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AI

Automation In The Supply Chain

In a world that is constantly evolving and adapting to the newest technology, it’s important that companies keep up with the changes. We are at a point in time where consumers are getting their packages delivered by drones and cars are driving themselves. The demand for flexible, accuracy, and transparency in your supply chain increases daily. According to On Time, by the end of 2020, 17% of companies will still not have embraced automation techniques.  In a Third-Party Logistics (3PL) company, it’s important that we are using systems and processes that improve effectiveness and efficiency that enables business flow.  

Through cutting supply chain complexity and improving responsiveness, we rely on artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. Artificial intelligence allows for supply chain planning, inventory management, and customer order management. It takes the repetitiveness of trying different processes and applying it every time in a much more efficient responsive time.

Access To Real Time Data

By having an effective TMS in place, your business can save money and make better shipping decisions.

When there is real time freight data and reports based on history and trends in the system, we can learn from things that went right and also things we could improve on when it comes to making better business decisions. By having an effective TMS in place, your business can save money and make better shipping decisions. In the past, manual data entry errors have been extremely costly causing increased rates and unsatisfied customers. By implementing an effective TMS, there will be less room for human error and allows repetitive tasks to become simple. The data that your TMS can provide also is asset to your customers, giving you the ability to enhance the customers overall experience.

Better Customer Service

By having automation in place, you can reduce the time between ordering and fulfillment, keeping the customer in the loop and increasing customer satisfaction.

Not only can automation reduce the amount of manual labor and repetitiveness, but it can also improve the relationship with your customer and enhancing their overall experience. A TMS allows the customer to track freight, generate auto pick up, and see real time payments and accounting information. Your customer will be able to see what they are getting charged for and when the freight will arrive. By having automation in place, you can reduce the time between ordering and fulfillment, keeping the customer in the loop and increasing customer satisfaction.

A Case Study: Invoice Automation

Recently at BlueGrace, we have adopted new software that allows for invoice automation. When a customer shipment is delivered, an invoice is sent to us by the carrier.  Historically, an employee would manually take the time to search for the shipment in our TMS and match up the information to the invoice. This is a time-consuming task when verifying thousands of shipments per day. However, with automated matching in place, we reduce the amount of time it takes for a customer to get invoiced. Utilizing a third party plugin, our TMS automatically verifies the information and sends it to billing if it matches up with the shipment details. This software takes out manual, tedious and time-consuming work and allows for automation step-in to make the process faster and more efficient.

There could be hesitation when implementing automation because of the fear of losing the human element. However, that isn’t the case when automation is improving the workforce. Employees will only perform the essential tasks, therefore improving productivity. This also attracts a new workforce to reflect an innovated supply chain by integrating mobility and collaboration with customers.

We are in a world where humans and machines are collaborating, not competing for a job.

At the end of the day, a supply chain can’t function without its people. We are in a world where humans and machines are collaborating, not competing for a job. If you have questions about how automation should be implemented to achieve the most efficient, sustainable supply chain, contact us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak to one of our experts.

Trucking Isn’t Going Away Any Time Soon

There is absolutely no doubt that we have entered into a new era of technology. As computing is getting more powerful, many technologies that were once science fiction are now either on the horizon or already here. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation are three of the biggest hot tech topics out there.

While there is certainly a potential for job loss as this technology reaches maturity, that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

Of course, whenever new tech starts to hit the market, there is speculation as to what it means for the already existing framework of our reality. In this case, what do automated vehicles and AI mean for the truck driving industry? Currently, truckers move over 70 percent of all U.S. freight, by weight. The speculation is that we’ll see some 2-3 million jobs fall to the wayside as a result of emerging tech over the next few years. While there is certainly a potential for job loss as this technology reaches maturity, that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

According to the study: Industrial and Labor Relations Review, there is always a measure of attrition in terms of job loss when a new technology is introduced to an industry. However, there are three key reasons why truck drivers won’t be going away any time soon.

There’s More to Trucking than Just Driving

While it might seem like a truck driver has a fairly simple job of driving the truck from point A to point B, there’s a lot more to it than just that. Truck drivers also perform a number of other tasks in their daily routine. Everything from checking the status and upkeep of their vehicle and securing cargo, maintaining logs and invoices, and perhaps most importantly, customer service. While some of these tasks such as logs and vehicle status might be automated in the future, the technology isn’t there yet and some of those tasks aren’t even close to being ready for automation. For example, a smart sensor in the truck might be able to detect an imbalanced load or a flat tire, but it falls to the driver to fix that issue before rolling on down the road.

