Three M’s Can Help You Cut Down on Supply Chain Cost

As the global supply chain settles into the COVID19 technology driven and customer-centric decade, there’s no time to pause and reflect on what has happened. Now, more than ever is a time for action. You need to pick up the pace and ensure that your processes are leaner, faster, and you are equipped to meet your customer’s expectations. Understanding the nuances of your supply chain and how to improve upon it is the best way to achieve maximum savings, optimize efficiency, and manage customer expectations.

We’ve come up with a concept called the Three M’s, three key areas that you can explore and break down in order to realize the full potential of your company that can help you to get the biggest, fastest savings in your supply chain, today.

They are: Measure; Manage; and Maximize.

Measure

The first of the three M’s is the measure, and it’s all about understanding your supply chain and how it functions. To measure your supply chain is to create an overview of your operations and within that, to develop an understanding of your key processes and where your company’s strengths and weaknesses lie.

Understanding how to create an overview of your supply chain is the very first step in measuring what your company is doing right now and what your current process looks like.

“Understanding how to create an overview of your supply chain is the very first step in measuring what your company is doing right now and what your current process looks like. Either creating an overview or even having an external analysis done by a third party will help you gain visibility and understanding why you’re doing things the way that you do and then taking that information and turning it into actionable information that your company can then use to make better business decisions,” suggests Amanda Staffon, our Senior Business Development representative.

Measuring can help you to:

  • Analyze the need for process improvements.
  • Understand where cargo can be consolidated to increase cost savings.
  • Measure carrier cost structures to maximize efficiencies and lower costs.
  • Better financial efficiency of your end to end supply chain network.
  • Enhanced control over shipment scheduling.

Manage

Manage is all about the internal conversation within your organization. It’s about understanding why key stakeholders which should include, vendors, purchasing, customer service, sales, are making the decisions that they do and how those decisions affect your supply chain. Manage is also about understanding the flow of goods, money, and information throughout your organization.

The data and analytics gathered during the measure phase is instrumental to a proper understanding of your operations

The data and analytics gathered during the measure phase is instrumental to a proper understanding of your operations and can create the insight necessary to understand why these decisions are being made and how you can improve upon them.

There are four key advantages to the management phase:

  • Visibility across the entire supply chain from sourcing raw materials to the delivery of finished goods
  • Modeling future supply chain scenarios as your company grows/changes to ensure speed to market while maximizing cost structures.
  • Complete insight into the production, partner, and supplier performance to ensure responsiveness to customer needs.
  • A Global perspective to keep updated on the latest developments and optimize processes across North America.

Maximize

The last of the three M’s is Maximize, and all about making the most possible good from every factor and decision within your organization. For example, technology helps to maximize efficiency and, in turn, increase profitability.

A well-managed supply chain provides companies with the ability to execute best practices

The other two steps are crucial to maximize as they help you to understand the layout of the organization and what steps you need to take in order to see the most benefits, whether that be further developing strengths, optimizing a specific aspect of your operation, or outsourcing aspects that your company isn’t particularly strong in.

A well-managed supply chain provides companies with the ability to execute best practices in the following areas:

  • Demand Planning
  • Procurement
  • Logistics
  • Inventory Management
  • Information Systems
  • Compliance
  • Distribution
  • Risk Management and Contingency Plans

Putting it into Action

Of course, the first step in this process is often the most daunting. During the uncertainty, dedicating resources (time, energy, money) to anything that doesn’t have an immediately apparent return can be terrifying. However, taking that first step is most important as it lays the path towards improvement and growth in the future.

We encourage you to listen to our free Webinar about the Three M’s to get a more in-depth understanding of the process as well as to take advantage of our free supply chain analysis to see how BlueGrace can help you to improve and optimize your operations.

What’s New in AgTech 2020

Investors are turning to AgTech in recent years, and it’s no mystery why. While much of the tech boom of the past couple decades has focused on saving time or money and entertainment, AgTech embodies higher ideals. The global population is predicted to grow to 9.8 billion by the year 2050, an increase that exceeds today’s food production capacity, so this technology is critical not only to moving humanity forward and reducing emissions, but to our survival.

On that dire note, let’s talk about what’s new in AgTech this year.

Tech-Savvy Farm Equipment

Farm equipment today isn’t your grandpa’s tractor, and it’s getting cooler by the day.

Drones are being developed to collect crop data, spread pesticides, selectively irrigate dry sections of fields to conserve water while improving yields, and even plant crops with utmost precision. Autonomous robots like the TerraSentia are being used to track plant health and field conditions. Custom farming is being carried out by autonomous vehicles (driverless tractors), as developed by up-and-coming AgTech company Sabanto. Wearable devices for animals are being developed and refined to monitor health, potentially heading off illness or other issues.

