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Flatbed carrier confronts carbon emissions, driver shortage with autonomous convoy pilot

An inside look at PGT Trucking’s partnership with Locomation

Photo Credit: PGT Trucking

Shippers are increasingly motivated by consumer-driven corporate sustainability goals. But to truly tackle Scope 3 emissions ⁠— those that occur beyond their own four walls ⁠— shippers must find carriers and transportation partners that are pursuing their own green initiatives and strategic partnerships.

In June, two Pittsburgh-based companies ⁠— flatbed carrier PGT Trucking and autonomous trucking platform Locomation ⁠— announced one such partnership. They outlined that over the next eight years, Locomation’s two-truck convoy and safety staff would help PGT Trucking execute more efficient freight movements and reduce operating costs per mile by 30%, including a reduction in fuel expenses by 8%, reducing CO2 emissions by more than 60 metric tons per tractor per year. 

While the two companies are ironing out details of the pilot program, set to begin deploying in the second half of 2022, PGT Chief Administrative Officer Gerry Hickly talked with FreightWaves about what makes PGT Trucking ⁠— and flatbed freight in general ⁠—  a good fit for this kind of partnership.

“For as long as I’ve been at PGT, we’ve tapped into the latest technologies in the industry, understanding how that technology can help us better communicate with our customers and provide a better experience for the driver,” said Hickly. “Let’s face it, the majority of transportation companies acknowledge that providing a better driver experience is one of their highest priorities.”

PGT expects autonomous technology and the systems that enable it to be scheduled correctly every day to drive profitability and create more economical freight rates for customers. Hickly said it’s also an opportunity to increase capacity and utilization and tackle the ever-present driver shortage ⁠— an issue that’s potentially worse for flatbed because flatbed loads are often regional runs and drivers are gone all week, returning home only for weekends.

“Flatbed is typically more regional or over-the-road work and usually doesn’t have many home-every-night opportunities,” Hickly said. “We see Locomation’s autonomous technology as a win-win situation for both our older and younger drivers. The pilot will be very interesting to a younger person who has been exposed to technology and is looking to find practical ways to utilize it. On the other hand, that 57- to 58-year-old guy nearing retirement might be head over heels for an opportunity to participate in a shuttle where he gets to be home every night and certainly on the weekends.”

With Locomation’s autonomous relay convoy (ARC), PGT will set up marshaling yards on either end of the route where drivers can shuttle loaded trailers from east to west between Strongsville, Ohio, and Gary, Indiana. The ARC ensures continuous utilization of equipment back and forth across lanes and creates a more attractive home-every-night opportunity for drivers. 

PGT and Locomation’s shared Rust Belt geography not only helps with the logistics of planning, but the flat land and straight roads of the region provide a perfect testing ground to ensure savings in cost, fuel and carbon emissions. 

“Technology can help control things that in some respects were not controllable before. Being able to control the following distance and speed makes it easier to optimize the conditions under which the drivers are exercising their daily duties. Potentially, we’re opening up doors to attract new employee growth into our industry.”

In the trucking industry, investments in green technologies like Locomation have a myriad of benefits beyond reducing carbon emissions. It’s helping companies like PGT reimagine solutions to driver turnover, idling and empty miles ⁠— sticky issues plaguing the entire industry.

Corrie White

Corrie is fascinated how the supply chain is simultaneously ubiquitous and invisible. She covers freight technology, cross-border freight and the effects of consumer behavior on the freight industry. Alongside writing about transportation, her poetry has been published widely in literary magazines. She holds degrees in English and Creative Writing from UNC Chapel Hill and UNC Greensboro.