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Archive for November 28, 2017

How Fuel Card Programs Are Evolving And Saving Fleets Time And Money

When you think of how a trucking company fuels up their vehicles, it likely seems a boring thought. The truck pulls up, the truck driver gets out and puts the fuel card into the slot on the fueling terminal or goes to pay the attendant, then fuels up.

And yet, like so much else nowadays, technology is changing the game. The latest development lies in that of how your fleet fuels up using fuel cards. It’s also important to keep in mind that there is a lot more to saving fuel than just not burning as much as you normally do.

There’s also a buying less or buying for less component that should be considered. How do you do that? By investing in technology that takes the guessing out of where to buy fuel and at what price is best.

We have entered a time where technology provides us with the tools to find these types of places while we are out on the road. Today, we’ll look at the various ways your fleet can shift their fuel savings frame of mind from just what’s under the hood, but also the electronic components within the cab, and even in your truck driver’s hand.

The Fuel Card?

Ironically, fuel cards have been around for decades, yet their full potential – the capabilities that can now be included in small bits of plastic, in the digital “cloud” – is only now being fully realized. Today, it’s generally smaller fleets who use less fuel cards. Larger fleets almost to a carrier is on some sort of fuel card program, but is it the right one? No matter what, they offer great benefits.

A great positive about running with fuel cards is their scalability. Generally, as your fleet grows, depending on the technology you use, the fleet fuel card program can grow with you. It’s one less thing that your back-office has to worry about: Mounds of paperwork or receipts cascading down from desktops.

Whether you run one, two or two-hundred trucks, automating your fuel card payment, purchasing, invoicing, tracking and collecting functions save both time and money.

There are several fuel card options available on the road today. Software and analytical tools provide greater insight than ever before. As the smartphone revolution continues unabated, expect more fuel-tracking apps to make their way onto the scene.

But what are some actual real-world examples of how the fuel-payment technology we’ve referred to might save a motor carrier on some serious cash. Well, that’s exactly what we need to move fully beyond: Cash.

One New Jersey-based fleet partnered with a third-party company who could provide a comprehensive data-management and fuel card solution big data and real-time information gathering and analysis. With a fleet of over 2,100 trucks spread across the country the company wanted a partner who they could rely on to manage a fuel card program that allowed them to track truck driver data, digitize receipts and more.

The cards can also be specially coded so that they only function for fuel-specific purposes. Not that there’s any reason for a fleet manager to mistrust his or her truck drivers, no, it’s about enabling a function that only allows for fuel purchases for an added extra layer of protection. Stolen card will be unusable for anything but fuel, for instance.

It’s more about protecting the card – from anything.

Beyond security and ease-of-use, new fuel card partnership, and even in-house software options, some third-party providers offer:

  • Fuel tax solutions
  • Fuel management solutions
  • Purchasing control
  • Fuel terminal location and information

With all these capabilities built into the back end, many are asking, what’s on the card?

Fuel Card-Specific Capabilities

Many of the fuel card solutions used by fleets – and offered by others – are built for trucking in mind. Purchases should revolve around trucking-related purchases, I.E. fuel.

Still, others would rather see their cards opened wide up, for truck driver-friendliness and morale boosting measures. Technology has come such a way that now you can rely on specific requirements. You can set it up for fuel at this location or all purchases at another location. Of course, the truck driver also knows that you know exactly what they are spending.

Many vendors, ready to accept truckers stopping at their fuel station – with attached convenience store, perhaps – accept fuel cards and even offer discount pricing specifically for truckers who come in using them.

However you look at it, fuel is either the largest or second-largest cost that every fleet must deal with, so pricing ability should be built into any fuel card/software solution.

Working within a proprietary network that have controls built-in, whether specified by the vendor or the partner, allows you to ensure a level of merchant and motor carrier volume discount transparency that couldn’t have been possible before this kind of technology existed.

Actionable Data through Web-Based Applications

What makes modern fuel cards special is the actionable data that you can get from them. Every time a card is swiped, data is kept on everything from location and fuel amount needed to overall load weight. All of this can help fleet operations make more efficient forward-looking fuel and route planning.

When combined with web-based applications, fleets can manage fuel expenses through an easy-to-use control panel or dashboard interface installed onto their desktop or downloaded to a smartphone or tablet via an app.

