Enterprise-level trucking businesses have always had access to technology, but now smaller fleets are getting involved.
Advances in technology continue to revolutionize the business world, but technological strides often have a big impact on us in ways we are completely unaware of. Whether you order something on Amazon, buy produce at a local grocery store or fill your car up at the gas station, you're being impacted by one thing: trucking.
Trucking and freight has served as the backbone to American commerce for decades. In 2015, 49.3 million tons of freight valued at more than $52 billion were transported on average per day throughout the United States. That tonnage is expected to increase 1.4 percent per year between 2015 and 2045. Trucking is a vital part of the U.S. economy, and advances in technology in this industry have benefited both trucking companies and their customers.
"In the world of commerce, people are expecting more every day," said Garland Chow, associate professor of operations and logistics for the UBC Sauder School of Business. "All the improvements and adoption in fuel-saving technology has, in some ways, allowed the trucking industry to respond to demand by their customers to lower the price."
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Fuel-efficient trucks, better dispatching and a new electronic logging device (ELD) mandate have all impacted the industry on the enterprise level. Fleets comprising thousands of trucks have always had the opportunity to improve margins through technology and data. But now these tools have trickled down to smaller fleets as well.
How technology is impacting fuel efficiency
Joel Morrow, a co-owner and driver at Ohio-based Ploger Transportation, uses an in-cab tool called PedalCoach, which analyzes driver behavior and coaches drivers to use fuel more efficiently on their runs.
"This is a drill-down thing focusing on efficiency," he said. Most companies "get all this data – they have a hard time figuring out what any of it means, and here we get to look at stuff in real time in the cab with the driver on the road that actually understands what's happening."
PedalCoach accounts for things like load, driver and precipitation, so drivers get accurate scores for their driving regardless of factors outside their control. Morrow said this can liberate drivers from things like favoritism from dispatchers or skepticism about vehicle health at the shop. After all, if your score says you've done your best, it's hard for bosses or mechanics to challenge you.
"I got a device in here that says I drove my truck to the very best of my ability," he said. Sometimes drivers run into issues when they have a problem with their truck that a mechanic cannot immediately find. Tools like PedalCoach prove that if a truck isn't running up to snuff, it's not necessarily the driver’s fault.
"'See my score,'" Morrow would say at the shop. "'It's 97 percent now – there's something else wrong with the truck,' and this has always been a source of friction between the driver and the shop … Now, I never have a problem, because my shop wants to look at the score and say, 'Oh, he's got a problem, let's go find it.'"
Morrow said the biggest advantage of PedalCoach is it levels the playing field among drivers.
Fuel economy tools and actionable data
Vnomics' True Fuel platform also removes variables like precipitation, load, wind speed and elevation, so drivers can focus on making their run as fuel-efficient as possible. Alan Farnsworth, CEO of Vnomics, said True Fuel provides auditory coaching to drivers.
"A quiet cab means a fuel-efficient cab," he said. True Fuel prioritizes real-time coaching with post-shift data so drivers can understand their current performance and plan for a better run the next day. "It's a combination of game-day coaching plus looking at the films after the game and figuring out how you want to do better the next time out."
Vnomics provides manageable, actionable data so both drivers and fleet managers can better understand fuel economy. For example, Vnomics can help fleet managers plot truck speed with fuel efficiency in mind. Farnsworth said that up to a certain speed – say 58 or 60 mph – fuel burns at a steady rate. In some cases, when drivers go above a certain speed threshold, the burn rate outweighs the perceived time saved by the drivers. This type of information can encourage drivers to slow down, help small companies save on fuel and ensure consistent delivery times.
"Usually the amount of time saved [by speeding] is dwarfed by the cost of the fuel that is wasted," Farnsworth said.
Tools like PedalCoach and Vnomics' True Fuel not only level the playing field among drivers, but they provide companies with actionable data. Morrow said it's easy for companies to drown in fleet data, and often the simple insights can provide the most impact.
Technology has always been a major factor in trucking, but with the ELD mandate, smaller fleets that might not have adopted solutions are starting to use technology. This opens the door for fuel economy tools like Vnomics. By coaching drivers and understanding basic fleet data, trucking companies can drive down fuel costs and make better decisions.