Data-Driven Farming and Land Management

As is the case in other industries, data and analytics are playing a big role in AgTech. Some data collection is being facilitated by specially developed devices as are mentioned above, but other data is gathered through networking.

Great data makes way for great analytics, helping to drive the ag industry

Great data makes way for great analytics, helping to drive the ag industry, from the fields to the boardroom, towards smarter, leaner, more productive operations.

Supply Chain Improvements

To get in line with recent years’ connectivity improvements in other industries, much of the agriculture industry is moving to more connected format. IoT sensors are being used to help track food through the supply chain, creating better accountability and understanding from fields to retail shelves. Companies like Intelliconn, with their VeriGrain data management program, are creating food supply chain game-changers.

Through networking, farmers and other supply chain players in the agriculture business are finding ways to communicate faster and better

Through networking, farmers and other supply chain players in the agriculture business are finding ways to communicate faster and better. When pricing, product information, and other pertinent data becomes readily available, everyone involved can make better decisions.

AgTech isn’t necessarily a new revelation. Farmers and ranchers have been looking to new tech to improve their operations for centuries, but the food supply chain is evolving faster than ever.

AgTech isn’t necessarily a new revelation. Farmers and ranchers have been looking to new tech to improve their operations for centuries, but the food supply chain is evolving faster than ever. Wondering how you can keep up? Call us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below to set up a consultation with one of our supply chain experts who can help you springboard your agricultural logistics operation into 2020 and beyond.

Transporting Perishable Goods? Some Important Factors to Consider.

Transporting perishable goods and fresh produce is fraught with higher risks than most surface transportation, there is a risk of spoilage, loss of freshness and quality.

Perishable goods require a specialized service provider with intimate knowledge of refrigerated trailers, or reefers. It enables the movement of goods like fruits, vegetables, seafood, some medicine and other pharma products, dairy and bakery products, meat, and flowers and plants. Refrigerated trucking helps connect farmers, bakers, meat production plants, pharma companies with markets and ensures end customers even at remote locations get fresh and quality products.

While North America has a static network for refrigerated transportation, its demand significantly increases out of regions with active harvests, commonly referred to as “Produce Season”

While North America has a static network for refrigerated transportation, its demand significantly increases out of regions with active harvests, commonly referred to as “Produce Season”. Given that the season is now in full swing, let’s take a look at what factors should be considered by both shippers and transportation partners while facilitating the movement of fresh produce and perishable goods.

What important factors should shippers keep in mind while transporting fresh produce?

Each fresh produce or perishable product has a specific shipping requirement, like the mode of transportation, type of container, temperature settings, and the transit time it can tolerate.

If even one of the transport requirements of perishables is not met, the goods can become unfit for consumption or further processing.

If even one of the transport requirements of perishables is not met, the goods can become unfit for consumption or further processing. To ensure that this does not happen, here are a few points that shippers must keep in mind while transporting their fresh produce:

Complete Product Knowledge: This is non-negotiable. For safe and smooth transport of their perishable products or fresh produce, it is necessary for shippers to clearly define these expectations to their warehousing and transportation partners.  Some important things that shippers and their teams should share about the fresh/perishable product they deal in are:

  • Packaging requirements of the product.
  • The best method and transport mode to ship it.
  • What is the temperature requirement – are there OptiSet or Intelliset temperature settings available
  • The temperature needs of the product while in transit and what is proper protocol if an issue arises in transit.
  • Tolerable transit time for the product to aide in the recovery of delay
  • Food safety requirements unique to your product
  • The documents/formalities required in both the importing and exporting state/country.

Conduct a Market Study: It’s important to find the right market for fresh produce, especially for those products that spoil easily.  It’s financially beneficial for the shipper if this product reaches the market quickly and in good condition. It’s also beneficial for the buyers as they get better quality and fresh products. So, before you decide on a specific market, conduct a study to find out:

  1. When and where your product is going to be in peak demand, consider local growing seasons you will be competing with.
  2. The rate at which you can deliver and distribute in the given market
  3. The transit time to various markets and how fast can you replenish.
  4. Outlets or Wholesale partners in the event of a quality rejection
  5. Any specific customs formalities/documents required by the importing state for this product

Once you have this information ready, you can pick the best possible combination of market, rate, and transport requirements.

Choose the Right Transporter: If fresh produce is not managed correctly during transit, the quality and shelf life can be negatively affected. Thus, the choice of the transportation provider can make a huge difference in how your product is shipped. So, when you’re searching for a transportation partner, you must check the following:

  1. The track record of the transportation provider in moving perishable goods.
  2. Do they have the requisite experience, and references?
  3. Is the equipment well-maintained, cleaned, and serviced regularly?
  4. Are the drivers trained to manage the special equipment and carry perishable or fresh produce?
  5. Do they have tie-ups with service centers en route, in case the equipment or vehicle needs emergency servicing?
  6. Can they replace the container or the carrier in case of a breakdown?
  7. What is the transit time being offered and do they have the ability to expedite?
  8. Does the provider have ample capacity to be flexible in a fluid situation?

