How automation, drone ships, autonomous trucks, and advanced software will impact Intra-Americas’ transportation and logistics over the next 5-10 years.
The average freight forwarding clerk’s desk hasn’t changed much in the last 40 years. A computer or more sophisticated telephone may have been added in the 1990s, but few other technological advancements have made their way into this environment.
That’s about to change. In fact, the freight forwarding office of 2030 probably won’t look anything like it does right now, nor will it bear any resemblance to the one that clerks were working in just 10 years ago.
According to Agustin Lopez, DB Schenker’s Head of Intra-Americas, advancements in technology are converging with customer demands and creating a more dynamic, interactive, and collaborative environment for logistics and transportation organizations. Driving the charge is a blend of startup technology firms that set their sights on the logistics industry and the younger generation of workers that are entering the space.
“Millennials don’t want to use old software programs and work with obsolete processes,” said Lopez, who points to the new crop of digital freight-matching platforms as one example of the industry’s push to get up to speed with technology.
“These companies have created visually-appealing websites and also offer mobile capabilities,” Lopez said. Largely driven by advancements in logistics and transportation software, these and other modern enhancements are helping to create a more streamlined, predictable end-to-end supply chain.
Leading the Way
With its new Connect 4.0 digital platform, DB Schenker gives shippers high levels of freight visibility and provides key performance indicators (KPIs) that can be used to drive continuous improvement and higher customer service levels. Its most recent addition is Connect 4.0 for land transport in Europe.
The logistics provider is also testing the first automated truck for freight delivery—a development that Lopez expects to grow further over the next 5-10 years. “This autonomous vehicle is being driven at 5-10 kilometers per hour right now, during the testing phase,” Lopez explained. “But it’s already out on the road delivering freight in Sweden.”
As automated vehicle usage continues to proliferate in Europe, that “fever” will surely spread to the Americas, where a labor shortage, demographic shift, and the fact that people don’t naturally gravitate to truck-driving jobs anymore are all making life difficult for the nation’s carriers and fleet owners. In developed economies, people under the age of 40 are not signing up to be truck drivers—a trend that will result in a shortage of drivers.
Within 20 years, Lopez sees the autonomous truck trend moving into Latin America, where various logistics infrastructure challenges need to be addressed before that can happen.
Drone Ships on the Water
Thanks to innovative automobile manufacturers, the idea of a self-driving vehicle is no longer that far-fetched for the average person. But what about a self-driving ship? Also known as “drone ships,” these vessels are the future of ocean transportation, said Lopez, who expects to see more of them blended into the global supply chain over the next 10-15 years.
One luxury auto manufacturer has already demonstrated the world’s first remotely operated commercial vessel and the US military tested an experimental, autonomous warship called the Sea Hunter. These drone ships could potentially lower transportation costs, improve supply chain efficiencies, and also enhance ocean safety.
Highly automated, these ships will track freight movement across the global supply chain, thus enabling higher levels of visibility for shippers. “This will be a quantum leap for the industry,” said Lopez, who points out that a 20,000 TEU ship (a “mega container” ship) is operated by a 15-person crew. Drone ships, on the other hand, will be manipulated using a 10-person command center that can manage 50-100 ships at a time.
A Peek in the Crystal Ball
Already testing automated trucks and using advanced visibility software, DB Schenker is on the forefront of Intra-Americas freight technology usage. Next, it will work in tandem with the world’s shipping lines to help create a more “connected” supply chain that includes drone ships and automated ports. From his vantage point as Head of Intra-Americas, Lopez and his team are helping to advance these and other innovations.
These advancements will effectively eliminate the various “layers” of processes that now take place between ports, shipping lines, freight forwarders, and logistics providers. When automated trucks are connected with software, for example, the end result is a more streamlined communication process for all stakeholders. It will also help create more “predictable” supply chains, whereby companies can determine what’s going to happen and respond accordingly before small issues turn into major problems.
“The supply chain of the future will be all about connectivity and having information in real-time that shippers can use and react to,” said Lopez. “That, in turn, will create high levels of optimization and the opportunity to reduce errors while saving money and man-hours.”