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Archive for July 28, 2017

Innovation In The Trucking Industry

As the economy continues to improve and freight demand expands, trucking companies of all stripes are innovating at a very high level. Whether it’s through cross-border logistics or catering to specific industry, fleets are finding new ways to get by through innovation and niche marketing.

Let’s take a look at a couple examples of where this targeted approach is yielding big dividends for particular market players.

A New Take on Cross-Border Logistics

Every single day, over $1.4 billion in commercial trade takes place between the United States and Mexico. The United States is Mexico’s largest trading partner, and second-largest export market.

As manufacturing growth increases across Mexico, the burgeoning middle class is consuming more goods, resulting in a higher level of intermodal, cross-border trade. Logistically, this can be a challenge.

Fortunately, big players like UPS are establishing a new standard of excellence where cross-border trade is concerned. As a result of their renewed focus on cross-border trade, UPS has reported 20 percent increase in requests for Mexico-to-US or US-to-Mexico shipments.

This represents a new phase in cross-border shipping. Previously, individuals and companies moving freight to Mexico never had an option for express or expedited shipping. Today, UPS can guarantee LTL and package shipments in a timeframe that would have been unthinkable even ten years ago.

The industries most benefiting from this increased efficiency run the gamut from automotive to manufacturing and aerospace. As the Mexican middle class grows, shipments related to healthcare and retail will flow both ways.

UPS has gone out of its way to make a cross-functional shipping architecture that combines freight, small packages, air and ocean forwarding and even brokerage services. Rather than looking at specific business units, they are addressing shipping from a geographical standpoint.

As cross-border shipping evolves, this is just another example of how innovation is leading the movement of freight and ancillary industries. But still, there’s more.

Catering to a Niche Market

Whereas the UPS example follows a tried-and-true big box shipper, smaller companies are also getting in on the innovation game.

One such fleet, based in New York, runs a diverse fleet of trucks and equipment that caters specifically to the film industry. Today, the New York film industry brings in $9 billion per-year.

With a fleet of 50 trucks, this small carrier utilizes everything from box trucks to water trucks, along with accessorized equipment like generators and lifts.

One example is a giant water truck with a 4,000-gallon water tank. These trucks are used when a movie or television director needs a street to look freshly rained-on.

Box trucks are used to haul film equipment around for the crew. To accommodate tunnel height in the big apple, box trucks are kept at a max height of 12-feet.

Aluminum tailgates ensure a lighter ride and can cover the entire rear end of the truck when they are closed. These tailgates also provide a good level of safety when a member of the crew is standing on the tailgate with lots of equipment.

Due to the on-the-go nature of the film industry, on-demand maintenance is utilized to keep the vehicles in tip-top shape. An on-site shop is set up on location to handle routine maintenance like lube and oil changes or tire repairs.

This type of equipment was also used after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when heavy equipment was used to move large pieces of debris and provide specialized lighting for emergency workers. The same hoses that are used to give streets a wet look were utilized in dust suppression efforts.

Stories like these prove that a fleet’s work isn’t just about getting a load from Point A to Point B. Modern fleets, whether they are huge shippers or niche outfits, continue to innovate in the space and provide the trucking industry with a wide variety of jobs and duties.

Welcome To A New Age Of Trucker Health

We’re going to provide you with an example of something you may experience in the not-too-distant future. Join us as we step into a new age of trucker health.

The Future is Now

John is a trucker who has been on the road for some time. It’s time to rest. Has he shuts down his vehicle and sings out of his e-log, a soothing voice suddenly emanates from speakers within the cab.

“John,” a calm female voice says, “your body temperature is 100.2 degrees. Blood pressure has dropped a bit in the last 30 minutes and you are experiencing elevated breathing levels. You may want to consult a doctor.”

John, sensing something may have been amiss, removes himself from the ergonomic driver’s seat that contours to his body throughout the day to help reduce joint and back pain and climbs into the back of the cab where his bunk awaits.

He taps a wall panel above his sleeper bunk and immediately a video screen appears. “Please call the doctor,” John says.

Instantly, an onboard computer dials up a virtual physician – after all, it is 2:00am – built into an interactive website designed to help truck drivers deal with specific health problems when a human doctor is unavailable.

John describes his symptoms to the virtual doctor and answers a few follow-up questions by tapping the same video panel. John’s entire medical history is made available to the virtual physician, as well as the biometric data provided by John’s advanced driver’s seat.

John presses his palm to the screen and opens his mouth so that the built-in camera can get a view of his throat. In a short few minutes the “doctor” comes back with a full analysis of John’s condition.

“Hi, John,” the virtual physician says. “Although we are unable to obtain a throat culture, I can see you have a few white, ulcerated patches at the back of your throat. This indicates that you may have a case of strep throat. An antibiotic prescription will be transmitted to you. I recommend you see Dr. Smith at your earliest convenience.”