In the event you can use a multimodal approach to ship your cargo, carry out this exercise for all the providers. Also look for opportunities to consolidate where transportation providers have multiple service lines.

Provide Clear Instructions: Once you’ve selected the transporter(s), it is important to communicate instructions specific to your product clearly to them. Make sure they know how the product is to be handled, the temperature to be maintained throughout the transit, and if it is an LTL shipment, then which products/goods can it not be carried with or kept close to. In the case of multimodal transportation, provide a set of instructions to each transportation partner and make sure each provider knows who to hand over the cargo and onward shipping instructions to.

Communication with the Buyer: It’s often observed that while the goods reach the destination safely, they get spoiled at the buyer’s facility for lack of proper instructions on how to manage/store the goods. Hence, it is necessary to make sure that proper instructions have also been communicated to the buyer.

Get Adequate Insurance Coverage: Transporting perishables and fresh produce is expensive. There is also a risk of spoilage on the way. This is why insurance is critical in such cases. Before you put your cargo in transit, make sure you have the right insurance coverage for the cargo. This will ensure that you have financial support in case the cargo does not reach the destination in the best condition.

What Important Factors Should the Transporters Keep in Mind When Transporting Fresh Produce?

The transportation provider is responsible for the perishable products while the goods are in transit. Hence, it is necessary for transportation providers to also have a checklist for perishable goods and fresh produce. Here are some important points that they should keep in mind when accepting fresh produce goods for transportation:

  1. Communicate Clearly with the Shipper: Transporting perishable goods is time sensitive. Make sure you share the correct information regarding transit time, the route to be taken, contingency plans, and documentation requirements, with the shipper at the time of inquiry. This not only helps the shipper make an informed decision, but also helps your business avoid unnecessary risks.
  2. Get All Required Details from the Shipper: The transportation provider should double-check if the shipper has supplied all the required information or not. In case any crucial detail regarding the product is missing, they should proactively ask for it from the shipper prior to departing in order to avoid delays in transit
  3. Discuss Packaging Requirements: Check with the shipper how the goods will be packed and labeled. In case there are any specific requirements for packaging and labeling at your end, communicate the same to the shipper. It is important to get the packaging and labeling right in case of perishable goods as they need to be handled with care and can spoil easily.
  4. Understand Handling and Temperature Instructions: For perishable goods, the transportation provider needs to understand how the goods are to be handled and what temperature is to be maintained while the goods are in transit. Also, check if there are any specific guidelines on how the temperature is to be managed while the cargo is being loaded/unloaded.
  5. Assist the Shipper with Documentation: Fresh produce and perishable goods often have more documentation needs than regular cargo. Sometimes shippers, especially those new to the trade, are not aware of the cross-border documentation. In such cases, it becomes the transportation providers’ duty to make sure the shipper completes all documentation requirements in the right format. This not only helps complete the shipment formalities but also helps the trucker while crossing the state borders.
  6. Service the Reefers Before Allotting: The transportation provider should make sure the reefer is properly serviced, cleaned, and checked before it is allotted to the shipper. They should also monitor the temperature throughout the transit and report any discrepancies to the shipper.
  7. Train Your Drivers to Handle Perishable Goods: For transporting perishable cargo safely, it is essential to have experienced and trained drivers on board. The driver should understand the handling instructions of the fresh produce and be able to manage temperature settings of the reefer container.
  8. Update the Shipper Timely: Share regular status updates with the shipper while the goods are in transit. In case there are any issues with the container or temperature monitor, inform the shipper immediately, and seek alternative solutions.
  9. Deliver On-Time: It’s a good practice for logistics and trucking service providers to deliver goods on time. In the case of perishable goods and fresh produce, on-time delivery is crucial as even a slight delay in transit can affect the quality of goods, spoil them or make them unfit for consumption. Hence, it is necessary to make sure that the entire team handling the cargo understands the importance of on-time delivery!

If you’re looking for a reliable partner to transport your fresh produce and perishable goods, get in touch with our team today! We not only take responsibility for delivering your goods on time but also ensure that you get access to an online platform powered with advanced technology to plan and monitor your shipments more effectively!

Vertical Farming: The Next Level of Produce

The overall Consumer Price Index (CPI) has seen a nominal increase of 0.1 percent for the 12 month period ending May 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While this is an average across all measured goods and services, food is showing something completely different. According to the CPI, the total food index has increased by 4.0 percent while the food at home index has jumped up by 4.8 percent.

