The need for real-time tracking and accurate delivery systems makes supply chain management ripe for technological innovation — and mobile, wireless, and handheld technology is leading the way throughout the logistics and transportation sectors.
keeping up with new capabilities and best practices can be difficult for large companies with deep investments in older technology. Although transitions take time, leveraging new technologies is key in this competitive industry.
Shippers are under pressure to reduce supply chain costs as a part of company cost-saving initiatives. Shippers want more services and better transparency from their supply chain managers, ideally without driving up the cost. Many third-party logistics providers and supply chain managers have turned to wireless technologies and cloud computing to automate systems and improve accuracy.
Not only are automated systems faster and more efficient than their manual, fax-based predecessors, but the mobile and automated methodologies provide better data capture. Which can, in and of themselves, improve processes and can also be stored and analyzed to target areas for improvement. The use of Customer Augmented Reality Relationship Management (CRM) technology continues to provide easy-access dashboard visibility of supply chain operations. Helping leaders identify inefficiencies and bottlenecks in commercial operations.
Technology like radio-frequency identification (RFID) is a popular method of automatic identification and data capture. Because RFID tags can be attached to clothing, inventory, or almost any item, the tracing possibilities are extensive and applicable to numerous aspects of the supply chain. Technology reduces labor costs by streamlining data capture and reducing error-prone manual processes.
Access to real-time information has a significant impact. APIs offer logistics providers the ability to interface with multiple systems in a much-improved way and decrease the amount of time it takes to get data from one point to another.
The improved information flow also opens the possibility of better asset utilization providing loads to help the shipper return home with freight, and reducing empty miles from the transportation network.
Smartphone technology offers shippers and vendors the ability to pair workers with the devices most appropriate for their daily work. As mobile devices become more diverse and varied, companies are striving to match the job with the right device. While smartphones are gaining precedence in supply chain operations, they are still subject to wear and tear. However, ruggedized cases have increased reliability for handheld devices to withstand daily outdoor usage.
Today many asset-lite carriers leverage smartphone technology. Using apps, proprietary programs, and mobile interfaces, smartphone technology uses the pings from that smartphone that’s sitting with the driver and creates a breadcrumb trail of how freight is being tracked. Also, applications on the backend enable a driver to signature capture information and create a proof of delivery.
Smartphones give an open network of carriers the ability to act like a closed-fleet network. Companies can get the same kind of status information from a cell phone that is available via proprietary technology or in a controlled IVMS/Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) global unit.
Mobile technologies and real-time communication can create a greater sense of unity and development from those out in the field to those in corporate headquarters. Managers are often on the move, but improved communication and access to live information can make managers more in tune with daily happenings in the supply chain.
Flexible communication channels within all aspects of the supply chain can increase employee productivity and boost morale. Greater collaboration and communication ultimately boils down to better customer service. Communication aids in product tracking and delivery, which results in higher customer satisfaction with the supply chain process.
Smaller firms with less investment in their current system have, and will continue to find it easier to integrate new technologies. Smaller fleets don’t have to spend thousands on mobile resource management or automatic vehicle location systems anymore.
Often, the job can be done with a relatively affordable mobile device or non-proprietary app, making the leap to wireless much easier. This flexibility may continue to give smaller carriers an edge, making them more agile and flexible in a competitive environment.
As of 2017, the Department of Transportation requires Electronic Logging Devices for drivers and fleets. Fleets faced with stricter regulations are turning to better routing software and logistics management technology to save time and money. As the government looks toward technological solutions, supply chain managers will have no other choice but to do so as well.
Driver-Assisted Truck Platooning (DATP) could relieve some of the strain of the driver shortage by enabling one driver to “drive” several vehicles in parade formation at once. The human driver would simply have to operate a single truck at the head of the platoon allowing one or more trucks to connect with the lead truck to follow along autonomously. DATP has the potential to reduce carbon emissions through better miles per gallon, as well as save costs as driver wages continue to rise.
For now, a human driver rides in the cab to monitor the computer chauffeur. Even though the well-documented driver shortage is real, trucks continue to carry 70 percent of goods shipped around the country. Self-driving trucks could help save the day to fill the gap between need and the scarcity of drivers.
Amazon began experimenting with drone delivery in late 2016 and gained a patent for a delivery drone in early 2018. Mobile technology and APIs are already improving to the point of drones being piloted by central technology by someone not even near a particular neighborhood delivering packages to homes in the neighborhood.
Additionally, using autonomous vehicles to cross-stock freight in warehouses is already happening and is expected to increase as technology improves.
The Internet of Things (IoT) and Vehicle-to-Everything could work together to go far beyond ELDs. These networks of technology could improve safety in numerous ways, monitor drivers’ health, assist with lane changes, and more as information is passed between a vehicle and an entity on the road — a traffic light, crosswalk, or other signs.
More specific forms of this technology include connecting Vehicle-to-Cloud, Vehicle-to-Pedestrian, and Vehicle-to-Grid. These technologies could improve safety on the road as well as driving efficiency.
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