Within seconds of the call ending, a text arrives to John’s phone with a pass code in it. A wheeled drone then pulls up outside his truck with an antibiotic prescription filled at the truck stop. He taps the screen to authorize payment and receives his medication.

It’s Not Science Fiction

Even five years ago, this story would have seemed like science fiction. And yet today, even those who are tech-skeptical would agree that this is something conceivable in today’s, and tomorrow’s, environment.

In an age of big data, drones and advances medical technology, it’s only a matter of time before these types of advanced diagnostics bring capabilities like these to the forefront.

These changes will be so profound that they will alter the way not only people access medical information and address their health. But they will be particularly effective in the trucking industry, where truck drivers have historically had little access to advanced healthcare options, simply because of the type of job they work.

Still, don’t automatically assume that machines will override human judgement. The adoption of these technologies will follow a similar curve as other advanced technologies, safety and ELD tech as just a couple examples.

As these types of systems become increasingly commonplace in the cab, truck drivers’ health and wellness should increase dramatically. These types of advancements can only mean good things for the people they impact, all the way down the line. How long until we see them commonplace is something only time can tell.

Why Increased Safety Isn’t Following Trucker Insurance Premiums

Ask anyone, or look at any number of trucking-related data sets, and you will see that safety technology has drastically reduced crash rates, injuries and fatalities over the last ten years. Yet if you look at the average cost for insurance – including settlements – you will see that rates have been on the rise for some time.

The main reason for this is that fleets are not doing anything with the data produced by the safety technologies they employ. In many cases a fleet safety manager may be utilizing an advanced technology, but have no idea how to diagnose or address specific issues related to the data said technology produces.

Know the Technology

Take, for example, a truck driver who hears an incessant beep coming from the dash, but has no idea why the beep is occurring. This could be a truck driver with a stellar safety record, yet by running a report, the safety manager could glean that the truck driver routinely leaves less than two seconds stopping distance between them and the vehicle in front of them.

In this situation, it could be that only the truck driver knew the beeping was occurring. If no alerts are sent to the safety crew, no one knows there is a problem. Instead the eye stays on the worst truck drivers, rather than realizing even million-mile truck drivers are human and can make costly mistakes.

While many safety managers might have a plan in place for those with the worst record, many overlook the fact that safety issues could arise anywhere down the line, from the worst operator to the best.

So, what’s an intrepid fleet safety manager to do?

  1. First, make sure you train your truck drivers on new systems that are installed. Equipment and the safety expectations related to said equipment must be set before the truck driver is expected to use them and know what they mean.
  2. Second, make sure to inspect everyone, no matter how great their record may be. Don’t focus on just a few truck drivers. The entire fleet must be evaluated.
  3. Third, ensure you have comprehensive corrective action plans in place for potential problems. How will you address actionable data? Make a plan and stick to it.

Utilizing Proper Training

Fleets are on the right path quickly adopting collision-mitigation, lane-departure warning and other advanced safety systems, but if the truck drivers behind the wheel don’t now to respond correctly.

How do you address this disconnect? Through proper training. One cannot assume that these technologies will just magically make sense to the truck drivers who must understand what they are saying and act on the information.

Here’s what you need to know to ensure you are staying on top of the problem, fleet-wide:

  1. Never assume that your truck drivers simply know how to change duty status and edit their logs on a touchscreen, especially if all they’ve known previously are paper logs.
  2. While these systems are useful, they can send signals that can be distracting. A truck driver must be aware of where the sound is coming from and why to avoid potential safety issues.
  3. The time for a truck driver to learn how a collision-mitigation system works is not when a collusion is about to occur. Truck drivers must have the knowledge before-hand, that way their reactions are appropriate and timely.

The fact is this: You can’t create a paper manual out of YouTube video. You’ve got to have a comprehensive training program in place to ensure your truck drivers are on top of the systems they are using. Only by following these principles will you ensure that as your safety numbers rise, your insurance premiums drop.

Keeping A Truck’s Uptime In Mind

The fact is this: The industry has gotten a lot better at keeping trucks on the road and out of the shop. Even though the learning curve has been a steep one, fleets have been doing a far better job than they were even five to ten years ago.

One of the biggest problems has been the difficulty in making sense of confusing messages and misleading information. Once the diesel fuel particulate filter appeared, fleets countrywide have been doing their best to diagnose specific issues and make necessary repairs.

As new generations of vehicles and engines hit the market, new fault codes, alerts and specific troubleshooting methods muddied up the picture for many a fleet technician. But how bad was it?

A Sea of Codes

Go back to pre-EPA-07 and you’ll find anywhere from 200 to 300 codes emanating from a specific electronic control module. Today? A comparable engine meeting 2014 greenhouse standards might have over a dozen different controller modules, which each one producing hundreds of different codes. The result? Thousands of fault codes to wade through.

