On November 16, 2017, Elon Musk introduced the Tesla Semi to the world. The gazillion-battery-powered truck is said to be capable of hauling 80,000 pounds with a run time of up to 500 miles on a single charge. Also, it will drive itself. The Tesla Semi Truck will become commercially available from 2018 onwards.
When Tesla Semi trucks and other digital transport carriers start traveling the roads, the transport and logistics industry will change forever.
We examine how this could work and the various possibilities that the industry participants can explore.
Welcome to the era of digitized trucking
This is the era where trucks are transforming from large carriers into large-sized computers that are managed by software. Plus, they can transport huge consignments too.
Digitized trucking is in the process of becoming an industry of its own, thanks to the explosive growth of e-commerce. Research and consultancy firm Frost & Sullivan estimates the road freight industry to be in the range of $725 billion in the US and €395 billion in the European Union. But, this industry is largely fragmented into tiny bits where joint efforts are hard to come by. This affects the e-commerce industry profitability substantially.
Moreover, fuel-powered trucks are slow and often break down midway, causing serious disruption in the entire supply chain network. Not to mention that they emit dangerous amounts of carbon gases that cause high levels of pollution.
E-retailers desperately need a cost-effective, reliable, and environment-friendly transport option. It is here that digitized trucking comes into play. The large-scale penetration of mobile connectivity, smartphones, Geo-location tracking systems, sensor technologies like the Internet of Things has also resulted in the growth of digitized trucking.
Operational Benefits That Scale Beyond Profits
Digitized trucking will integrate a large number of technological advancements into ordinary trucks, which will turn them into extraordinarily efficient transporters. Like connected cars, they will become smart enough to connect with their immediate surroundings, predict breakdown scenarios before they occur, or suggest mandatory driver rest hours based on the driving pattern.
Here are some such definite benefits that digitized trucking will bring to the logistics industry:
German automaker Daimler AG is experimenting with a new technology called ‘Platooning’ that will help improve efficiency for long-haul transport. Even Tesla’s self-driven Semi Trucks are said to be capable of moving in platoons.
In platooning, a single truck will pilot a fleet of trucks that will follow the same route and instructions as made by the driver. The trucks in a platoon will be centrally controlled, thus ensuring that there is uniformity in driving speed, fuel consumption, and delivery seed. This also helps maximize the quantity of consignment that can be sent in a single trip.
GPS tracking and IoT sensors will enable trucks to calculate the shortest routes to their destinations. Automated routing will also help in avoiding traffic congestion, achieve optimal fuel efficiency through ideal speed maintenance and longevity of parts through less wear and tear. Upcoming technologies like intelligent road signs and connected smart cities will also help trucks navigate to their destination easily even if the driver is not at the steering wheel.
Vehicle breakdowns and mechanical failures can be slashed to a fraction with digitized trucking. Remote vehicle diagnostics will allow truck fleet owners to monitor each truck’s engine health, fuel levels, truck air pressure and many other key metrics from a remote location. Such data will be fed to the backend system of the administrator through cloud networks.
Based on such data, preventive maintenance can be initiated, which will help improve the usable life of the truck. Advanced systems can also suggest nearby repair shops where the truck can be navigated for maintenance. Ericsson’s Connected Fleet can be rightly considered a precursor to this possibility.
One of the biggest challenges in the logistics industry is under-utilization of truck capacity. Dynamic delivery schedules and mismatch between truck fleet availability are the prime causes of capacity underutilization. Digitized trucking can do away with this by setting up a real-time connect between fleets and shippers through cloud systems.
Sensor-equipped trucks weigh the current load and estimate available capacity. The available capacity is communicated over the cloud to a digital freight-matching platform.
Shippers and forwarders are notified by the freight-matching platform of available truck capacity. A deal is struck between shippers and truck owners, thus maximizing capacity utilization.
The Road Ahead
The logistics industry is on the verge of a transformation. Digitization will turn around challenges into competencies. Technologies like connected fleet, vehicle telematics, platooning, smart city navigation, etc. will simplify the delivery process.
Ultimately, this will bring down operational costs for fleet owners, allowing them to own and manage multiple fleets. For retailers, this would result in speedy delivery of packages at optimal costs. The overall productivity will benefit the e-commerce industry, as well as every other industry that relies on trucking and logistics for timely deliveries.
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