Month-over-month, there has been an increase in the cost of food, most notably a 3.7 percent increase for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs. Beef, in particular, has seen a massive up jump at 10.8 percent, the largest monthly increase ever.

Month-over-month, there has been an increase in the cost of food, most notably a 3.7 percent increase for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs. Beef, in particular, has seen a massive up jump at 10.8 percent, the largest monthly increase ever. This created an obvious concern for increasing prices in consumers and retailers alike, both of which are bracing themselves for further price increases as food production struggles with a myriad of issues, ranging from plant closures to the loss of farm labor.

While we can attribute at least some of the CPI increases due to more people dusting off their cookbooks during the quarantine period, there are other issues to consider as well. Arable land is subject to both inconsistent weather conditions as well as natural disasters. For example, an unexpected frost can wipe out an entire crop causing a significant delay in production and output. While that’s not great for farmers, it can also create shortages in the food market at both the consumer and commercial level. However, that might be an issue of the past before too much longer as indoor, vertical farms begin to take root.

Growing UP with the Fifth Season

For the uninitiated, vertical farming (as we are discussing) is the concept of growing consumables in a stacked and modular fashion which drastically increases crop yield per acre than traditional farming.

Vertical farming is actually a rather old idea. Indigenous peoples used vertically layered growing techniques like the rice terraces of East Asia. The term vertical farming was coined by American geologist Gilbert Ellis Bailey in 1915. In 1999, Dickson Despommier, a professor at New York’s Columbia University, popularized the modern idea of vertical farming, building upon the idea together with his students,”

Not only is the indoor farming movement growing, it’s thriving.

“It is the inefficiencies across the supply chain from farm to truck to packer to supermarket and foodservice that has fueled the burgeoning indoor farming industry, which in 2017 accounted for $106.6 billion and expected to reach $171.12 billion by 2026 growing at a CAGR of 5.4 percent during this period, according to the Worldwide Indoor Farming Market Report,” according to a recent article from Forbes.

Fifth Season is an indoor farming company, based just outside of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, combines vertical farming concepts with proprietary robotics and artificial intelligence.

While neither indoor nor vertical farming is anything new, after all greenhouses have been around since the 1800s, Fifth Season is taking vertical farming to a whole new level. Fifth Season is an indoor farming company, based just outside of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, combines vertical farming concepts with proprietary robotics and artificial intelligence. CEO and co-founder of Fifth Season, Austin Webb, is looking to disrupt the nation’s produce market by creating a completely new category of “hyper-local” fresh produce. Currently, two of Fifth Seasons’ biggest clients are the Giant Eagle supermarket chain and Whole Foods.

At 25,000 sq.-ft growing space, Webb’s company is seeing double the yield of traditional vertical farms, almost 500,000 lbs of produce in the first full year of operation. What’s even more impressive is the produce is grown using 95 percent less water and 97 percent less land than conventional farming. All of which is grown without the need for pesticides and has an average shelf life that lasts for weeks instead of a few days that is normal for shipped produce.

A New Future for Farming Supply Chain

Unfortunately for produce, the supply chain just isn’t nearly efficient enough for large scale distribution. Produce is typically harvested, then loaded onto a truck to be shipped for packing or processing. From there it’s loaded onto another truck before it reaches its final destination. That leads to a higher risk of spoilage and shrink.  Fifth Seasons use of machine learning, AI, and computer vision gives them the ability to track and trace down to an individual tray within their farm. Webb says this gives his company and its customers a whole new level of transparency that wasn’t previously available. The technology creates information from “seed, to harvest, to package, to a doorstep, to a table (or store shelf).”

This is about more than just fresh vegetables, however. This level of vertical farming has some interesting implications for the supply chain as a whole.

This is about more than just fresh vegetables, however. This level of vertical farming has some interesting implications for the supply chain as a whole. For starters, it drastically cuts down on the total mileage that fresh produces need to travel which, in turn, lowers overall food costs and transportation costs for customers. Moreover, hyper localization of production could lead to an interesting shift in logistics and food production in general.

A Cool Move for BlueGrace

Produce, like many perishables, requires the use of refrigerated trucks to keep goods fresh as they travel across the country. With vertical farms like Fifth Season boasting such a prodigious level of production, the need for reefer units will be that much greater. That is why we are proud to announce our newest acquisition, Anthym Logistics which has significantly bolstered our refrigerated truckload capacity for our customers. To learn more about Anthym and BlueGrace or to see how we can help your operations, visit us here.

Call us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below to set up a consultation with one of our supply chain experts who can help you springboard your agricultural logistics operation into 2020 and beyond.

Is Your Supply Chain Ready For Weather Disruptions?

