In 2018, more than 1 trillion packages were delivered in the U.S. alone. With so much business at stake, shipping and logistics companies must innovate to separate themselves from the competition. In this pedal-to-the-metal environment, technology is one way to stay ahead of the pack—and it’s one that Old Dominion has embraced.
ELECTRONIC LOGGING DATA
Old Dominion is what’s known as a less-than-truckload (LTL) carrier, which means it picks up shipments from one customer and consolidates that merchandise with freight from other companies headed to the same destination. To improve and prepare for the increased need of tracking and traceability, Old Dominion adopted Automatic Onboard Recording Device technology in 2010, seven years before the U.S. Department of Transportation mandated compliance. Today, the company has upgraded to Electronic Logging Devices (ELD) and has taken in-truck technology further by gleaning diagnostic information from the truck’s engine in real time, so that the driver is alerted to a maintenance need before it becomes a problem. “We find more benefits from ELD than just the electronic logging piece of it,” says Barry Craver, Old Dominion’s VP of business process and innovation “When we’re being more proactive with this technology we’re able to provide better service to our customers.”
New safety features afforded by ELD result not only in lower costs for its customers, but also allow Old Dominion to reinvest the money it saves back into its network, thereby ensuring an even smoother delivery process. The data speaks for itself: Old Dominion’s 99.7% plus on-time delivery rate leads the industry.
5G AND IOT
When Old Dominion workers are eventually connected with high-speed, 5G-compatible smartphones, they will be able to better track and trace information. This will allow them, for example, to notify customers that their shipment will be the seventh delivery on that day’s route while providing real-time updates on the estimated time of arrival. “The increase in speed at which [5G] smartphones can operate will increase the capabilities of businesses to service their customers,” says Craver, adding that recipients will be able to receive text updates or use the company’s app to track delivery.
IoT technology is where it all comes together. Sensors on trucks and wearable devices on drivers use radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to provide in-transit status of every shipment without the time-consuming act of scanning each barcode. In addition, vision- and image-recognition apps provide mobile data capture to optimize inventory, improve shipping and receiving, and track and trace workflows. A recent development in the industry is what’s known as a “just in time” delivery process, whereby the products being shipped are constantly moving from truck to truck—called “cross-docking”—rather than being held at a distribution center waiting for the next pickup. IoT helps better manage the product inventory by automating the order process, as well as slowing down or speeding up the delivery flow.
Smartphones utilizing augmented reality can help loading-dock workers sort freight and load the truck in the safest and most efficient way. They can also help locate an item that requires special handling or indicate to an employee when the delivery instructions have been changed. “I think humans find it hard to sift through all of that data and make sense of it,” Craver says. “But with IoT you’re going to see more predictive things taking place because [the ability] to process that information will help workers see similarities and the anomalies of the supply chain.”
SECURITY IN THE CLOUD
A cloud-based supply-chain transportation-management system (TMS) gives businesses the capability to electronically integrate and transmit data securely over the internet. A TMS can be customizable, allowing users to collaborate in real time, and it offers the ability to add features or criteria as well as replacing ones that are no longer used. A cloud TMS also serves as a one-stop destination to schedule and set deadlines, as well as manage quality control while being sensitive to the bottom line. This is especially important for small and midsize businesses (SMBs) that don’t have dedicated supply-chain departments. Since employees at SMBs often wear many hats, a TMS helps level the playing field with larger competitors by increasing shipping efficiencies so that their products are delivered on time.
“The requirement from a cost and technology perspective when implementing an on-site software solution is nowhere near what it used to be,” Craver says. “You can just get on the internet, sign up with a TMS, and you’re ready to go.”
In the near future, when blockchain technology is implemented across an entire supply chain, the company will be able to trace the history of an item, starting from where and when it was manufactured to the particulars of how that item was assembled. This precise ledger can then be used to track when an item arrives in a warehouse and when it gets ordered. In such a scenario, once Old Dominion took possession of a package, the company could accurately track when the item was shipped and its subsequent movement.
Blockchain will also allow shippers to dig deeper into an item’s history to identify manufacturing failures and track them back to a particular lot or order. If, say, the item was recalled, shippers would be able to help determine a strategy to remedy the defect, what type of warranty has to be processed, and what decisions need to be made to satisfy the customer.
Craver sees blockchain having its greatest potential in the food-transportation sector, in which the prompt delivery of perishable goods is essential. “We’ll be able to track that particular item to what farm it was grown on or what plant it is from,” he says, adding that, once the technology is implemented at scale (estimates range from five to ten years), the cost benefits can be enormous. “Rather than having to search for a larger lot because we’re not really sure where it originated, we’ll be able to be more precise, which benefits not only the manufacturer but our customers too.”
This article was created for and commissioned by Old Dominion.