Customer service is also an incredibly important task of the truck driver

Customer service is also an incredibly important task of the truck driver, especially when you consider that customer service is one of the key distinguishers between companies today. Service needs a face, a smile, and a friendly voice and it’s that human interaction between the driver and the company that provides those necessities.

Fully Autonomous Trucks are Still on the Horizon

Just looking at the task of driving itself we can see that there are still quite some ways to go before trucks no longer need a driver. The Society of Automotive Engineers has developed the current standard to define automated vehicles on a scale of 0 to 5 with 0 being no automation and 5 being a fully automated and capable self-driving vehicle. Obviously, the amount of necessary human interaction/control goes down the higher up you go in the scale.

In fact, there tends to be a bit of sensationalism when it comes to headlines for automated vehicles. What we end up seeing is the full level 5 tests being touted as broad-scale implementation. These tests are very rare and conducted under carefully controlled conditions. In actuality, what we will see is somewhere between levels 2 to 3 where a human driver’s capabilities are augmented by robotics and automation. For example, the autonomous drive feature could take over for highway driving but for rural or city driving, it would be under human control.

Assume for a moment that level 4 automation was target for the trucking industry, how many jobs would that actually affect?

“Most of this development is focused on automating the long-haul/interstate portion of a truck trip, not short haul or local truck moves. We estimated the proportion of trucks in the U.S. that are used for long hauls, using the Vehicle Inventory and Use Survey (VIUS), last updated in 2002,” says an article from HBR.

“According to our computations, roughly one-quarter of all heavy trucks are used in long hauls of 201 miles or more, compared to roughly half of all heavy trucks used in relatively short ranges of operation (50 miles or less). Given that truck automation is currently targeted at these longer hauls, we are looking at potential job losses for roughly one-quarter of heavy truck drivers, or about 450,000 drivers, as the technology becomes more sophisticated and reliable over time and as regulatory obstacles are overcome,” HBR adds.

That is still a fairly significant number, but it is far from the millions of jobs lost that is being predicted now.

There’s Actually Fewer Drivers than People Think

Many of the sensationalized articles that are proclaiming the untold job loss at the hands of automation are also exaggerating the actual amount of human truck drivers employed in the United States. Most of the articles put the number around 3 million drivers when, in fact, that number is quite a bit smaller, meaning there are less jobs that can be lost due to the “total automation” scenario.

The federal government’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system has a category called “Drivers/Sales Workers and Truck Drivers”, which is then divided into three smaller groups: “driver/sales workers”, “light truck or delivery services drivers” and “heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers.”

The total pool employed within the broad heading is where most of these articles are getting the 3 million driver figure from. However, many who fall under one of these employment categories aren’t actually drivers or, if they are drivers, don’t fall under the risk of job loss due to automation.

Truckers Will Stay on the Road

Even if the technology for consistent level four technology was here, there would still be a heavy amount of government regulation to get through in order for it to be fully adopted throughout the industry. As there are so many variables to consider, there would likely need to be a massive infrastructure change for trucks to reach a level of autonomy that would completely remove human drivers from the picture.

It is fair to say, however, that as the technology continues to develop, we’ll likely see the amount of human drivers start to change roles.

It is fair to say, however, that as the technology continues to develop, we’ll likely see the amount of human drivers start to change roles. Instead of being phased out entirely, we’ll likely begin to see re-skilling of drivers into a different role that will continue to support the trucking industry. In light of all the challenges the industry is already facing, this could be a turn for the better.

Shippers Growing Success With 3PLs 

The 24th Annual Third-Party Logistics Study for 2020 has been released and it shows a growing success between shippers and their 3PL partners. 

“The majority of shippers, 93%, report that the relationships they have with their 3PLs generally have been successful. A higher number of 3PLs, 99%, agree that relationships have generally been successful,” the study says.  

As 3PLs continue to offer a wider array of services, shippers have been eager to leverage what they have to offer.

The study continues to find that shippers and their 3PL partners are developing a much greater awareness and synchronicity of goals, as well as how data sharing and new technology can help them advance those goals. As 3PLs continue to offer a wider array of services, shippers have been eager to leverage what they have to offer. The result is an optimization of the supply chain, reduced costs, and the creation of overall value within the supply chain.