To a large extent, Supply Chain and uncertainty go hand in hand. Driver delays, transportation failure, strikes, hike in fuel prices, carrier capacity shortage, vendor hold-ups, thefts, and fires at warehouses are all common issues in the supply chain ecosystem. Most supply chain leaders are not only aware of them but also have alternate plans or solutions ready to tackle these issues as and when they arise.

However as supply chains become increasingly global in nature, businesses not only have to contend with minor uncertainties but also have to manage larger global disruptions that may threaten their very existence. These disruptions are like black swan events which no one can forecast or plan for in advance. They arrive on the horizon suddenly and upset the status quo, often requiring a rearrangement of how the business functions and manages its supply chain in the future.

What Global Disruptions does the Supply Chain need to be aware of?

Globalization has added a layer of complexity to business operations. Now businesses have to keep an eye on what’s happening around the world and be able to identify possible threats to their business in all the countries that they operate in or source raw materials from.

Natural Disasters:

Natural disasters are the most common global disruptors. Wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, storms, and floods can interrupt regular operations for a long time in the country that they happen in. It can take years to rebuild factories and get them operating at optimum capacity. For example, according to reports, the 2011 earthquake and Tsunami in Japan had caused grave damage to infrastructure and manufacturing facilities in the country. Given the wide scope of Japanese companies’ operations, the impact of the earthquake and Tsunami was felt by their business partners around the world.

Political and Trade Relations:

Cordial political and trade relations amongst the governments of the originating country and the nations that the organization wants to do business are a must for smooth operations. If there’s any change in the relationship either political or trade, it can become difficult for the business to carry out its business activities without disruptions. A recent case in point is the ongoing trade war between China and the US. This has not only soured relations between the two nations but has also created a tumultuous situation for other nations involved in international trade with the two countries.

Similarly, an unfavorable change in foreign trade policies – without the threat of a trade war – due to political fallout or change in the growth strategy can make it hard for foreign businesses to sustain long term in the country.

Economic Factors:

Another factor that can derail supply chains across the globe is an economic recession. If any of the major economies of the world like the US, China, Germany, India, France, and the UK experience an economic downturn it is bound to impact the nations that it does business with. A major economic failure can also lead to a global recession like the 2008 global recession which led to many businesses closing shop or limiting their reach to certain geographies only.

Cyber Threats:

Since digitalization and technology have become an integral part of the supply chain, another threat that can cause great damage to not only the business but also customers are cyber attacks. These attacks on technology and systems can impact a business’s reliability, trustworthiness, and endanger the trade and even personal data.

Unlike the regular supply chain disturbances, these threats are unforeseeable and due to their unpredictable nature, not easily manageable. Each event – even if it is of the same kind – requires a specialized and unique response.

The better prepared a supply chain is to respond to a sudden event, the more likelihood of it overcoming the challenge and sustaining its operations. Hence, now more than ever it has become critical for supply chains across the globe to assess themselves against invisible threats and prepare to deal with black swan events as and when they occur.

What can you do to make your supply chain ready to weather disruptions?

While there is no fixed roadmap on how to deal with these kinds of threats, there are a few steps that businesses can take to safeguard their interests and bounce back with minimum possible damage.

  1. Imagine the unimaginable: Organizations now need to think ahead and plan for events that may or may not happen. It is critical to simulate scenarios that can disrupt your business and find solutions to overcome them before these scenarios play out in the real world. Create a contingency plan for what-ifs: for example – what would you do if an earthquake struck your manufacturing facility or if one of your vendors had to temporarily close down business because his unit was in the eye of the storm? Do you have an alternative option? If not, then that’s where you start your planning.
  1. Find substitute suppliers: We have often highlighted the importance of having multiple trusted vendors on board. There’s no better time than now to reiterate this point. Find vendors in different regions when the business and the world is functioning in normal conditions. Try out a few transactions with them and work on building a relationship with them. Access to vendors in different regions can help keep the business running  even if there’s some disturbance in one region or country. This will enable you to keep your supply chain functioning.
  1. Build alternative service providers and business partners: It’s not just the suppliers that you need to keep your supply chain up and running. Along with a roaster of trusted suppliers you also need to build a repository of other service providers and business partners such as transporters, shipping lines, warehousing facilities in all the regions where your business operates. This is critical because if you have to shift your business from one sector to another due to some contingency, you will know who to hire and partner with.
  1. Identify the pain points of your supply chain: No business or supply chain is perfect. Some have a strong inventory management system but a poor relation with transporters. Others have a rigorous forecasting procedure in place but struggle with people management or may have customer issues. Any of these weak points have the capability to be further aggravated during an emergency. Hence, it is critical to know the pain points of your supply chain and work on finding viable solutions.
  1. Make data security a priority: In the current scenario where technology is a part of every function and system within an organization, data security has become critical. It’s not just your business data that is at risk, but also the information that your customers and vendors share while doing business with you that is in danger. Even a small breach of data can put your and your customers or business partners at risk. So make technology and systems audit an integral part of your organization.
  1. Learn from past disruptions: Maybe the earthquake in Japan did not impact your business or the hurricane Katrina did not affect your region, but it did cause damage to other businesses and regions. Observe what they did to get their business and supply chain up and running. Find out what were the difficulties they faced, learn from them, and find solutions for such situations that are viable for your business.
  1. Analyze, Analyse, and Analyse: We can’t emphasize the importance of carrying on an ongoing analysis of your supply chain. This is the only way where you can not only find out the risk to your business, but also identify threats and challenges, and work on solutions to mitigate them before they become unmanageable.