Fuel card providers that offer such services set themselves apart from the competition because they allow motor carriers to do things like:

  • Track individual truck driver key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Mobile fuel price discovery or fuel price discovery on-the-go
  • Fleetwide fuel price optimization
  • Fleetwide route planning based on location fuel price trend
  • Instant access to nearest in-network fueling station

As everything else, these capabilities could be built into an app that a trucker can utilize while they are on the road – well, pulled over because we don’t want anyone distracted trying to deal with this blog while behind the wheel.

Computing Power to the Rescue

The nearly-constant drumbeat of computing power reshaping industries continues. This time, well, almost every time, it’s trucking. And yes, this does have something to do with a fuel card.

As we hope you are seeing – and we have been saying – all of this is connected. After all, time is money, and computing power offers fleets and individual truckers the ability to save lots and lots of time.

Another fascinating example of technology to the rescue comes from a fuel card that lets you optimize an irregular route truckload and is fully capable for fleets of up to 50 trucks or more; in fact, that’s what the vendor prefers.

The company contends that through using predictive software, fleets can optimize their over-the-road (OTR) fuel consumption. By using GPS and traffic-reporting technology, a company can now figure out a pre-trip route based on the least-possible-fuel-usage option.

This way, whether fuel prices are going up or down, you can rely on the power of collective software analyzing thousands – if not, tens of thousands – of fueling stations and providing route planning based on that sort of optimization.

Or No Card At All

If you haven’t already left your head spinning on the changing fuel card technology available to modern-day fleets, get ready for an even deeper trip down the rabbit hole.

The new development in fuel card program innovation is in cardless technology. Imagine the latest toll road technology where a vehicle can head straight on through a toll via an express lane and a card with an RFID chip installed.

While this is nothing new for tolls, this is as groundbreaking a development as the fuel islands that truckers use today to fuel up. The only difference is now they no longer should get out of the cab and swipe their card.

With an account filled up with funds provided by the motor carrier, a trucker merely needs to show up, connect with an RFID reader and quickly get the pump going. Once full, the pump is disconnected and the truck driver pulls off. There’s no need for a physical receipt since everything is recorded electronically via the software attached to the RFID-enabled card.

Not only are you saving a receipt – trees, ink, resources, pay, etc. – but you are enabling a much more efficient process, thus saving time, and you know what time is: Money.

The drawback to not having a physical card and relying on solely an RFID chip are for those carriers who want to use the card for more than just fueling. The number of fleets opening their credit cards for their truck drivers to use – perhaps to a limit, or with incentives attached – could be a problem for widespread adoption.

Another potential limitation would be the number of service stations that might participate in such a program and implement or install cardless fueling systems. Certainly, it wasn’t overnight that Apple or Android Pay were adopted, especially in America, so it won’t be the same for these cardless systems.

Things like discounts based on volumes purchased and more all need to be worked out before this becomes a widely-used system, but overall, this is where the signs are pointed.

As discussion swirling around electronic and semi-autonomous trucks continues unabated, things like cardless fuel card systems attached to advanced web-based software solutions will become even more commonplace. The future is now for the trucking industry, and it looks like this is where it’s headed.

Will your fleet be ready for the big change when the time comes?

Proper Health And Trucking Safety Go Hand-In-Hand

Sure, you may wonder what eating a balanced diet must do with trucker safety? A lot.

Truck drivers who do not take what they eat seriously enough, may suffer from other health afflictions that can cause potential safety problems while behind the wheel, from falling asleep at the wheel to the actual safety of the trucker themselves.

Look, while not getting into a bad accident is very important, ensuring truck drivers are healthy enough that such a danger doesn’t even present itself is quite important.

According to the most recent numbers, 7 in 10 truck drivers are obese. This means they likely struggle with things like heart or cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea or other health conditions that could impair their driving.

The fact is, driving a big rig is as fun and rewarding as any career. A great many make trucking their final career and there’s a reason for that. Still, it requires that the person behind the wheel, much like the person who sits at a desk for the entirety of their career.

It takes a lot of work to stay in shape and stay healthy when your job requires that you sit in a chair or big rig seat for prolonged periods of time.

But what’s a trucker to do today to ensure they stay healthy while remaining efficient and being the best they can always be, whether it be for themselves in their own business or for their employer in theirs?

