Less-than-truckload (LTL) shipping involves the carriage of amounts of freight that do not fill up entire trucks. One factor that can make LTL more complicated is that a single truck may take goods for six to eight different parties, with each batch bound for a different destination.
On average, LTL vehicles only carry 1,000 pounds, but the reduced weight doesn’t mean those trips are more straightforward. Numerous variables come into play during each journey.
However, technology is poised to assist the LTL shipping sector and, in some cases, already has. Here are six examples:
1. Algorithmic pooling
It’s easy to imagine how LTL efficiency goes up if the goods on a truckload need to travel in the same general direction. A company called Flock Freight, formerly known as AuptiX, specializes in using machine learning and automation for something called algorithmic pooling.
The technology intelligently combines shipments from several customers onto one truck and does so while keeping the most direct routes in mind. This process results in the company offering a full truckload service for its LTL clients that are more efficient than conventional methods since the truck drivers operate every day of the week.
Moreover, Flock Freight says its system ensures that freight doesn’t leave the truck until the time of delivery. This approach reduces the risk of damage by 21.2 percent compared to traditional LTL methods.
2. Mobile apps
Mobile applications have had a dramatic impact on many aspects of society, as well as an assortment of industries. The LTL sector stands to benefit from them, too. In one example, Uber Freight connects drivers with shipping companies that have goods to move. The brand recently expanded to Europe, and it’s taking off in the United States, too.
During a two-month pilot, truck drivers left more than 10,000 reviews about the companies that use them to transport freight. The system allows truckers to choose the kind of cargo they want to take, and they can read insights from other drivers about what it’s like to work for a particular company that needs freight hauled.
Outside of Uber Freight, there’s a company that specializes in LTL shipments called GoShare. Clients connect with drivers who are ready to take jobs, and they can pay for the service and track the movement of the goods in the app.
Mobile apps can also help keep customers informed through real-time notifications. Several kinds of notifications exist in the LTL sector, such as time-definite requests or instances in which carriers call before making their deliveries.
The kind of notifications needed can impact the total price paid. Mobile apps could also give clients more visibility, such as allowing them to verify when certain shipment milestones are met or know when a person signs to confirm receipt.
3. Artificial intelligence-based pricing
Artificial intelligence (AI) also shows potential for LTL shipments. In 2018, XPO, one of the leading LTL providers, invested heavily in an optimization plan that relies on AI. As mentioned above, some other companies are using machine learning to group loads. XPO is doing that as well, but it also has AI-driven pricing tools that help predict price elasticity.
The company believes that looking at things like historical marketplace data and emerging trends will help it respond to customer requests for proposals faster. It also wants to develop the algorithms further to aid in forecasting future marketplace conditions and how those might affect pricing.
4. Connected sensors
The LTL shipments sector is not unique in the opportunities it creates to use connected sensors that are part of the Internet of Things (IoT). Those gadgets have already impacted the logistics industry at large.
For example, sensors show the exact locations of trucks on the move, or they can issue notifications if a package may be at risk of damage. That kind of information could be instrumental if an LTL driver transports perishable or fragile items.
5. Robotic process automation
Robotic process automation involves technologies that companies apply to reduce the time their employees spend on manual processes and tasks like categorizing incoming files. Polaris Transportation is a Canadian LTL company that focuses on cross-border freight. It recently started using robotic process automation to streamline entering details about new orders.
The robotic process automation tool can handle about 85 percent of the customs process and the paperwork that comes with it. The system pulls data from incoming emails, for example. It reportedly saves workers two to three hours each day.
6. Predictive analytics
XPO is leading the way in using AI to improve its pricing methods. More recently, the firm also began using predictive analytics for better productivity in its LTL network. It tracks how workers perform, then compares that output with the desired performance targets.
As of June 2019, the staff at three of XPO’s terminals were using predictive analytics technology. But, the company intends to bring it to all of its 290 U.S. locations.
Exciting progress in the LTL sector
The six technologies are not yet widely deployed for LTL shipping. But, some forward-thinking businesses are giving them a try. If those early efforts pay off, other companies will likely follow suit and see how they might apply these solutions to their operations.