“This year’s study once again proves that shippers and their 3PL providers are strengthening their relationships and continually moving toward meaningful partnerships. They are collaborating to accomplish their supply chain goals and improve efficiencies. The available evidence confirms that both parties are creating reliable solutions and improving the end-user experience for the customer, which is allowing shippers to use the supply chain as a strategic, competitive advantage.” 

3PLs Are Rising to the Occasion 

Currently, both shippers and 3PLs have been enjoying favorable economic conditions both at home and abroad. That is not to say that it has been a perfectly smooth road as both continue to face challenges in transportation capacity and facility-based resources. However, the relationship has proven to be beneficial to both parties as they’ve worked together to overcome tight customer deadlines and raise both customer and consumer satisfaction levels. 

Another advantage to the relationship between 3PLs and shippers is the ability to adapt to and overcome challenges .

Shippers, of course, have higher expectations of their service providers and third-party providers have responded by increasing not only their service offerings but also their innovations when it comes to overcoming challenges within the current market environment. Simply put, transportation and logistics companies are realizing that the focus needs to be placed on digital capabilities, cost and asset efficiencies, and a broader range of services to meet their customers’ needs.

Current Global Market Challenges

The logistics and freight industry is in a state of flux currently. New technologies, tighter regulations, and growing customer expectations are all forcing necessary changes to the supply chain. According to the 2020 study, here are some of the biggest challenges shippers and 3PLs are facing to date. 

Growth of e-commerce: E-commerce and the “Amazon effect” have had a tremendous impact on brick and mortar retailers. The result is that many of them are branching out into omni-channel marketing and distribution to meet customer needs. This adds a whole new layer to existing logistics and supply chain structures.  

There are both domestic and global economic changes that are putting pressure on supply chains to adapt and react.

Economic uncertainty: There are both domestic and global economic changes that are putting pressure on supply chains to adapt and react. Many of these include sourcing new suppliers and improving cross border relationships with trading partners. There are also signs of slowdowns within certain major global economies which will soften demand and create new challenges for shippers.   

Driver shortage: This problem is not unique to the United States, but it’s certainly one of the most prevalent locations. With the average age of the American truck driver approaching retirement, there is a decided lack of interest in younger generations to get behind the wheel. ATA’s chief economist,  Bob Costello estimates that the current 60,000 driver deficit could reach 160,000 by 2028.  

Disruptive technologies: While disruptive technology breeds innovation within the industry the difficulty of adapting and integrating these new technologies also increases. Some of the disruptive technologies impacting supply chains include the use of drones, autonomous vehicles, cloud-based capabilities, artificial intelligence (AI), internet-of-things (IoT), blockchain.  

While dealing with all the above challenges, there’s also the challenge of keeping pace with the competition.

Competitive challenges: While dealing with all the above challenges, there’s also the challenge of keeping pace with the competition. Especially as there is a new start-up for every day that is poised to disrupt businesses, business models, or even entire industries. This applies to all, trading and manufacturing companies, as well as logistics providers, who are attempting to differentiate themselves from a growing number of startups backed with millions of dollars worth of venture capital investments. 

The take away from the survey is that shippers and third party providers are growing and prospering together.

The take away from the survey is that shippers and third party providers are growing and prospering together. As new challenges arise, shippers are looking to 3PLs for answers, innovations, and solutions. Conversely, 3PLs are looking to build long term and steady relationships with shippers as the number of providers continues to grow.  

With growing uncertainty in the geo-policitical arena, new technologies, and the explosive growth of e-commerce, it’s likely that we will continue to see growth in the relationships between shippers and 3PLs. For more information on how BlueGrace can be the partner to help strengthen and bring visibility to your supply chain, call us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak to one of our experts.

Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Trucking

Freight is one of the most essential industries in the United States, and according to the US Freight Transportation Forecast publication conducted by the American Trucking Association (ATA), it’s going to continue growing over the next decade. The ATA forecast estimates that US freight will grow to 20.73 billion tons by 2028, a 36.6 percent increase over tonnage moved in 2017.  

Given the considerable amount of freight being moved, the freight industry has some considerable challenges to overcome to get the job done. New regulations (such as the ELD mandate) are putting a strain on trucking companies. Fuel prices and spot rates are prone to changing which can make finding reliable capacity, booking freight, and making a profit frustrating, even at the best of times. Increasing demand means a shortage in capacity, and many shipments are being left behind and delayed. There’s also a massive driver shortage in the United States, a problem that will get worse before it gets better.  

