Transportation & Logistics
Tuesday | 11 October, 2016 | 3:28 pm


Written by By Corinna Petry

Above: Daimler, Tesla and Nikola each have Class 8 trucks in development that will use electric drive- and battery-based solutions for greater fuel efficiency.

A tipping point is being reached for vehicle technologies, creating safer and smarter supply chain mobility

October 2016 - Aparts maker wants his steel and aluminum sheets and extrusions delivered to his dock precisely when it does him the most good. That hasn’t changed in probably the last half of the industrial age. The centuries-old business of commercial transportation is getting its own makeover in the digital age, compelling the movement of critical materials to become more efficient and targeted, while also making the rigs and the road safer.

Scott Perry, vice president of Supply Management & Global Product Management at Ryder System Inc., Miami, is a man with his eyes and hands on every conceivable trend in the transportation marketplace. Speaking at the Metals Service Center Institute’s annual meeting in May, Perry seemed like a futurist. Modern Metals talked with Perry in greater detail about what the truck, the driver and the logistics of tomorrow will look like.

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With enabling safety systems, forward-looking radar, lane departure systems, the uptime and performance of the fleet improves. Graphic: Bendix Commercial Vehicles Systems LLC


Connected devices have begun to provide even faster information sharing within the transportation and logistics universe.

“We see tremendous activity with connected devices—with smart phones, Fitbit, Apple watches. There will be more than 40 billion connected devices by 2020,” Perry says. “All those interconnections of data will create transparency and visibility to drivers and products. Communication in real time creates opportunities for greater efficiency, but there are also challenges with data security, privacy and integrity. That will require a new level of complexity—encryption or automated password changes.” 

Today, it’s possible to track the movements of all commercial vehicles. At first, all these devices were a personal investment and adopted voluntarily. But because of the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate—the final rule went into effect in March—“it’s the tipping point for technology and puts the adoption rate [for telematics] at near 100 percent.”

Data triggers

The use of electronic logging devices, combined with global positioning system (GPS) software on every truck, gives shippers and receivers a window into where their orders are. 

Beyond the status of deliveries within the supply chain, “I think it provides visibility for planning purposes,” Perry says. “There aren’t as many surprises. Phone calls trigger things now. But the new intelligence will come from being able to set digital triggers.”

Creating a “geo-fence” is one way to keep on top of schedules. Perry explains that a company can place a digital barrier around its property and be notified that a truck has arrived at the plant whenever a GPS device crosses the barrier. “If a product is not within X miles of the geo-fence, the customer can also be notified the truck will not make delivery time. This then triggers communication with the driver. 

“It allows users to react more proactively. Most customers in any industry, if they have visibility, can plan accordingly.” Perry believes these tools will drive efficiencies and help to “improve the supplier-customer relationship.” 


The adoption of telematics in the traveled portion of the supply chain naturally affects driver recruitment and training. This might be a big plus in attracting young people, including women.

“I think it changes the profile completely of who we recruit and what level of sophistication they have around technology and the [communication devices],” Perry says. “It will bring new drivers into the industry. The way the technology is evolving, building upon itself, the regulatory environment for greenhouse gases and some of the technologies being mandated for fuel economy are also a building block for semi-autonomous and fully autonomous vehicles,” he notes.

“You combine connectivity, telematics, safety features, and automated manual transmission—all are leading to semi-automated and eventually fully automated trucks. With enabling safety systems, forward-looking radar, lane departure systems, the uptime and performance of the fleet improves,” says Perry.

Autonomous vehicles may be one solution to the driver shortage, which Perry says is estimated at 70,000 this year, and could rise to 175,000 short by 2024. 

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Ryder, which manages fleets for service centers among others, sees tremendous activity with connected devices.

Many drivers have retired out of the industry. Perry is among those who hope technology “may extend the careers of those drivers. We also lose them because they are no longer qualified due to motor vehicle records infractions, but technologies will prevent collisions and inadvertent speeding and dangerous driving, thereby lowering the number of drivers who become disqualified. Attrition rates seen through a normal lens will change with technologies; there will be more eligibility [drivers with clean records].”

The technological advancements will also serve to attract more women to careers as truck drivers as “the concept of driving a big commercial vehicle changes,” helping to close the gap in recruitment, he says.

Road hazards

Safety remains imperative in connected transportation. Although a truck may be equipped with all the safety features on the market, not all “passenger cars are being driven rationally,” Perry says. Truck drivers must “look out for those who want to cut across multiple lanes to get to an exit.”

Soon, it is hoped, every new passenger vehicle will also be equipped with safety features that connect with everyone else on the road. “When you have a greater connected system, both car and truck are aware of each other, which prevents them from cutting off the truck. The more we are able to automate that and help the driver see what’s going on, they feel more in control of the environment, which makes the job more readily performable.”

Fuel gauge

The fully equipped truck of the future will be increasingly kind to the environment, according to Perry. Mandates enacted in 2007 and 2010 “became a clear path for [truck] manufacturers. They had to install particulate filters, and then they had to provide NOx [nitrogen oxide] reduction.” By the time they were designing 2010 models, “most truck builders put selective catalytic reduction for NOx in their exhaust systems.”

The newly released GHG Phase II rule won’t have a single easy fix, he continues. It is geared to reduce carbon emissions, which comes only by reducing fuel consumption. “The EPA has identified 25 potential technologies to get to a targeted 25 percent reduction, but there is no single path to follow, or part or component that will achieve that reduction so you have to combine multiple strategies. 

“That creates anxiety,” Perry says. “What happens when you combine 10 or 12 technologies? Do they conflict or work together? Many of the technologies have yet to be proven.” Although it’s a puzzle and the solutions may be nuanced, the improvements will be realized.

Some vehicles will be configured to work in a certain manner for a specific duty cycle. There will be more purpose-built and custom vehicles. Some may only be profitable as long-haul trucks while others are meant for regional deliveries.

In spite of low-priced diesel these days, Perry says the industry will see the potential for alternative energy sources: EV, natural gas, biofuels and fuel cells. 

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Combining electronic logging devices with GPS gives shippers and receivers a window into where their orders are.

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“As air quality and GHG emission standards continue to rise, we must consider alternative fuels that have lower emissions and less carbon. Electric vehicle platforms will pay a role. Natural gas has a lot of promise—it’s a bridge to transition away from petroleum products,” says Perry. “Daimler, Tesla and Nikola have all now announced Class 8 products in development that will use electric drive- and battery-based solutions, and all of them are reported to be commercially available in the next 24 to 36 months.”

Dollars and sense

Fleet owners have to think hard about the costs of technology in 2020 compared with today and when and how that investment will pay off.

The technology investment “will likely be proportional to the amount of fuel savings that can be delivered within 18 months,” Perry suggests. “It becomes more about that return on investment than what it costs up front.”

Under the final GHG Phase II rule being enacted, analysts project that to comply, the total increased investment over the 10-year horizon on a vehicle with all technologies deployed would fall into a range of $10,000 to $17,000.

“Say a tractor today costs $110,000, then add 10 to 15 percent,” Perry says. “But if you are running 80,000 miles annually, which means consuming 10,000 gallons of fuel, but you can now potentially eliminate 2,500 gallons, that’s breaking even on your investment after year two and having an upside on fuel economy after that.”

When fleets can leverage the cost within their operations, but realize benefits on the other end, says Perry, “that’s the type of math they will do.” MM


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