Fuel price increases impact transportation as much as any other industry sector, with consumers seeing the impact in the form of higher prices for goods. To combat the problem, shippers and logistics companies have adopted intermodal transportation principles that provide for the trucking of goods at the beginning and ending of routes, but rely on cheaper transportation to cover the middle of the journey such as rail, which according to BNSF Railway's John Lovenburg, Vice President, Environmental, can move one ton of freight on a single gallon of diesel for 500 miles.
But even with the offloading of more freight to cheaper rail transport, trucking continues to play a major role in the transport of goods, and so do big data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT).
IoT data is used to measure in real time the fuel efficiency of trucks and how drivers are using brakes. IoT data even recommends the optimal speed of transport for certain road surfaces to get the most mileage out of a gallon of gasoline or diesel. Truckers are measured on their driving efficiency and safety performances.
Sensor-equipped trucks also tell corporate maintenance crews which trucks need servicing for brakes, tires, oil, and other critical systems. The maintenance crews receive this IoT data from truck sensors long before trucks become casualties of expensive road repairs.
A combination of sensor-equipped trucks and global positioning technology also enables drivers to use the best routes for their delivery locations. These sensors enable headquarters to gauge whether a truck is stopping for too long a period along the way.
In addition, there are sensors for refrigeration and other critical environmentals that are a necessity for food and medical shipments. If, for instance, a truck is carrying a load of lettuce and the refrigeration fails, the driver (and headquarters, which is monitoring the logistics of its transportation fleet) will be alerted so the situation can be immediately remedied. Along the same lines, if a carrier is en route to Washington, D.C. to deliver the lettuce, and the market suddenly indicates a shortage of lettuce in the Atlanta market, the truck can be re-routed to Atlanta.
"Logistics providers can help companies to adapt to future change by helping them to expand their market to reach the connected consumer while increasing flexibility and reducing risk," said Alan Amling, vice president of global logistics and distribution marketing for UPS. "Global logistics providers have existing physical and IT networks in place that can be leveraged to build a tailored supply chain without committing to big physical asset purchases."
Much of this transportation flexibility has been gained by plugging sensors into moving vehicles that report IoT data in real time for monitoring and predictive analytics.
The trucking industry understands the value of harnessing big data and using sensors, but like other industries, it is struggling with finding on-staff big data expertise and also with convincing drivers (many of whom are in their 50s) that monitoring truck (and driver) performance with sensors is a good thing.
In August 2013, New Century Transportation blogged that 69% of organizations are looking for employees with experience in predictive analytics, referencing a survey by research firm IDC. New Century said that effective fleet management would help the trucking industry overcome the current shortage of drivers and reduce travel time.
One major Midwestern trucking company has overcome some of the employee resistance to big data analytics by rewarding drivers for improved driving habits. The rewards come in the form of cash bonuses, and the competitions for performance excellence among drivers are friendly and team-oriented. Other logistics companies may follow suit as they work to get employees committed to these new analytics programs.
Meanwhile, sensor-based IoT technologies continue to move forward. Walmart's recent tests of carbon emissions in real time with a new analytics dashboard that can be used on trucks is one emerging best practice. Other best practices will likely also emerge as truckers apply unconventional data and analytics dashboard alerts to optimize their time on the road.
Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.