In order to mitigate the obstacles, logistics is going to have to get a whole lot smarter.

In order to mitigate the obstacles, logistics is going to have to get a whole lot smarter. While human intelligence certainly goes a long way towards planning, artificial intelligence is beginning to take up a role in the industry.  

The Growing AI Market 

AI has a number of applications that will be crucial to the trucking industry and Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM). Increasing operational efficiency can help to reduce costs for OEMs and fleet operators. Predictive modeling is also made possible by AI, allowing for preemptive maintenance by combining data collected via the Internet of Things, sensors, external sources, and maintenance logs.   

“The possible increase in asset productivity (20%) and the reduction in overall maintenance costs (10%) can be observed,” according to a recent article from Market Research.  “Also, according to a publication by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication have the potential to prevent 40% of reported crashes.”  

In addition to increased road safety, AI can also offset the potential increase in trucking costs and higher driver wages. Artificial Intelligence will also help OEMs and fleet operators stay in compliance with new regulations regarding vehicle and driver safety. This is spurring the growth of ADAS technologies and other initiatives created by OEMs, especially when it comes to automated vehicles. It’s estimated that the AI market within the transportation industry will grow from $1.21 billion in 2017 to $10.30 billion by 2030.   

However, despite the growth and development in the AI market, installation and infrastructure costs will likely be prohibitive to smaller companies. Even a few ADAS features like blind spot detection, telematics, and lane assist can drastically increase the cost of a commercial vehicle. Adding AI systems to vehicles will also require a heavy infrastructure cost as well, further complicating implementation and adoption.  

Various AI Functions for Trucking 

Artificial Intelligence in the trucking industry presents a wide array of opportunities and potential, especially when combined with automated trucking.  

“AI constitutes various machine learning technologies such as deep learning, computer vision, natural language processing (NLP), and context awareness. Some of the recent applications of these technologies in the transportation industry are semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles, truck platooning, and human-machine interface (HMI) applications,” Market Research says. 

Deep learning is one of the most promising AI developments.

Deep learning is one of the most promising AI developments. As an advanced form of AI, it analyzes a myriad of different data sources including images, sound, and text, and then compiles that data through a synthetic neural network. The result is the ability to identify and generalize patterns and strengthens the decision-making capabilities for safe operation of autonomous vehicles.  

Computer vision is another potential application for AI in trucking. Computer vision utilizes a high-resolution camera and increases the HMI (human machine interaction) capabilities of driver and vehicle. The camera interprets various data inputs such as lane departure, traffic signs, and signals, and is also able to detect driver drowsiness. Ideally, this version of AI will help to bridge the gap between semi-autonomous and fully autonomous vehicles.  

The Future of AI in the Trucking Industry 

AI will be instrumental in the future of trucking. Not only can it collect and monitor data, but as it observes patterns, it will be able to make predictions based on those patterns. These predictions will enhance onboard AI capabilities assisting in both driver and navigation functions as well as back-end functions like data monitoring and preemptive maintenance. Onboard AI will also increase connectivity and communication between other trucks on the road, improving platooning and other joint lane management systems.  

The strength of AI in the trucking industry will be dependent on the amount of data it has to work with.

The strength of AI in the trucking industry will be dependent on the amount of data it has to work with. The more data, the smarter the AI. Building up a database from scratch, however, can be a costly and time-consuming endeavor, one that might be impossible for some companies to achieve in a reasonable time frame.

Integrating AI systems with a transportation management system can help to reduce both costs and implementation time, however.

Integrating AI systems with a transportation management system can help to reduce both costs and implementation time, however. Working in tandem, the AI can help to increase driver safety while a TMS can optimize the overall efficiency of the supply chain, allowing for a smoother and more profitable operation.  

Using a 3PL to Prepare for the Future

While there is near limitless potential for artificial intelligence in the future of the trucking industry, it’s still a ways off from where it needs to be for rapid and easy implementation. The same is also true for automated trucking. However, there are readily available steps you can take to improve your operations without having to break the bank. We at BlueGrace specialize in true Transportation Management, without the need for a heavy investment in labor or technology. For more information on how we can help you harness the full potential of your logistics, fill out the form below: