The Future of the Commercial Trucking Industry
by Alex H Stone
The price of freight has been on the rise for some time now and it isn’t currently showing signs of letting up—in fact, with the rising cost of fuel predicted for 2018, we may actually see further increases. These elevated costs are largely due to a shortage of commercial drivers. This shortage may actually worsen as many drivers are threatening to abandon the industry over the recent mandate requiring the use of electronic logging devices (ELD’s).
So how can companies avoid some of these costs? Jason Sauer, Logistics Manager at Countrywide, has one word for them: Planning. There are a variety of methods of shipping that are less affected by these rates. Such as LTL freight and trains. “We had a shipment going out…” said Jason Sauer, “We were quoted at 4 days by our carrier. Well, the customer didn’t need it right away so by shipping it by train, which took 7 days, we were able to cut that cost in half.” If you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of expediency, you can save on enormous costs. "The people that are really getting hit are the ones who need partial/truckload shipments sent out quickly. That’s when these direct truckers can basically name their price due to the high load volumes and a large shortage of drivers. And with this, everyone is seeing steep increases.”
Technologies geared toward the commercial trucking industry have really been taking off in recent years and with this influx of cash headed into the trucking industry, there’s never been a better time for companies to invest in their future. Especially with the cost of fuel on the rise, advancements that can promise greater efficiency will look especially attractive this year. One such technology generating a lot of attention at this year’s Annual Clean Transportation expo is the “connected fleet”. This is a collection of features we’re seeing implemented on commercial and consumer vehicles that allow for more efficient transit through the collection of data.
These features include traffic information, information about road conditions, information about other vehicles, and information about the condition of the user’s own vehicle. The computer present on the vehicle uses this information to complete trips in the safest and most efficient way possible. With realtime route adjustment, shipments can arrive quicker and freight companies can use less fuel per shipment. The safety features included in these technologies ensure that shipments arrive safely. In the future, when more vehicles are connected, vehicles will be able to go into an automated cruise, driving much closer together and stoping much more efficiently.
With the mandatory implementation of Electronic Log Books this year, many freight companies will already be looking to modernize their systems. It’s not unreasonable to expect that the implementation of this technology will influence the market place, making these technologies more common and as a result, more affordable.
Further on the horizon, innovations in electronic vehicles have spread to the commercial freight industry. With Tesla recently joining the fully electronic semi-truck market, the accessibility of these vehicles will likely ramp up exponentially over the next decade. Couple that with the rising cost of fuel, clean freight is becoming more and more of an attractive investment.
Countrywide’s New Warehouse
By Oumar Cherif
MAPLE GROVE, MN—This year, Countrywide moved into a brand new warehouse that will quadruple the amount of inventory we can store. The new warehouse uses a few innovations to maximize its efficiency—the new space is actually less square feet than the old space. Here’s how we did it:
We’ve narrowed our aisles from 12 feet to 9 and a half feet, increasing the number of racks we can have. In order to do this, we’ve moved to a new piece of equipment called a Reach Truck, also called a Narrow Aisle Truck. These are specialized fork lifts that can easily navigate the narrower aisles.
We’ve also moved away from traditional racking and adapted a system called portable racks or stack racks. These racks are much more efficient and can store a considerably larger number of products in a small space. And since the products don’t need to be on pallets, they’re quicker to load and unload than traditional racking. We’re cutting a considerable amount of cost on each shipment we unload.
Finally, we’ve moved into a space with 32 foot ceilings as opposed to 24 foot ceilings. The additional height affords us a considerable increase in volume per square foot. We’re building upward, not outward.
I believe that this move represents a step forward for the company. We’re excited to be maximizing efficiency while cutting our costs as we move forward into this new chapter of Countrywide’s history.
Electronic Logging Devices: A Fork in the Road
by Alex H Stone
As of December 18th, 2017, truck drivers will be required to log their hours using electronic log books or ELD’s (Electronic Logging Devices). The mandate was passed in 2015 but companies were given a generous stretch of time to implement these technologies. In the United States, it is illegal for a commercial driver to drive for more than eleven hours straight. The previous way of doing things—using pencil and paper log books—allowed records to be manipulated in a way that circumvented the law.
ELD’s will make traffic stops go much faster. With ELD technology, a police officer can simply plug into the truck’s ELD and verify that the driver has been operating within confines of the law in just minutes. In the past, the police officer would need to read through a handwritten log book.
And while this is a step in the right direction in terms of safety, not everyone is excited about it. Costs associated with implementing these technologies are hurting smaller companies and some industry professionals are skeptical of the efficacy. President Trump has commented via Twitter, “ELD's are very unfair. Truckers voted for me, so mark my words. I will end the ELD mandate.” But with the mandate already in effect, freight companies can either comply or shut down.
It remains to be seen how ELD’s will affect the freight industry, however with advanced automotive technologies becoming more and more accessible, this change may be just the beginning of a much needed facelift for the industry. Demand for drivers is at an all time high and perhaps a bit of modernization could offer a quality of life improvement for these jobs that might make them more attractive to younger faces.