Dirk Martin, senior director of transportation planning with Univar Solutions, discusses new developments in technology that are making possible a whole new level of freight tracking, tracing and dynamic routing.
SCB: What are some of the elements that need to be kept in mind when we’re addressing the issue of freight tracking and tracing today?
Martin: With the new solutions coming out, you’ve got greater visibility. You can now enable dynamic routing of trucks as they’re going down the highway. You can take into consideration traffic patterns and speeds. Recently, systems have even started to take into consideration weather patterns. Track-and-trace solutions today help with dynamic routing of your routes, allowing companies to be more flexible in satisfying their customers.
SCB: There’s been talk of the need for accurate tracking and tracing for decades. Why are we only now seeing where it’s actually possible to include all these complex elements?
Martin: It’s the next level in the evolution of the technology. Originally it was more or less just a matter of putting GPS in the truck. Now they’re adding dynamic analytics to layer in those types of things, such as day-to-day weather patterns. It’s like the driving maps that tell us how to switch from one route to another to avoid congestion. It’s great for last-mile delivery within cities.
SCB: And for long hauls as well?
Martin: Yes. For hurricanes or other severe storms, it allows us to look at the patterns as they’re happening, and determine whether we want to go into that region a day ahead of time, to deliver to customers before the storm. Or we can ask them whether they can wait an extra day, until the storm passes.
SCB: So there’s a predictive element to it?
Martin: Correct. It’s much more proactive than it was in the past. It allows you to avoid delays that cause downtime in factories. Otherwise you could have thousands of workers idle, and it’s a huge loss of money for the company. If we can be proactive, we can change the whole schedule to satisfy customers’ needs.
SCB: Still, trucks don’t always have the same option that cars have to take alternative routes.
Martin: Well, yes and no. I’m from Chicago, and there are days when we get a major accident and we will reroute the trucks. We can send dynamic routing to the units within the trucks, and tell them to take a different route to still get to the customer on time. Or you might call the customer to say you’ll be slightly late, so they can move somebody else into the loading dock slot and reschedule you.
SCB: What is the state of the yard today? Are there still some gaps and lags in information there?
Martin: I think there are still some innovations that could happen there. The challenge now is less about the data coming at us, and more about how we utilize it.
SCB: When it comes to receiving alerts, how do you understand what is something you need to deal with, versus what you might just want to ignore?
Martin: You might react to something that is anticipated to happen, before the customer even knows about it. In the long run, they’re going to be happy that you minimized the problem.
SCB: Does this technology also work for delivery vans and other vehicles handling the last mile?
Martin: We don’t use delivery vans, but I can see where it would be valuable. Again, you can see traffic patterns in advance. You have a two- to three-hour window to adjust to what’s happening.
SCB: What’s the future of tracking and tracing applications for freight look like?
Martin: Being able to track your load down to the minute has made it critical for even the large B2Bs to deliver within those same timeframes now. The expectation has really gotten tight, but the technology to adjust schedules is definitely there.
SCB: Will we see greater use of the technology for monitoring truck security and performance?
Martin: That’s another beautiful aspect of telemetrics that are going on the trucks. You can track performance, fuel mileage and driving patterns. There are a lot of things to be done there as well, that can help the fleet to save money, and pass those savings on to the customer.