Technologies that are revolutionizing trucking
By: Phil Sneed
The trucking industry has provided a solid backbone for U.S. commerce for decades, and demand for truck shipping continues to increase. Each year, over 69.1 percent of the nation's freight tonnage makes its way across the country in trucks, and the American Trucking Associations reported that truck shipping volume hit its highest level ever in November 2014. Despite the industry's overall size, the average company is actually quite small. According to TruckInfo.net, 90 percent of carrier companies operate six or fewer trucks.
This means companies with large shipping needs may have difficulty moving all their goods using a single carrier, which prompts many companies to work with logistics management companies. This is an exciting time for logistics companies and their carrier networks. Technology is rapidly changing the trucking industry, and advances will improve efficiency, boost safety and cut costs across one of the nations most important fields.
Computers boost efficiency
Global positioning systems have made navigation far easier for the average person, and their impact on the trucking industry is even more profound. Truck drivers must adhere to hours-of-service regulations enacted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. These rules tightly control the amount of time drivers can spend behind the wheel and build mandatory rest periods into a driver's workday. On Sept. 30, the FMCSA will release new regulations that require drivers to use software that will electronically log how long they are on the road and track their progress using GPS data.
Some trucking fleets already use these technologies, but enforced widespread adoption will provide more data to logistics companies and allow them to make more intelligent decisions about how to organize a large driver network. These systems make it possible for carriers to better track their drivers and provide data that could help truck drivers discover the most effective routes to a given destination. This should decrease transport times and has the potential to cut costs.
Alternative fuels make inroads
Large trucks have run on diesel for decades, and the fuel will remain the main source of power for the trucking industry for years to come, but new alternatives are rapidly becoming more plausible. Diesel provides a powerful fuel source, but it can be very polluting. Recent regulations on truck exhausts have cut into the pollution issue, according to Berkley Labs, a research lab for the U.S. Department of Energy, but diesel still might be edged out by other options.
"Some diesel alternatives are gaining traction."
Biofuels, created out of biological mass like plants or waste, offer a renewable source of fuel that doesn't have the polluting characteristics of diesel. California approved one biofuel, dimethyl ether, earlier this year, according to Transport Topics, and truck companies are creating engines designed to run on this and other biofuels as well as natural gas. While it's not clear yet what diesel's successor will be, it is evident that the trucking industry will shift toward new fuel solutions.
Computer systems cut unexpected maintenance
The emissions regulations that decreased diesel's environmental impact in 2010 had a positive effect on mechanics' ability to maintain truck fleets, according to Trucking Info. Emissions guidelines forced trucks to use computer systems that are tightly tied to the engine's performance. This is an invaluable resource for mechanics, who can look at the data collected by the computer and predict possible engine issues before they grow into a problem that creates downtime for the truck. Predictive technology like this cuts maintenance costs, because it helps mechanics identify problems quickly and accurately.