Will the analysis help in mitigating risks from black swan events? If you keep these threats in mind while conducting analysis, then it will help build awareness among your team and urge them to work on finding viable solutions.

If you need any assistance in starting your supply chain analysis journey, then get in touch with our team of experts today!

A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing an Internal Audit of Your Supply Chain 

While all facets of the modern business are important, arguably the most important to any retail, manufacturing, or goods based service is their supply chain. The supply chain serves as the backbone of these companies and has a significant impact on the company’s business strategy which directly affects its operation and operational costs. Additionally, the performance of the supply chain has a direct impact on a company’s ability to provide services to their customers and create additional value via services offered or simply through reliability. With the multitude of changes that have been occurring within the logistics, trade, and freight industries now, more than ever, is an opportune time to conduct or review the process of internal audit of your supply chain. 

An internal supply chain audit is one of the most powerful methods of evaluating and possibly improving your supply chain, reduce operations costs, and increase competitive advantages.

An internal supply chain audit is one of the most powerful methods of evaluating and possibly improving your supply chain, reduce operations costs, and increase competitive advantages. The goal of the internal audit is to help you find weaknesses within your supply chain and correct pain points, bottlenecks to increase supply chain flexibility, agility, and overall efficiency.

To make the most out of your audit and its results, it’s important to understand that the supply chain isn’t a stand-alone, isolated feature of your business. In all actuality, the supply chain is suffused in every aspect of your business. As such the supply chain needs to be viewed between all participating companies and suppliers throughout the supply chain, with solutions applied from a holistic approach.

Why an Internal Audit is Necessary for Your Supply Chain

For most companies, audits are typically part of the normal routine, either for financial records or for physical inventory. The entire purpose behind an audit is to make sure things are where they should be and that everyone is playing by the same rules.

“Internal auditing is defined as an independent, objective assurance and consulting activity designed to add value and improve an organization’s operations. It helps an organization to accomplish its objectives by bringing a systematic, disciplined approach to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of risk management, control, and governance processes,” as defined by The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA).

This is especially important when trying to maintain retail compliance, for example, with increasing customer demands like On Time; In Full (OTIF) or Must Arrive By Date (MABD).

Simply put, an internal audit is a multi-step process that is a means of determining whether your current systems and operations are in compliance with your company’s predetermined operating procedures and regulations. This is especially important when trying to maintain retail compliance, for example, with increasing customer demands like On Time; In Full (OTIF) or Must Arrive By Date (MABD). Conducting an internal audit does more than just evaluates the supply chain, it also takes a necessary look at the interaction between other aspects of the organization such as the accounting and financial systems, practices, and procedures. For example, are your planners and purchasers communicating properly, not only with each other but with the production floor and shipping department? Are parts coming in with enough lead time that items can be manufactured and shipped according to customer requirements? 

An internal audit is important because it allows the company executives and logistics decision makers to examine the effectiveness of their business operations and controls and applications of new policies. Over time, establishing those best practices means a more competitive and more profitable company in the future.

Things to Consider Before you Start the Audit

Performing an audit is one thing, but knowing what areas you need to be focusing on is something else entirely. While every audit should be more or less tailored to the specific needs of an individual organization, here is the basic framework for initiating an audit that needs to be included:

  • Audit Planning: Internal auditors should have a plan in place well before the actual auditing begins. 
  • Examining and Evaluating Information: Internal auditors should have a standardized criterion to compare findings against. 
  • Communicating Results: Audit should have a clear and concise method of reporting their findings. 
  • Follow Up: Internal auditors should follow up in a timely manner to ensure that appropriate actions have been taken to correct audit findings.

This framework also serves as a support system for corporate managers and allows managers of larger production systems to delegate the oversight of the audit to the internal audit department. This is important for a few reasons:

  • Operating Complexity: Automated data processing has increased the levels of complexity when analyzing data, a task better suited for those who know what to look for. 
  • Decentralization: Given that supply chains are prone to be decentralized in terms of a physical location due to globalization. 
  • Lack of Expertise: As the adage goes, stick to what you know. Leave those auditors in charge of the audit for the best quality audit.

With the right framework in place for the audit to commence, let’s take a look at the tasks involved for the actual audit.

Supply Chain Structure and Internal Audit Tasks

Like we mentioned above, every company is different and, as a result, the needs for every individual supply chain will vary. So while there is no hard and fast or “Use audit ‘A’ for Supply chain system ‘1’ ” convenient method of doing things, there are some common focal points that are applicable for just about every organization and style of the supply chain. 

The supply chain management processes identified by The Global Supply Chain Forum are:

  • Customer Relationship Management 
  • Supplier Relationship Management 
  • Customer Service Management 
  • Demand Management
  • Order Fulfillment 
  • Manufacturing Flow Management 
  • Product Development and Commercialization 
  • Returns Management

All of these processes are hallmarks of a healthy supply chain and also indicative of the successful supply chain management. Here again, we can see all of the links that connect the supply chain to every other facet of the business. Another benefit to performing an internal audit is that offers to perfect opportunity to increase the synergy between these various departments. For CFO’s and supply chain leaders, this means that supply chain management deals with total business excellence and represents a new way of managing the business and relationships with vendors, suppliers, and partners.

An internal audit can help a company in finding answers to crucial questions about managing success factors of supply chain excellence, of which these can be divided into five main sections: 

  • Strategy – To determine if the enterprise has a clear strategy tuned to business expectations and focused on profitably servicing customer requirements 
  • Organization – To determine if an effective organization structure exists enabling the enterprise to work with its partners to achieve its supply chain goals
  • Process – To determine if the enterprise has excellent processes for implementing its strategy, embracing all plan-source-make-deliver operations
  • Information – To determine if the enterprise has reliable information and enabling technology to support effective supply chain planning, execution, and decision-making 
  • Performance – To determine if the enterprise is managing supply chain performance in ways that will increase the bottom line, cash flows and shareholder returns

Supply Chain Risk Management

As much as we wish we could, the ability to see and accurately predict the future still eludes us to this day. In the end, it all comes down we can optimistically refer to as an “educated guess”.  With that being said, even the most educated guesses can’t predict the weather or a broken down truck. This means that within every supply chain, there will always be an element of risk. That risk represents any number of things that can go wrong within your supply chain and halt or delay your shipments. For this very reason, risk management is incredibly important when evaluating your supply chain. 

An internal audit can provide business leaders with the necessary framework to develop an appropriate supply chain risk management program.

Risk management is a huge proponent of supply chain health, especially given the instabilities in the global marketplace created by political uncertainty, trade tariffs, etc. An internal audit can provide business leaders with the necessary framework to develop an appropriate supply chain risk management program. This is how your supply chain audit can also help with risk reduction and increased security: 

  • Reviewing and understanding supply chains, including their strengths and weaknesses, in developing markets, to validate monitoring programs
  • Working with the company’s supply chain specialists to help develop a monitoring process that can be repeated
  • Helping to identify which suppliers are critical 
  • Assessing which suppliers may be vulnerable to threats and helping draw up a residual mitigation profile
  • Identifying strong risk control procedures
  • Helping to develop key analytic tools and techniques
  • Aiding with compliance monitoring

Ideally, the risk mitigation will also allow companies to increase supply chain efficiency to the point where on hand stock can be reduced. While having excessive stock might create a buffer in time where shipments are running late or capacity is tight, that excess can also eat into company profit margins. Additionally, having a well-running supply chain vastly lowers the chance for disruptions, operating costs, and other unexpected costs such as chargebacks, detention fees.

Despite the cause, however, the results are often the same, a drastic slow down of operations and a huge impact on customer satisfaction and profitability.

Supply chain management is a very complex structure of activities with cross-functional processes, and it presents one of the most important functions in the company since it is directly linked to all functions of the company. Supply chain problems can result from any number of things including natural disasters, labor disputes, supplier bankruptcy, an act of war or terrorism, systems breakdowns, procurement failures, and other causes. Despite the cause, however, the results are often the same, a drastic slow down of operations and a huge impact on customer satisfaction and profitability.

The supply chain internal audit aims to support managers in process optimization and above all in cost reduction which result from an uncertain environment by evaluating and directing management towards approaches which will prevent or reduce negative effects. 

After analyzing definitions and some of the standards of internal audit, it can be concluded that this process can improve effectiveness and efficiency, and by that, the performances of many functions within the organization. High-impact supply chains are more competitive and are capable of winning market share and customer loyalty, creating shareholder value, extending the strategic capability and reach of the business. Independent research shows that excellent supply chain management can yield: 

  • 25-50% reduction in total supply chain costs 
  • 25-60% reduction in inventory holding 
  • 25-80% increase in forecast accuracy
  • 30-50% improvement in order-fulfillment cycle time 
  • 20% increase in after-tax free cash flows

To increase supply chain strength, agility, and overall integrity, companies should develop a framework for a structured approach to ongoing risk identification and management. This will enable businesses to proactively address organizational supply chain risks on a periodic basis – a practice that affords stronger company and brand protection against supply chain risk gaps.