Fortunately, it isn’t hard and it starts with both the trucker and those supplying the trucker with what they need to get them through the day.

Going Beyond the Donut

The major problem facing almost every trucker is easy access to healthy, inexpensive food. The key word there Is healthy. Inexpensive, yet also healthy food isn’t easy to come by, though some say larger games at play when Amazon decided to make a bid for Whole Foods.

Still, when a truck driver goes to a convenience store or gas station designed for passenger cars, they might often see fresh fruit or chopped fruit in a container. At truck stops? Giant candy bars if anything at all.

Still, truck drivers are getting creative in how they deal with the issue. There are ovens the size of tackle boxes that can be plugged into a cigarette lighter. Meals can be prepared ahead of time at home, then put on ice and cooked at whim on the portable oven, which can easily be stored in the cab either behind or on the seat next to you.

By using tools like these, you not only save yourself both time and money, but you are living a healthier life on the road.

Bring Back the Brown Bag

The other option is to bring the meal. Why not make something healthy at home? And while we understand it may not sound appealing, give a kale salad a chance!

The point is getting into the habit of getting what you need from the grocery store so that you can plan out your entire time out on the road. Spend some time at the store when you get home getting and prepping the ingredients.

While to some this may seem like a lot of tasks after you’ve been on the road, trust us. You don’t want to come off sitting your cab seat straight into sitting down on the couch.

Maybe your family is what you need to stay busy, maybe it’s grocery shopping to prep for your next road time. Whatever it is, you got this. Hit those online recipe books and get started!

The Lowdown On Idling And Fuel Saving Technologies For Trucking Companies

It’s the never-ending debate: How do fleets cut fuel costs even further? As manufacturers, aftermarket suppliers and other industry players look for every possible way to cut costs, save on fuel and pad their bottom line, they’ve got to turn an eye inward.

Emissions and engine technology companies say the clean fuel revolution and subsequent technological shift is just in its infancy. Perhaps there’s more fleets can do to shave a little off of the fuel gauge. One such area where truckers and trucking companies can make a big impact is in idling.

Although there are anti-idling laws and lots of anti-idling technology to go around, if you visit a truck stop just about anywhere and you’ll see more than just a truck or two sitting idle.

Consider that in California – a state with some of the strictest emissions laws – new trucks can still be labeled as having “Clean Idle” systems. So, rather than eliminate the problem, California stamps that it’s clean idle certified and the tractor is good to go.

Factor in diesel prices and the problem becomes even more disconnected. While oil prices remain low, clean technologies are adopted at a slower rate. There’s less incentive to spend the money up-front for expensive new technologies when you can just wait out the price drop.

Beyond Fuel Prices

Even when you factor in lower fuel prices, there is still a huge incentive to ensure you are taking fleet-wide measures to reduce idling. Consider this report, which showed that engaging in idle-reducing measures, a fleet could gain up to $2 per gallon/per vehicle back in efficiency. That’s a huge gain!

And not only does reducing idle time save on gas, it can also help you in reducing long-run engine maintenance costs through simple wear-and-tear reduction. What’s not to like about that?

Auxiliary power units are designed to provide onboard power. These systems are used for both climate control and to power and charge specific electrical devices. While these devices had been primitive in nature, advances in the technology have made way for advanced units powered by battery or natural gas or other alternative fuels.

Truckers enjoy the comfort conveniences provides by the APUs because they can park wherever they please, turn the generator on and have power in your cab, for whatever reason you may need it for.

This doesn’t mean APUs don’t come without drawbacks. There is an additional weight component that must be factored in when you spec the truck. If you are trying to shave weight off, many fleets may look to the APU to take off a few pounds quickly without negatively impacting performance. Indeed, we would argue that removing the APU would impact fuel efficiency performance. There is a case to be made for utilizing APUs and the long-term benefit you gain from their usage.

Types of APUs

That’s why many fleets and truck owners have turned to auxiliary power units (APUs) to keep idle time low while they are sitting and waiting. There are both diesel and battery-powered APUs and when fuel is at its peak price, your fleets could see the devices pay for themselves in under two years.

 

There are either diesel or battery-powered APUs. If you chose to go with a battery-powered APU, you can expect things like heating, cooling and ventilation when the vehicle is parked.

Battery-powered APUs have few moving parts, so they cost less to maintain. One drawback, of course is that the batteries will need to eventually be replaced. Their cost in the long-term, however, doesn’t cancel out your short-term gain.

Beyond the gains you reap from potential fuel and truck driver satisfaction benefits, battery-powered APUs generally operate quietly and produce no emissions. One thing they do not do, however, is offer the cooling capacity required on extremely hot days, like those of a summer haul through Phoenix in July.

One could even go so far as to add an inverter to the HVAC system or build in a fuel operated air heater atop the inversion device, as this option would save the most fuel.

Some APUs also come with their own diesel particulate filter – such as in California. When you add more components, you increase the chance for maintenance requirements down the road. That’s why – if you do invest in an APU – you want to invest in one that will serve you technologically and reliably for years and years to come.

Considering Other Types of Cooling and Heat

Truck drivers aren’t wedded to one type of technology. Diesel-fired heaters offer themselves as an inexpensive alternative to battery-powered variants and have the added benefit of being easier to maintain.

Bunk heaters are cost-effective, but they are a one-note solution. They don’t address the other electrical or cooling requirements that a traditional APU might address.

Thermal storage systems could be an option. These are devices that capture cooling air while the truck is in motion then use that very same air for air conditioning the sleeper later.

Essentially, a core is frozen within the device while the truck is in motion, then cool air is siphoned off of it when the vehicle is at rest and cool air is needed for the cab.

It is important to think beyond fuel prices because at times when fuel prices are low the ROI argument can be harder to justify. Yet using an APU also provides for better trade-in value since the engine hours on the block have a far larger reduction in run-usage than vehicles operated without such units.

When an engine has less hours run on it, the shop can also increase service intervals, which saves the fleet in both time and money. A buyer looking at this truck will know that the engine has less wear-and-tear because of the APU installation

Whether your fleet is operating on a three- or five-year trade cycle, there’s no doubt you’ll see the ROI on your initial purchase and installation once trade-in time arrives. And yet, beyond how much you save when it comes to money, let’s also consider the impact this is having on your truck drivers.

Truck Drivers Keeping Their Cool

Of course, there’s someone we’ve been leaving out of this conversation. They are the ones who are at the front-lines of utilizing these technologies day-in and day-out.

As with so many other new technologies the industry pushes onto truckers to use – whether they like it or not – there are mixed opinions when it comes to the type of APU technology trucking companies employ.

To a truck driver, especially long-haul truckers, the cab needs to basically feel like home. Whether it be microwave ovens, televisions or warmers for those cold winter months, or perhaps a CPAP machine for a trucker diagnosed with sleep apnea – there could be a good number of devices that utilize the APU, let alone using it to reduce idle time.

This is where buying the right equipment and properly educating the truck drivers using your vehicles on how to use this equipment is vital. Take one example, a trucking company that uses fuel bonuses for their truck drivers. When you show a truck driver a graph where idle time could impact their fuel usage – and thus their bonus – often you’ll find (pun intended) the needle will move.

As we’ve mentioned before, this is where truck driver training can come in. Obviously, truckers don’t idle intentionally just to waste gas. Likely, it comes from years of operating vehicles that didn’t have idle-reducing technology.

How a Truck Driver Does It

Let’s say you utilize online truck driver training to help reduce a truck’s idle time, keep in mind you aren’t doing so in a vacuum. Training must be provided in a bigger context. This is where coaching and data analysis come in.

First, many of the new systems available on newer vehicles – and to back office decision makers – record everything happening on the truck, which includes idle time. When a truck driver can see that they aren’t intentionally wasting resources, yet that’s what their idle time does, a change in behavior often follows.

In some cases, manufacturers are even researching hybrid-style systems like those on the Toyota Prius, where the system shuts down the engine when the vehicle comes to a complete stop. Systems like these – which require no input from the truck driver – are the holy grail of trucking technology hybridization.

New Engine Technology

The seeds of this research have already hit the market, in the form of new electronic idle-reducing engine technologies, where parameters are set to limit idle time.

Engine electronics can shut down an engine after a specified temperature is met. Where trucker comfort comes into play is at what temperature the system is set at.

Automatic engine starting and stopping systems turn the engine on and off as needed for cooling or heating purposes. It’s also used for warming and charging the batteries. The act of turning the engine on or off can disrupt a truck driver’s sleep. It’s most important to keep the needs of the truck driver in mind.

In the end, no matter what trucking companies or manufacturers do, the needs of the truckers must always stay at the forefront of the trend. These are the men and women at the forefront of our industry. Whether we’re talking APUs or Hours of Service, we take your side, the people’s side, the trucker’s side in mind!

A Sneak Peek At The Latest In Trucking Engine Technology

We recently took a closer look at what some of the oils of the future might look like, but what about the technology underlying the engine that requires the oil? The fact is, there’s a whole host of new engines and engine technology hitting the scene as fleets and governments alike expect better fuel economy and higher levels of reliability from future big rigs.

As a result, manufacturers have answered the call. There’s a whole new crop of engines being released that burn cleaner, use less fuel and last a lot longer than older models.

It was last year that most heavy-duty diesel engine manufacturers began unveiling new models, substantially revamping the current crop to meet new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) GHG17 emissions regulations. GHG17 was the final step as part of the EPA’s CO2 reduction plan.

And although a new administration has taken office, with a new head at the EPA, engine makers are moving forward, using the next few years to figure out how to get even greater efficiency out of model-year 2020 vehicles and beyond. After all, that’s only two-and-a-half years away now.

Time flies, doesn’t it?

Behind the Numbers

When it comes to 2017 heavy-duty diesel engines, what can we expect from this model-year? Limits on 2017 engines come in at 460 grams/bhp-hr. For a broader sense of what this means, it’s around 4.52 gallons/bhp-hr.

You may be reading that but still wondering what exactly it means. Essentially, it means that engine makers will need to increase efficiency by anywhere from 7 to 20 percent compared with where the engines were just seven years ago, during model-year 2010.

While engine makers have had to squeeze greater efficiency out of their engines, they have also put a renewed focus on reliability, especially considering who their customers are. We are talking about the largest fleets in the country.

But how did they do it?

Analyzing the Technique

Meeting the new goals required a new level of technical expertise, one in which engine manufacturers were up to meeting. Whether they began employing more advanced electronic controls or making hard mechanical changes to the engine itself, the engine of today does not look like the engine of yesterday.

Whether we’re talking about new injection systems, novel new piston designs, higher compression ratios or even aftertreatment systems, there are a ton of different ways new big rig engines have evolved.

Fleets and truck owners benefit from lighter engines that use less fuel yet offer more horsepower. All of this combines for a better experience for everyone, from the engine manufacturer to the end user: the truck drivers themselves.

And while the jury is still out on which variant is the best, we want to take some time to speak to the fleet technicians in our reading audience today.

Are you ready to get wonky with engine technology?

Cummins Moves the Line

If there is a name usually associated with innovation in truck component design, it’s Cummins. Last year, Cummins rolled out a couple different GHG17-compliant engine variants.

The two variants focused on two things specifically: Fuel economy for one and performance for the other. Although they are technically almost the same engine, the version focused on fuel economy has several different upgrades to give it that extra boost in fuel consumption.

One specific change was to a wiring harness. Past models had left the possibility for water ingress, while the new one does not. Cummins also modified the turbocharger actuator and did a complete redesign on the recirculation cooler.

Aftertreatment systems used to vary greatly since OEMs used to package them all differently. Now, engine manufacturers can count on a simple, straight-down-the-pipe design that’s the same for every vehicle.

Much of the changes Cummins has made are internal, even if the aftertreatment system steals the show. They’ve even changed the hydrocarbon injector they connected to the diesel particulate filter.

The fact is, Cummins is innovating at the edge of engine design the same as they always have.

Detroit Diesel Double D Series

Owned by Daimler Trucks North America, the Detroit Diesel business unit has been hard at work on GHG17-compliant engines, and could even be said to have had one in production before the requirement was ever put into place.

Some changes to new variants include a longer oil drain maintenance interval stretched out to 50,000 miles. Detroit Diesel has also upgraded the capabilities built into its Integrated Power Management System (IPM). Now with its own acronym, IPMs are common on newer engines.

Detroit Diesel has modified their IPM to make it more tightly integrated with new transmissions. This is where powertrain upgrades also come into play. Upgraded transmissions help keep RPMs low and fuel savings high.

