Everywhere you look, technology is reshaping the way industries operate, and trucking and warehousing are no exceptions. Today we’ll look at how technological innovation is reshaping two staples of the trucking industry: the good ole’ dump truck and the warehouse.
Remember when you were a kid? Surely you had one of those Hot Wheels dump truck toys, right? Many a young boy can remember having their own toy dump truck at some point in their lives. They were ubiquitous at one point. Today, you’ll more likely see a child looking at a screen than playing with a dump truck.
These Class 8 heavy duty commercial motor vehicles (CMV) play a vital role in building the economy. Still, generally when a new piece of technology of this scale comes online, it has to spend some years proving its functionality, especially vocational vehicles.
Technology is now changing not just on-highway CMVs, but also vocational vehicles such as dump trucks, garbage trucks and more. This has been a response to both regulatory pressure and the long march of advanced technological adoption.
While a lot of this has to do with the common bodies and components that on-highway and vocational CMVs share, it also has to do with vocational fleets facing many of the same problems as their counterparts. From fuel savings to better route planning, technology can help.
So, what does the new dump truck look like?
The Dump Truck Evolves
This new dump truck can handle the same heavy hauls in tough conditions – often over tough terrain – but can also remain wirelessly connected and equipped with smart devices. All this while still exhibiting a good level of fuel economy and a focus on safety.
In fact, where over-the-road fleets focus more on fuel economy, it could be said that for many of these large vocational vehicles, safety is first and foremost in the mind.
The technologies involved include everything from simple step and grab-handle packages to extremely complex truck driver assistance programs with full-vehicle sensor coverage. Many vocational operators now consider collision avoidance systems a requirement, as these vehicles operate closer to road vehicles and other obstructions.
One example is how a fleet can configure a CMV with an automated manual transmission in such a way that prevents it from going into gear when the crane boom is lifted or extended. In the case of a dump truck, software can prevent the dump truck from exceeding 5 mph is the dump body is raised.
By using technology, companies operating dump trucks are benefiting from better all-around visibility, maneuvering assistance and even automated interlock functions – such as those used in dump truck operation.
Even systems previously unheard of in vocational applications are being applied in their use, from tire pressure monitoring systems to satellite or GPS communication technologies that allow the truck to communicate with the home office.
What Makes Dump Trucks Unique
The reason why we’re focusing on dump trucks as opposed to other types of vocational CMVs is because dump trucks go through a unique level of abuse. Technologies used in their operation must be able to withstand a lot of jostling and hard hits.
But dump trucks don’t only operate on the job site, requiring low-gear, locked differential labor, they often can put in up to 200+ miles of on-highway travel as well. The demands required when shifting between applications can be rigorous. Dump truck operators demand maximum uptime in order to see a profit hit their bottom line.
Once these devices are introduced on the job site, other factors also come into play. For on-vehicle sensors, keeping them clean is a problem. The places dump trucks operate are obviously very dirty. If a sensor gets covered in a layer of dirt, does it compromise the entire system?
These types of questions contribute to why fleets are often slow to adopt new technologies. They would rather not overcomplicate the work their truck drivers must do or wind up with a CMV that finds itself far too often sitting in the shop.
Truck Driver Comfort and Fault Detection
Still, as technology matures, safety comes back to mind, and safety isn’t just about high-tech systems. Consider ergonomics as well, especially in a time of increasing truck driver shortages.
Things as simple as steps and handles can go a long way to pleasing a trucker who has to get in and out of that vehicle multiple times a day. Fleets should study how to best organize their vehicle ergonomics for maximal operator comfort.
There’s also an area inside the cab called the “primary zone.” This area is where the dials, knobs, buttons and other control equipment is located. Are the controls and switches intuitively designed or are they difficult to operate or awkwardly-placed?
Technological advancement in truck design also allows for the addition of fault codes and onboard diagnostic systems that continually monitor the dump’s status and send a notice to the fleet manager or truck driver if, say, a truck hauling hot asphalt is in danger of overheating. With this knowledge, the truck can be moved to the front of the line and unloaded before even more catastrophic damage occurs.
The fact is, OEM and truck body builders are at the very beginning stages of what this will eventually look like in practical application. At the same time, vocational truck operators are taking even greater advantage of these technological advancements than ever before.
Technological Change A-Cometh
Now that we’ve covered how technology is reshaping a moving application, how about changes happening at a standstill? And by that we mean, in the warehouse.
It used to be that warehouses were nothing more than a large, static building with rows and rows of shelves. Workers would get what they needed using loading jacks or other tools.
Today, warehouses have turned into “smart” storage and staging areas. Whether it be a regional warehouse, an urban distribution center or a brick-and-mortar store, the robotic and technological transformation continues unabated.
According to the latest State of Logistics Report, we are rapidly “moving toward a fully digital, connected, and flexible supply chain optimized for e-commerce and last-mile, last-minute delivery. The next-generation supply chain will enhance fulfillment capabilities and drive efficiencies through technologies ranging from big data and predictive analytics to artificial intelligence and robotics.”
The main driving force behind the change has been the steady increase in package volumes. It’s no secret that most of the country has moved their retail shopping online. As they do so, new, more regional distribution centers will take over from the traditional large warehouse.
Companies offering traditional warehousing services are under increasing pressure to keep goods moving at an ever-faster pace and meet customer demands for same-day delivery.
The Meaning of a Smart Warehouse
But what exactly is a “smart” warehouse? Typically, these are defined as warehouses that deploy some sort of automation or robotic process alongside warehouse management systems. These systems will generally be interconnected with big data systems and software analytics for optimal efficiency.
To get more specific, smart warehouses may use such technologies as pick-to-light (which is a light-directed technology), voice-directed or otherwise completely automated picking and delivery systems.
New mobile apps will allow managers to monitor distribution floor activity with relative ease. Where before paper was used to track and log movements, in the smart warehouse, all of this is done electronically.
Other apps can be used to benchmark efficiency and performance standards across the warehouse floor. Warehouse managers can optimize their labor costs in real time, with little fuss.
Self-guided robots are also looming on the horizon. The fact is, the smart warehouse is here, and guess what? It isn’t being built in a vacuum.
How the Smart Warehouse Touches Everything Else
As warehouse operators begin to maximize the potential of these new technologies, the new software and cloud-based applications will reach far beyond the warehouse and even on to the partners and trucking companies they do business with.
Advanced cloud-based systems can effectively gather data upstream and transport it just about anywhere. Whomever is operating in that supply chain could potentially have access to a fully integrated model ready to respond quickly as customer or supplier needs change.
This includes trucking companies. A lot of the wireless communication and data transfer technology used in warehouses is also used in trucks. This is where cross-communication can be vital.
The fact is, the technology isn’t going away and the smart warehouse is here to stay. According to a recent Warehouse Vision Study, seven out of 10 warehouse operation companies say they plan to dramatically increase their use of these technologies by 2020.
As these warehouses change, so will they complement the technological shifts happening in the trucking industry. Operators become smarter through technology and optimize the efficiency of their operations. When this happens, everyone stands to gain.
The whole package of smart warehousing technological innovation has implications for everyone along the supply chain, including trucking companies. Where will the technological innovation end? At this point it looks as though the sky is the limit.