Still, the picture is changing. Manufacturers have gotten a lot better at scaling back the information they present and how they present it. Once upon a time a truck driver would dread turning on the dashboard light, for fear it would simply add to the misery of trying to figure out what’s going on.

In turn, the shop would be in a quandary trying to figure out if they should have the truck driver stop or not. So, what was the eventual solutions?

Solving a Code Problem

As advanced telematics and truck-to-terminal communication methods have become more commonplace within the industry, it’s easier for truck drivers to sort through codes and message truck drivers about specific problems.

So even though fleets are creating more data, they are getting far better at analyzing and acting on the data. Even fleets with thousands of vehicles and multiple service locations are better able to centralize the data and act on specific problems unlike ever before.

New challenges include figuring out how to quickly address repeat problems and make it easier for a fleet technician to pull up an internal database and find a solution.

While before a technician might pull up a YouTube video, today fleets can create their own library of diagnostics and repair videos. Distributing these videos across the network makes it far easier to individual technicians to address problems in real-time.

Using Technology the Right Way

One way in which technicians are helping to increase truck uptime is through the use of tablets. Before advanced technological solutions, technicians would have to wander around the shop to find answers to specific problems.

Today, when all the information can be provided conveniently on a tablet, technicians no longer have to walk back and forth just to find an answer to a problem. Troubleshooting trees, code answers and wiring diagrams can be easily accessed and fault code data analyzed on the fly.

From tablets to in-house videos and databases with relevant information, fleets have far more tools at their disposal than they used to.

By utilizing these tools and this vast amount of data, fleets can prevent problems before they crop up, and act much faster when specific issues arise. From making sense of data to weeding through the fault codes, keeping functional trucks on the road has never been easier.

As technology moves forward, motor carriers learn the hard lessons of yesterday and apply today’s solutions to tomorrow. An extra hour spent working through an issue can keep your vehicle on the road for some time to come.

Welcome To Trucking Energy Workers

We’ve reported on it before. Even as the oil industry was cratering in 2016, trucking was eagerly poaching workers from an industry in peril. This isn’t a bad thing, of course. These good people need jobs and trucking is here to give it to them.

As the economy continues to improve and freight options rise, the job prospects are looking increasingly pleasant for displaced energy workers. Let’s take a deeper look at how industry employment is panning out and the opportunities afforded to displaced energy workers looking for jobs.

A Downturn and Upturn

Although there’s been a two-year downturn in the oil and gas industry, there are plenty of opportunities downstream from these jobs, including in trucking. Jobs available to former energy workers run the gamut.

Whether one is looking to be a truck driver or go back to school for a two-year degree, job opportunities abound. With a slowdown in the energy upstream, jobs down the line have an opportunity to play catch up.

But what has spurred the change? With the large drop in natural gas prices and a huge abundance of supply in the market, the energy sector has seen tens of thousands of energy-related jobs essentially evaporate.

According to recent labor statistic numbers, in one year the U.S. energy sector contracted by a full 18 percent. That represents a peak of over 852,000 jobs in 2014 down to just under 700,000 in 2016.

While the oil-and-gas industry does suffer from cyclical supply and demand, a huge number of retirements has left the industry needing to fill 5,000 openings, with very few qualified workers to be found.

The Turnaround

Still, things are turning around, especially where trucking employment is concerned. Could it be that as the United States becomes more energy independent, job gains will actually increase?

Consider that industry like pharma, fertilizer, plastics and other industrial and manufacturing-related industries still rely on their goods to get from one place to another and it’s not hard to see where the jobs are.

With trucking not going anywhere anytime soon, jobs are plenty. Fleets across the country are looking for truck drivers. And when you can reliably get a commercial driver’s license in five weeks, it isn’t hard to imagine a displaced energy worker finding their new home in a cab.

Government Programs

Many out-of-work energy sector workers are finding that government grants exist to help them find a new home in a different profession. One such government-funded scholarship program covers the cost of retraining for coal miners and other energy workers who have lost their jobs.

The fact is, a growing number of workers who once worked in coal, oil or gas, and found themselves at the wrong end of an economic downturn are finding a home in trucking. These people come from good-paying jobs. This ripple effect has been felt across the industry.

For those looking to go back to school, a waiting list may greet them when they try to qualify for scholarship money. Yet, the trucking industry awaits, with plenty of jobs in the wings.

With a huge number of companies waiting in line for qualified workers, displaced energy employees can easily find a new home in trucking. And with the trucking industry struggling to find truck drivers, the downturn in energy may be the upturn trucking is looking for.

While some say there may be a looming problem if the economy gets too hot, goods and services will need to be moved for a long time to come, and there may be no better type of person to haul those services than former oil and gas workers.

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