Innovation is Creating a Safer, More Certain Future for the Freight Industry

By Keith Brandis, VP, Product Planning, Volvo Trucks North America (STO: VOLV-B)

Keith Brandis, VP, Product Planning, Volvo Trucks North America (STO: VOLV-B)

How connectivity, electromobility, and automation are converging to sculpt the way freight is moved

Certainty is the backbone of transportation. Today, businesses and consumers need certainty that goods and services will be delivered with speed and accuracy; certainty that the process will be safe and efficient; and certainty that this increased pressure will not come at a cost to the environment.

A proliferation of new technology in today’s market, led by advances in connectivity, electromobility, and automation, has helped our industry respond to this heightened demand, though the modes of delivery for nearly $1 trillion of manufactured and retail goods remain the same. As expectations rise for when and how goods are delivered, industry leaders are sharpening focus on a total enterprise view of the supply chain and developing new, innovative processes to stay competitive in the marketplace.

"Electromobility is another rapidly-growing trend, and businesses in the freight industry need to carefully evaluate the cost and benefits on a case-by-case basis"

Change begins with Connectivity

Effective and instantaneous communication between shippers, carriers, brokers and other stakeholders in the supply chain has been a major point of emphasis within the freight industry for many years. Today, connectivity helps optimize delivery processes and minimize downtime, but the broader impact lies with vehicles’ ability to receive and transmit telematics data in real time.

To help keep deliveries on schedule, for example, Volvo Trucks has programmed hundreds of thousands of vehicles to communicate to a centralized customer support team that can analyze critical vehicle faults and pre-determine all required repairs in real-time. The team quickly provides the carrier with information about whether immediate attention is required, arranges a repair through the closest dealer location. Uptime bays in the Volvo Trucks dealer network will typically have the vehicle back on the road in a matter of hours, rather than days.

Connectivity is also helping logistics companies see their equipment as more than standalone assets. Even software updates are becoming more accessible, as drivers now have the ability to accept re-programming anywhere with a cellular signal. With this innovation, fewer vehicles will need to come out of rotation, and management teams can act on data insights about truck and driver performance in real-time.

Electromobility is key for a sustainable future

Electromobility is another rapidly-growing trend, and businesses in the freight industry need to carefully evaluate the cost and benefits on a case-by-case basis. For example, trucks designated for controlled range runs, such as container pickups or between distribution centers, are better candidates for electrification than long-haul trucks. Still, the impressive performance of some electrification solutions, including anti-idling technologies, are already showing potential for a wider range of applications.

For example, anti-idling technologies can save fuel, prevent excess wear and tear on an engine, and help carriers comply with five-minute idling laws enforced by many environmentally conscious communities. Further on the horizon line, Volvo Trucks have demonstrated vehicles testing a future utilizing hybridization, and eventually, battery electric use. Operating an internal combustion engine in tandem with an electric motor will be especially useful for regional and local carriers that will require the versatility to operate in and out of the city center. Battery electric adoption will depend on factors including the cost of electricity, batteries and maintenance.

Automation assists professional drivers

All current regulations in North America state that a driver must be present behind the wheel. Consequently, there is a role for the professional truck driver now and for many years to come, as well as an opportunity to help them reduce stress while increasing productivity and safety.

Independent research studies prove just how effective automation is to enhancing safety. According to a recent study by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), lane departure warning technologies helped reduce lane departure crashes by almost 50 percent. A similar study in 2015 discovered the same result in sampled heavy duty fleets. Additionally, a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows that front crash prevention with autobrake can reduce front-to-rear crashes by 50 percent in all vehicles.

In addition to these safety measures, Volvo Trucks is innovating around advanced automated technologies such as platooning, a specially planned, staffed and staged event which allows digitally-connected semi-trucks to save fuel and alleviate traffic congestion by driving closely together in convoy. Earlier this year, Volvo Trucks worked together with FedEx and the North Carolina Turnpike Authority to demonstrate on-highway truck platooning as part of ongoing research collaboration. As the next step to assisting truck drivers, expect to see the freight industry utilize automation on interstates and limited access highways before tackling the stop-and-go of city traffic.

Looking to the future

The economics and decision points that will define the coming era of highly-connected, intelligent freight transportare quickly becoming more clear. Dependence on trucks to execute with safety, speed and precision is at an all-time high, and with these advances, certainty in the freight industry will be as well.

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