How Driverless or Autonomous Trucks Will Impact Your Supply Chain Strategy

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With companies paying an average of $180,000 a year to operate the average commercial truck, it’s one of the biggest expenses in the supply chain. As autonomous trucks start to be used by companies around the world, there are some major changes coming to the industry. Driverless trucks will speed up transportation in ways that we still can only speculate on.

Here are 5 ways that autonomous trucks will improve your supply chain and impact your strategy.

1. Insane Efficiency

If there’s one basic fact about drivers is that they get tired. The number of people required to fill a truck, drive a truck and then unload it not only requires lots of other support staff, but also a huge payroll investment.

When you’re dealing with autonomous trucks, especially when they go electric, you’re talking about no emissions and no cost to staff. The supply chain will become streamlined when nearly 300 pounds of items can be delivered by an electric van. You could deliver your items to hundreds of people at a time without any human intervention.

Whether you’re dealing with a highway full of self-driving vehicles or final mile deliveries, this technology has huge ramifications. You’ll see traffic and congestion clear up as efficiency is improved.

From fulfillment centers to consumers’ homes, deliveries will only be as limited as the limits volume.

2. Long Distance Improvements

There’s been a lot of progress when it comes to long distance driving. Long distance deliveries are being explored by lots of vehicle companies. Uber even acquired a self-driving truck company in 2017, seeking to be ahead of the pack when it comes time to get the technology off the ground.

While most of the self-driving vehicles are still “driver assisted”, they’re the first step on the path of truly autonomous trucks. As the drivers assisting them are able to do less and less to correct the driving, we will get closer to automatic driving.

While interstates are much more predictable than city driving, once trucks are able to drive on their own on highways, that will be the next frontier.

Supply chains are mostly impacted by long-distance driving as opposed to final mile trips, so this is the bigger hurdle when it comes to supply. Also, since most warehouses exist outside of cities, fixing interstate transport is the most important issue in autonomous driving.

3. Major Cost Savings

Autonomous vehicles will be a larger investment than buying a standard truck as they exist now. However, you’ll soon see savings as you’ll be paying less for staffing your trucks and covering all of the associated costs with having laborers.

Not only will you save on the cost of having driver, as stated above, but you’ll also be paying virtually nothing for fuel. Miles per gallon ratings on trucks aren’t very good compared to the cost of powering up electric vehicles.

On top of that, with automated systems and smart driving technology, you won’t be paying the kinds of insurance costs that are associated with transport. You’ll have to pay for insurance on drivers, liability insurance based on accidents, and even consider the disruption that accidents cause to productivity.

Automatic vehicles that are all in communication with one another can work together to prevent accidents and help improve supply chain efficiency.

4. Platooning

One of the biggest changes that could happen to improve the supply chain is the act of “platooning” your fleet. You could reduce your cost by tethering your vehicles together electronically.

While sometimes you have one part in one truck and another part in a second truck, you can ensure they all arrive together with platooning. Rather than having to have separate people manning separate trucks, with speeds and efficiency varying, you can keep your whole fleet on track.

One driver or crew member will manage the entire long-distance journey of your platoon, keeping your convoy from being split up. Once at a hub near the final location, you can have separate drivers direct everything to the final mile.

Platooning trials are being run all around the world now. In Singapore, they are able to move across four trucks on highways. In the U.S., trucks have been tested by Volvo to haul containers across California’s interstate highways.

5. Capacity Will Change

We’re sure to see a surge in freight capacity with the help of autonomous trucks. Since they can drive 24 hours a day, they can move for longer hours and change the math we use to understand how truck transport works.

Since they can be operated without consideration for driver schedules or their need for sleep, they can be driven at later hours, and significantly reduce congestion. This will mean that you’ll have a reduction in the cost of transport. Productivity changes open up the ability to improve and increase profits immensely.

The transportation sector will take up this technology eventually but it might take3 some time given the investment required. As autonomous trucks take over the roads, the supply chain may not be prepared for the improved efficiency.

There might not even be any reduction to staffing required. Staff will be redirected to distribution or at warehouses. As more product can come in and delivery takes less time, products can get into the hands of consumers fast.

Tracking will be improved, deadly accurate, and predictable in ways never expected before.

Autonomous Trucks Will Make Life Better

While some people predict that drivers will be out of a job once autonomous trucks become the norm. However, with that added efficiency, you’ll need staff to manage all of the product that will be at your doorstep. There will be just as much work to be done, just greater efficiency.

If you’re looking at shipment tracking software, check out our guide so you know what to look for.

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