More savings come in the form of advanced predictive cruise control system and an integrated collision mitigation system called Detroit Assurance. There’s also a new electronic interface called Detroit Connect that can be built into the vehicle or accessed through an app on a mobile device.

Anyone using the app or viewing information in the panel can access a full diagnostic analysis of the truck via a virtual technician that lives inside the computer itself. Isn’t it amazing how far remote diagnostic systems have come in such a short period of time?

An International Flair

International, the company behind Navistar engines, recently unveiled a new 12.4L engine, basically saying they designed this thing from the ground up; or what the industry refers to as a “clean-sheet” design.

The main appeal of the new engine, labeled the Navistar A26, is weight. Not only is it 55 pounds lighter than its predecessor, the N13, but it comes in almost 700 pounds lighter than engines with only a couple more liters. There’s a big trade-off there, but without a performance sacrifice.

The A26 is rated for a 1.2-million-mile life and some models can get up to 475 horsepower and up to 1,750 pound-feet of torque. The best part? The engine retains its performance edge without sacrificing on fuel economy.

According to the company, the A26 is at least 5 percent more fuel efficient than the N13, even before you add on things like predictive cruise control and a variable geometry turbocharger. Engineers also took their hand to the mechanics of the engine, reducing friction between moving parts by utilizing an advanced new cylinder head and cooling module.

Paccar Hard at Work

Paccar – never one to rest on their laurels as their competitors innovate – has introduced a 2017 vehicle lineup that includes a whole slew of new displacement, horsepower, fuel efficiency and torque readings.

A big difference about Paccar’s new MX line is that they now deliver peak torque around 900 rpm, which is far better for situations in which the trucker downspeeds the driveline. Considering how big a topic downspeeding has become in recent years, this development comes as no surprise.

In addition to adjusting the peak torque level, Paccar has also modified the fuel injectors and engine pistons for greater fuel efficiency. But beyond physical changes, Paccar is also focusing on what kind of turbocharger they use – if any at all.

Depending on whether an engine comes in above or below 485 horsepower, some variants may not come with a single cylinder air compressor. When combined with a controlled variable displacement and cooling pump, this change goes a long way in eliminating internal engine drag and component friction.

Like so many others, Paccar is expecting these new models to be paired with GPS-based predictive cruise control, as Kenworth announced earlier in the year when they decided to upgrade to the new MX series engines.

Volvo Group Making Moves

On the final stop on our tour of the latest engine technologies, we come to Volvo, partnered with Mack. For 2017, they have released three new heavy-duty engine variants, all with an MP designation. They range from a 10.8 liter in the MP7 to a whopping 16.1 liters in the MP10.

Not only is each variant GHG17-compliant, but they offer a few interesting new innovations, the first being the addition of a rail fuel injection system. By using this system, precise injection timing allows for a complete burn with virtually no soot as a by-product of the combustion process.

Certain engine ratings on the MP line also come with a two-speed clutched coolant pump to lower parasitic engine loss. An optional turbocharger could also deliver an additional 30 – 50 horsepower through a fluid-coupled gearing system unique to that engine design.

The company sees this more through the lens of fuel efficiency than performance. Sure, you’re adding more horsepower, but what you are really doing is taking 30 – 50 horses of pressure off of the engine. With less work to do, more fuel is saved.

The Final Word

The fact is, no matter who holds the presidential office or what bills are passed in the halls of Congress, trucking companies will continue to innovate. After all, the market demands it.

Fortunately, fleets have more choice than ever in what truck they buy and what engine they spec for it. No matter what kind of route you run, newer, more efficient engines are here to stay.

Has your fleet jumped on the bandwagon yet and upgraded to more efficient engine technologies? If not, now is the time. Save on fuel and increase performance. Now that’s a win-win!

A Technology Boom Is Changing Last-Mile Delivery And Opening New Opportunities For Parcel Carriers

While much of today’s trucking news surrounds over-the-road and intermodal deliveries and how they are changing under the onset of technology and transport efficiency, one area that’s received little attention is the boom in last mile delivery services.

The fact is, e-commerce is changing the way last-mile deliveries are managed. As data miners look at past trends on delivery data by shipment size, they are finding that a large portion of deliveries are happening by way of small shipments on less-than-truckload carrier vehicles.

