Transporting cargo from A to B effectively and cheaply has become much more difficult in recent years as transport disruptions, equipment shortages and driver shortages, among others, contribute to this problem. In response, shippers are changing their road transport strategies, exploring new services and using technology to both meet challenges and seize new opportunities.
“Freight costs continue to rise, although fuel costs have leveled off for the moment,” said George Swartz, vice president and head of Capgemini Invent’s Distribution Logistics Transformation Practice. “Many hauliers are trying to figure out how to control these costs in an environment where everyone from long-distance hauliers to road hauliers to local parcel couriers is adding surcharges for fuel and certain services.”
The cost increases don’t end there. Swartz also expects higher surcharges to be levied in the near future and says the combined increases are encouraging shippers to make more conscious and creative choices about their modes of transport and carriers. For example, some want to move their distribution networks closer to their end customers, while others are more likely to use regional and local carriers to handle outbound deliveries.
“We’re going to see more companies taking these steps as they consider how to bring their distribution networks closer to market,” says Swartz, “and how they can cut days out of the sales and shipping process.” Considering that kind of thing of movements, here are six trends logistics professionals see next for shippers managing motor freight.
1.) Portfolio freight management
During the pandemic, the light truck (LTL) market “blew up” as companies rushed to adapt to a booming e-commerce market. This resulted in a dramatic drop in capacity in a market that used to have “unlimited capacity,” says Chris Caplice, senior research scientist at the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics. “LTL capacity is now tighter.”
These and other market changes have forced shippers to become more creative in their cargo selection, with many of them beginning to use more of a “portfolio” cargo management approach. “Shippers are expanding their portfolios of dedicated-only contracts, dynamic or spot, and they’re now using all three,” says Caplice, who reminds us that private fleet usage has increased by 39% in 2021 – likely in response to the more limited ones LTL capacity.
Looking ahead, Caplice expects to maintain the portfolio freight management approach, with a focus on looking at each lane individually and finding the best way to cover each one. For some, dedicated fleets or contracts make the most sense. For others, it can be punctual or dynamic. While we wait to see if more stores shift back to brick-and-mortar retail rather than e-commerce, Caplice expects more companies to adopt this diverse freight management strategy.
2.) Solve the driver shortage together
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) say the national truck driver shortage will hit an all-time high in 2021 at just over 80,000 drivers and that the deficit could surpass 160,000 by 2030.
The problem existed prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, but worsened as e-commerce order volumes increased and the general national labor shortage took hold. “The fact that driver shortages could double over the next eight years should be a major concern for trucking companies,” says Brian Whitlock, senior director analyst at Gartner, “and especially because the truck market itself is also growing over this period becomes.”
So what’s the solution? Whitlock encourages better collaboration between the hauliers who need to move their cargo and the hauliers who need drivers to handle those loads.
“Many shippers are trying to figure out how to control this
Cost in an environment where everyone comes from the long haul
via the road carrier to the local parcel deliverer
Adding surcharges for fuel and certain services.”
— George Swartz, Capgemini Inventory
“Forwarders need to play their role more actively with their freight partners to figure out how to solve this problem,” says Whitlock. He points to working conditions as the main obstacle for certified drivers who simply don’t want to spend all their time on the road and choose other jobs.
“Forwarders should work with their carriers to improve pickup and delivery conditions, reduce idle miles and improve driver conditions,” says Whitlock. “At some point, shippers and carriers will have to work together and deal with it more seriously.”
3.) Pushing to reduce dwell time and detention
Better internal collaboration at the shipper’s site could also help reduce dwell and lay times while reducing loading and unloading times at the dock or out in the yard.
Hours are often added to the schedule here, and without much fear of retribution or punishment. Caplice sees better internal collaboration between departments as a way to alleviate some of these issues.
“Having a driver wait an hour or two for a pickup takes a lot of time out of the day, but the person working at the dock doesn’t always ‘feel’ that pain,” says Caplice. “A lot of work has gone into trying to resolve this issue and I expect it will continue to do so.”
4.) A shift towards more private fleet use
Who said if you want to do something right, you have to do it yourself? This seems to be a current mindset in the motor freight arena as more and more shippers are migrating to using their own fleets for some or all of their shipments.
According to ATA, more than half of the fleets operated in the US are private. Many companies that operate private fleets do so to meet new customer demands with the right level of service.
This creates advantages for the end customer, who benefits when shippers can quickly expand their own service portfolio to meet changing customer requirements in near real time.
Swartz says the increased interest in private fleets is being driven by transport companies’ own difficulties hiring drivers, increasing their available capacity and managing rising costs. As a result, more and more companies are looking into how to do it themselves.
5.) Better technology for managing these private fleets
As part of the private fleet trend, there has also been increased interest in connected fleet applications that help shippers manage their newly acquired or expanded fleet operations.
That the driver shortage could double
The next eight years should be a matter of great concern for shippers, and
mainly because the truck market itself will also grow
During this time.”
– Brian Whitlock, Gartner
Swartz says some of the most popular options are IoT, telematics, geofencing, and GPS devices used for tracking and collecting fleet data.
“Through the use of technology, shippers can keep a better eye on their drivers, vehicles, and cargo,” says Swartz, “and then use that information to reduce the incidence of accidents or violations within the private fleet.”
Looking ahead, Swartz expects to see more of this on-the-road technology paired with yard management systems (YMS), container-mounted GPS devices, and even drones (ie, for yard surveying and asset tracking). will be. This will help create a closed loop of data that companies can use to better manage their own fleets, keep drivers safe on the road and get cargo from point A to point B more efficiently.
6.) Trucks that can drive themselves
The image of the autonomous truck has come into focus in recent years as software developers work with vehicle manufacturers to bring the idea to life.
With ongoing driver shortages, a surge in e-commerce orders, and the need to reduce “empty miles” and other transportation challenges, the time when trucks can – in theory, at least – drive themselves can’t come soon enough.
Progress is being made: Last March, a self-driving 18-wheeler spent more than five days hauling goods between Dallas and Atlanta. According to the New York Times, the truck ran 24 hours a day, covered more than 6,300 miles, made four round trips and delivered eight loads of cargo.
“Autonomous trucking is going to start slowly, and you’ll see it over the next two to five years, depending on where you are,” says Caplice, who anticipates the “high-powered” cargo lanes in the Southwest United States to be the early movers on the autonomous frontline to be. The regulatory environment, flat terrain and generally good weather make this the most obvious frontier for the autonomous truck, he adds, while the rest of the nation may have to wait around 10 years.
“We’re seeing a lot of pilot projects,” says Caplice, who sees UPS and USPS as two potentially big users of these innovative vehicles.
Swartz is also optimistic about the autonomous truck’s place in the future of motor freight, but says some things still need to be worked out for that to happen. For example, it is complicated to build an AV semi-truck or AV van that can travel across the country safely and efficiently.
“For those of us who live in the Midwest or the North, a sudden snowstorm could completely mess up the technology you’re using to drive an autonomous vehicle,” Swartz points out. “Not that human error isn’t just as unpredictable, but we need to get the infrastructure in place before AV actually takes over.”