The more we know the more we can simplify.

The more we know the more we can simplify. When we know what your current transportation situation involves and what your pain points are, we can really help you simplify. The journey with our customers begins with the Needs Assessment process and the goal to determine transportation management solutions that increase productivity and decrease overall costs. To speak to one of our freight experts, call us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to receive a FREE Supply Chain Analysis.

Why Are Heavy Duty Truck Orders So Low In North America?

The ongoing slump that had begun in October 2018 had started to affect the Class 8 truck market in early 2019. While there were a few months during the year where orders for heavy-duty trucks peaked – although not as high as the previous two years, it was all in all a slow year for the industry.  

How bad is the situation? 

An article in Wolf Street shared numbers released by the FTR Transportation Intelligence for 2019. According to the report: during the year there were 179,000 orders for Class 8 trucks. This was a drastic reduction of 64% when compared to the 497,000 orders during 2018. The difference in the orders in just the span of a year is telling of the difficulties that the trucking manufacturing industry is set to face until the freight market stabilizes. 

More recently, on February 19, 2020, in a write up on the issue Freight Waves shared: “The ratio of retails sales of Class 8 trucks to inventory in January 2020 ranked second-highest in the industry history, trailing only the worst month of the Great Recession a decade ago”, signaling that the heavy-duty vehicle market may continue to experience a downward trend for some more time. 

What’s the cause?

The cause of the current turmoil faced by the Class 8 truck manufacturing industry can be broadly bifurcated into two parts. 

The first reason stems from the slowdown in the manufacturing sector. It has a direct impact on the orders fleets place for new trucks.

The first reason stems from the slowdown in the manufacturing sector. It has a direct impact on the orders fleets place for new trucks. If the sector is doing well, there is a demand to increase the fleet size, hence more orders for new trucks. On the other hand, when it is experiencing a slowdown, trucking companies hold back on increasing their fleet size – exactly what is happening now. 

The current economic and political scenario in the country has put a strain on the manufacturing industry. The US and China trade war which began in 2018 and the tariffs imposed by the two countries on each other has been detrimental for business and allied service providers, including truck manufacturers. If we are to consider the disruption that the Coronavirus is causing in global trade, we can presume that it will be a while before the freight business picks up again. 

The other reason industry experts are giving for the drop in Class 8 orders is a market correction.

The other reason industry experts are giving for the drop in Class 8 orders is a market correction. Monitor Daily quotes Act Research’s President and senior analyst, Kenny Vieth explaining the downturn: “After peak sales and build in 2019, significant declines are ahead in 2020, as heavy-duty sales and build follow the net orders trend down. But if our forecast of ongoing (but slower) economic expansion holds in 2020, the drop will be a correction (along the lines of 2015 and 2016), not a devastating recession (as in 2008 and 2009).”  

What’s the impact? 

The declining order book for Class 8 trucks has already started to show its impact. According to reports, quite a few truck makers including larger manufacturers like Volvo, Mack Trucks, Daimler, and Navistar have already gone through a round off layoffs or are considering cutting their workforce and reducing their production plans. For example, Cummins, the engine maker is reported to have planned laying off around 2000 workers in early 2020 and Navistar has already gone through two rounds of layoffs last year. When the bigger companies are taking such drastic measures, it will be difficult for the smaller manufacturers to tide over this recessionary phase. 

The cost of maintaining and managing the excess inventory will be another issue that the truck manufacturers will have to deal with.

The cost of maintaining and managing the excess inventory will be another issue that the truck manufacturers will have to deal with. According to reports, the inventory to sales ratio was 3.9 months in January, which is much higher than the industry’s normal average of 2 to 2.5 months. Till this excess inventory is not sold off, the truck makers may have to further cut production plans and bear an additional burden of their operating funds. 

This problem doesn’t end at the manufacturers. Even the dealers who may have taken additional inventory of Class 8 trucks when the market was good, will now have to either hold the inventory till there are buyers in the market or sell their inventory at a discount. Either way, it will have a negative impact on their bottom line. 

Till the freight business does not pick up, it will be a rough ride for all the stakeholders in the ecosystem be it – shippers, carriers or truck manufacturers. 

However, companies that have built-in diversity in their supply chain – keeping in mind the cyclical and uncertain nature of trade and keep a rigorous check on it, have a better chance of surviving such downturns. If you want to know what are the weak points of your supply and how you can strengthen it, get in touch with our team for a supply chain analysis today!