Many smaller trucking companies are now offering same-day service in a number of metropolitan markets. These deliveries – sometimes referred to as ‘the final mile’ – are rising thanks to an increase of e-commerce and multi-channel marketing techniques available now only because of internet marketing.

The boom in e-commerce has hugely increased the need for final-mile deliveries. They’ve also caused both headaches and new opportunities for companies throughout the supply chain, whether it be for well-known couriers like UPS and FedEx or regional delivery fleets and big LTL providers, who are adding last-mile operations to their transportation portfolios.

Developments in e-commerce and the ability for shippers to find transport options at scale has created a tidal wave of demand for these final mile operators. And there are two types of motor carriers who are filling the need.

As smaller players try to increase their appeal in a more competitive market, “white-glove” services are being looked to in order to provide that competitive edge, which could involve not just delivering the shipment, but also offering assembly, setup and installation services.

At one end – for small packages shipped in niche markets – small carriers are even looking into drone and robot technology, an area once reserved for the big players. On the other side of the spectrum there’s an increasing need for larger items at lower amounts. When an LTL truck can fill the void, shippers need to rely on the smaller, LTL outfits to get the job done.

So, what’s behind the boom? Quite frankly, technology is making the complex requirements of last-mile delivery much more profitable, so why not enter the fray?

How Drones and Automation Are Changing the Game

Remember that one time now-so-long-ago when Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos made a bold prediction? He once said that drones delivering packages to your door could one day be as common as the mail truck pulling up in front of your house.

Last December, Amazon beta tested something called Prime Air Service in England, where packages weighting 5 pounds or less were dropped to a customer’s door step within 30 minutes.

Still, we’re a long way from drone delivery, but more large operators are beginning to test the model. No longer is Amazon the only player looking at drone delivery as a way of getting that final mile package to your door. Now UPS is also testing drones for commercial package delivery.

In February, UPS partnered with a third-party company to incorporate drone delivery into their day-to-day operations. The drones are designed to launch from a ground-based vehicle – in this case an electric-drive car – and autonomously deliver the package to a customer’s doorstep before returning back to the vehicle. The vehicle operator isn’t out of a job either, since they still need to drive it from destination to destination.

UPS admits this is different from anything they’ve done to-date, but that it also has excellent implications for deliveries to rural locations where package cars may need to travel many, many miles just to make one delivery to a house in the middle of nowhere. In this scenario, the package car can sit stationary somewhere in town while the drone travels the extra miles to make the delivery.

Even Daimler is getting in on the action by designing an electric-driven concept van that launches drones from the roof loaded and launched without the operator having to get involved at all. The drone takes off, makes the delivery and returns to the vehicle completely autonomously.

Since drones weigh less, are more powerful and offer better levels of reliability than they used to, their payload-to-weight ratio and energy consumption allows them to better fill this niche needs without eliminating truck driver jobs.

Last-Mile Robot Deliveries

A company called Starship Technologies has designed a six-wheeled robot that can make short deliveries within a particular radius from the company’s headquarters. These robots can also operate in tandem with – or be launched from – traditional delivery vehicles.

Daimler has also gotten into the robotics delivery game. Early tests of their new robotic technologies involve delivering groceries or takeout food. Daimler has provided the traditional delivery vehicles for Starship’s budding technology, developing what they dub the “Robovan.” Much like the UPS example, this configuration allows the van to approach, then a robot exits the van and makes the delivery before continuing on.

A racking system back at fleet HQ loads 400 packages over a nine-hour shift. Compare that to prior loading and delivery methods – 180 packages over an 8-hour shift, and you can see where the 100% efficiency increase makes a huge difference.

What we could see, decades down the road, if all of these technologies come together are semi-autonomous electric vehicles deploying drones and robots to complete final mile deliveries.

The Sea-Change in Consumer Buying Habits

Sure, we’ve been talking a lot about small to mid-size regional last-mile fleets utilizing advanced technologies to get packages delivered in innovative ways, but a larger conversation surrounds how larger item delivery and customer service advances will change the game at the other end of the spectrum.

As UPS and FedEx feel the strain of the capacity crunch – a topic we’ve brought up before – smaller parcel operators have been filling the void, taking on business handling big, heavier items than would normally fit their automated loading and delivery systems.

What’s an example of this? Think omni-channel purchases

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