There is a boom happening in the trucking industry, and it lies within the last-mile logistics sector. As more and more consumers turn to the internet to bring products into their home, last-mile logistics is becoming ever more important. For many trucking companies, they still aren’t sure how this will all pan out. Something as simple as liftgate technology can make or break whether a small last-mile operator makes it or breaks it in the world of trucking.
Digging deeper into the numbers, it isn’t hard to see how obvious this trend has become. A recent study revealed that as of now, many Americans prefer online shopping. E-commerce transactions are growing 23% every year. Experts predict this trend will only accelerate as the years go by. The fact is, consumers are embracing omnichannel shopping to get what they need without having to travel far to get it.
What does this mean for trucking companies? It means that many smaller, regional, and even larger players will have to look to last-mile logistics when it comes to ensuring they are meeting the requirements of their bottom line.
Last-mile logistics are defined as the final steps in the process of delivering the customer’s shipment from the distribution center or traditional store to their doorstep. The second-to-last destination could be an office, regional store, or otherwise. As we have seen with Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods, these last-mile deliveries will become even more important.
Logistical Problems Associated with the Last Mile
While some view the last-mile to only include smaller purchases, these can also apply to larger items, such as furniture or appliances, as many of these items are increasingly being ordered online as well. This rapid change in the way business gets done presents both challenges and opportunities for retailers. Whether you are operating a regional, LTL or truckload fleet, there are major considerations when it comes to last-mile delivery.
One of the major issues with last-mile delivery lies in the fact that it is incredibly difficult for a Class 8 commercial motor vehicle to deliver a package into a residential area never designed to accommodate said vehicles. There are many obstacles that trucking companies must deal with when delivering to that last mile, from narrow streets with big trees to low power lines. Truck drivers must deal with many obstacles when traversing the last-mile, so their commercial motor vehicles must be spec’d to handle the obstacles.
Many trucking companies are overcoming these obstacles and responding to the demands by adding smaller tucks and new accessories to their fleets. New technologies can be designed to meet these challenges. Companies are also experimenting with “hubs”, which are essentially on-demand way-stations ready for whatever new order may come through from the customer.
Companies that manufacture trucking accessories and add-ons are also getting into the business. Since there has been such an increase in last-mile deliveries, these companies are responding to the increased demand in ways they never have before. Take liftgates as just one example.
How Liftgates are Evolving
Liftgates allow truck drivers to make deliveries in areas that do not have a standard dock. If you are a truck driver operating from dock-to-dock, the method of delivery is quite simple. You drive in, a forklift grabs your cargo, and you drive out. Conversely, if you are a truck driver delivering a washer to someone’s house, you need to get it to the ground, onto a dolly, and into the customer’s house. Manufacturers are increasingly responding to this need.
Liftgates are undergoing a massive level of innovation to account for these needs. In fact, 20 years ago liftgates were barely a blip on trucking’s radar. Yet, liftgate use across the industry has exploded, and for many reasons. Increased demand and innovation requirements mean trucking companies are looking for more. To make it to the last-mile on the customer’s doorstep, they need three things:
At the end of the day, a liftgate is nothing more than a work tool. It is required for a fleet to make a certain type of delivery, and, as a result, it needs to conform to the needs of the fleet, whatever those may be.
How well a liftgate performs is important because truckers need to make these deliveries as quickly and efficiently as possible. Safety comes into play because truckers and bystanders need to make sure their safety is kept in mind when work is being handled around the truck, including with the liftgate. Considering a liftgate is an active device that sits on the back of a truck, safety must be a primary consideration.
Why Galvanized Steel is so Important
Yet, will a liftgate last as long as the truck it is attached to? Commercial motor vehicles typically can find themselves on our nation’s roads for anywhere from 10 to 12 years. Will a liftgate attached to them last equally as long? The question has been raised and OEMs are answering.
Many liftgates manufactured today utilize galvanized steel in their construction, which can keep them sound for far longer than 10 to 12 years. Indeed, in many cases, new liftgates can outlive the tractors they are built onto. Still, the liftgate itself is not the only piece. There are also bearings, bushings, and other components that must stand the test of time.
Consider that painted steel begins to corrode within two years and you can see why galvanized steel is so important. When steel is galvanized, it can keep a liftgate operational and free of potential problems for up to 20 years or even longer.
Still, other manufacturers are looking to aluminum as another answer. Did you know that today nearly a third of liftgates are constructed out of aluminum? Not only is this metal more lightweight, but it is also easier to operate and is more corrosion resistant. The only downfall? It is certainly more expensive than steel.
Addressing Power Issues
One of the issues related to powered liftgates lies in how they are powered. When a trailer is spec’d with a liftgate, in many cases a dead battery is the problem. When a trucking company is trying to get that washer delivered quickly, this can be an unacceptable situation.
A liftgate can consume a lot of power, especially when taking into account the type of freight it is designed to both raise and lift. This problem is exasperated if a trucking company is operating in a state where there are no-idle laws in place. If a trucking company isn’t careful, a liftgate can quickly drain a battery and leave the tractor stranded in the neighborhood. So, how does a trucking company get around this problem?
A smart control system is a great start. When you have a smart system controlling battery drain, you can prevent your entire chassis from unexpectedly shutting down. Just imagine if you are running through 25 cycles a day on a single chassis battery. You will go through batteries very quickly at that rate.
This is where dedicated batteries come into play. Even a charge boosting system would work quite well. The last thing you want to do is kill you commercial motor vehicle’s battery far before its due date. A charge boosting system will prevent this from happening.
Considering the Application
It is also important to think about the type of work your liftgate will be doing. Are you doing mostly drop offs? If so, the liftgate will use very little power. But if you are both dropping off and picking up, you may be using far more power than expected. A few thousand pounds in a single cycle can present a major problem without a significant back-up source.
There are multiple ways to deal with the additional power load. Some motor carriers are experimenting with solar power as a way to deal with the problem. A single cable that runs from panels on the top of the trailer through the battery and to the liftgate can alleviate this problem. Even when a trailer is detached from the tractor, a solar-powered solution can keep the liftgate operating under normal conditions.
Power systems and power inverters also offer another option. It is important that trucking operators take voltage conversion into account when using such systems, however. Power connections will have to be closely monitored to ensure there are no spikes that will damage vital equipment.
With Safety in Mind
Finally, safety must be your most important consideration. Using liftgates improperly can result in serious injuries. In busy urban areas, this issue is made even worse. Operational controls must be put into place to ensure truck drivers don’t get a hand, finger or foot caught within the lift gate mechanism.
Have you considered putting flashing LED lights on your liftgate mechanism? Do you have enough traction on the liftgate to ensure your truck driver does not slip and fall during operation?
The fact is, last-mile delivery requires an entirely new set of ideas, and liftgates and tractor modifications can mean the difference between efficiency, safety, performance, and poor operation.