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The Top Three Challenges And Transformation Opportunities In Transportation And Logistics

By Jeff Gardner, Forbes Councils Member

Jeff Gardner is CEO of CalAmp, a leading Software-as-a-Service provider of connected intelligence on vehicles, drivers, assets and cargo.

Headlines about the global supply chain crisis are hard to miss. Nearly every industry has experienced business challenges due to shortages in available supplies, components and labor. However, the transportation and logistics industry has perhaps felt the brunt of the impact as the driving force that enables so many industries to move and work.

With subsequent changes in technology and consumer expectations, issues including semiconductor, trailer and driver shortages have catapulted a new era of complexity. Fortunately, technology and opportunities are emerging that can offer a means of rebuilding the transportation and logistics industry for a new age.

Future-Proof Fleet Operations

In February 2022, AT&T officially shut down its 3G network. Other cellular carriers will follow suit as part of the "3G Sunset" this year, clearing the way for 5G networks that promise new levels of data transmission speed and connectivity. While 5G is exciting, the transportation industry has relied on 3G IoT devices for years for collecting, reporting and acting on critical data from across the supply chain. With networks going down, companies are concerned about the potential loss of visibility and ramifications to their logistics operations.

For instance, if the sensors tracking tire temperature on tractor-trailer fleets are no longer sending data because their telematics gateway is a 3G device, then fleet operators won't be able to notify drivers when their wheels are overheating. An overheated wheel can set the entire trailer on fire, escalating danger to drivers and others on the road — not to mention increasing legal liability. IoT data on vehicle health and driver behavior also normally informs remote vehicle diagnostics and preventative maintenance decisions. Without this visibility, it's impossible to preempt roadside breakdowns that can hurt fleet safety, productivity and profits. As freight demand runs high, no fleet can afford to have any vehicle or asset out of commission.

Fleet operators can take proactive measures to minimize disruptions from the 3G sunset while future-proofing their operations for 4G and 5G networks. Fleet managers should identify how many of their assets still operate with 3G devices by compiling a device inventory. This will also help determine which devices simply need an over-the-air firmware update and which need to be physically replaced. A good supplier can develop and execute a plan for updates and replacements, plus provide necessary training on how to use the new technology. While seen as an obstacle now, the upgrade from 3G will prove to be transformational in the long run, providing richer, more real-time data to support fleet management decisions.

Maximize Trailer Safety And Utilization

With trailer orders reaching almost 250,000 units in 2021, OEMs continue to face a massive backlog of orders due to a shortage of materials and labor. The trailer shortage is expected to continue this year and will force fleet owners and operators to be more resourceful with their existing fleets. This means maximizing trailer utilization to meet freight demand as well as reducing downtime due to mechanical issues or vehicles simply idling in the yard. During this challenging period, companies need to use every trailer to its full capacity safely and efficiently.

ne solution to fully utilize cargo space is equipping trailers with decking systems. These systems use beams to enable double-decking of cargo within the trailer. It's safer than directly stacking pallets and helps operators move up to 60% to 80% more freight with their available fleet. Other creative solutions store products in the drop-belly underneath the trailer to create a 25% increase in freight capacity.

Operators can also use smart trailer technology that weaves together trailer location, health and performance data from across a trailer fleet to guide utilization decisions. For instance, solar-powered gateway devices installed on trailers can help locate trailers (i.e., if they're in the yard, at a truck stop or traveling on the highway) to ensure they're contributing to fleet productivity. Internal cargo sensors also provide visibility into trailer capacity for preventing underloading (which wastes cargo space) or overloading (which poses safety risks).

Invest In Driver Care And Experience

There's no way to sugarcoat it: Truck drivers have a tough — albeit essential — role in the supply chain. Like employees in numerous industries, many drivers have retired or resigned in search of better working conditions, leaving a sizable gap in the workforce. The latest reports from the American Trucking Association (ATA) estimate the trucking industry is short 80,000 drivers.

The White House has promoted apprenticeships as a solution to the shortage, having wrapped up a 90-day federal CDL acceleration program that drew over 100 employers. Others like Walmart are hoping higher salaries will get new drivers behind the wheel. While these approaches can help with recruitment, a renewed focus on driver experience is ultimately needed to retain a sustainable workforce.

Retention starts with showing drivers you care, from good employment benefits to investments in tech to make their jobs easier and better. Investments could include:

Route planning and optimization tools that help operators find the fastest route based on real-time traffic information so drivers don't spend unnecessary time and miles on the road.

• Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) that can alert and assist drivers in correcting course during instances of speeding, lane drift and other risky events like distracted driving. Drivers with ADAS have shared positive feedback.

• Video telematics to capture video clips of what's happening on the road, which can not only support immersive driver coaching but also potentially exonerate drivers from liability in the event of a crash. Likewise, video telematics can reinforce and reward safe driving habits with driver scorecards and positive recognition programs.

Sometimes, it's just about communication and making drivers feel heard. Companies like WorkHound are helping fleets improve retention rates by gathering instant feedback from drivers to inform positive organization-wide change.

All of these challenges have created a perfect storm that has had a significant impact on practically every industry. By thinking proactively and looking toward next-gen technologies, we can effectively navigate these challenges and alleviate their impacts on the transportation of goods and services across the supply chain.

This article originally appeared in Forbes

Photo: Getty Images

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