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How smart cities will improve trucking and the supply chain

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A smart city is a framework, largely composed of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), to develop, deploy and promote sustainable development practices to address growing urbanization challenges. For as complex as the topic of smart cities can be, a big part of the ICT framework is an intelligent network of connected objects and machines transmitting data using wireless technology and the cloud. Cloud-based IoT applications receive, analyze, and manage data in real time to help cities and the citizens who inhabit them, to make better decisions in the moment with the goal toward improving overall quality of life. 

While pie-in-the-sky dreams of utopian smart cities fill the media waves, we wondered about what a smart city would mean for commercial transportation and the supply chain.

Gerry Mead, executive director of innovation for Phillips Industries, tells FreightWaves, “To me the first step and most important is cooperation. A smart city from a truck perspective really involves what solutions does it solve from a transportation perspective. In this case, ours would be trucking. The obvious would be driver retention. One could say more like driver utilization. As their utilization rises so does their paycheck. It’s also a win-win for the trucking companies as more utilization equals more revenue and less driver turnover, as one would believe they would stay as they earn a better living. How? Let’s look ahead at the possibilities if things were what we call ‘SMART,’ or as I just plainly call them, ‘connected.’”

Mead suggests we first look at the European thoughts of ITS (Intelligent Transportation Systems), which is talked about globally. According to Mead, “It basically leverages IoT and uses connectivity to make a smart connected system.” He suggests we look at platooning, as it involves a series of connected trucks that enable close quarters operations that save on driver fatigue and fuel.

“When you look at connected systems think advanced but simple solutions,” says Mead. “For example, if stoplights were smart and connected to all vehicles, how many intersection crashes would we have? If a light could communicate to any vehicle and control throttle position as well as braking and override human intervention that is both safe as well as could change how traffic lights are controlled from a duration standpoint.

Another highly discussed item is the “weigh-in-motion” for trucking to bypass scales. What if a “Smart Trailer” could automatically transmit the loaded data (weight) in advance, thus reducing the need for scale houses?

“In other words,” says Mead, “if a trailer’s suspension was so smart that it would not allow it to leave a shipper’s facility until it meets its permitted weight distribution. Would we need scales? Same for FMCSA violations that cause a HOS for being issued. If a smart trailer can do a diagnostic check and prevent a driver from using versus taking in for maintenance, how much safe would our roadways be?”

Mead’s idea of a smart city being a connected city plays into a number of other important areas. “Smart cities could reroute traffic to alleviate congestion thus helping trucking hotspots,” he says. “Think of closing down and opening lanes based on traffic volume. Automatically rerouting to help save people time, thus saving them money. Data could be used by both shippers and receivers to look a the very intelligent traffic systems and change their shipping or receiving times to help alleviate issues even more. City-by-city evaluation that gets smarter through e-learning as data is added. Systems that can even connect into trucking companies routing systems to help them select even smarter routes to help capture back their valuable assets availability times.”

Another dimension to having a connected commercial freight infrastructure is through manufacturing. Smart manufacturing is the automation of the manufacturing sector, including the convergence of operational technology (OT) such as SCADA, industrial control systems and connected devices with information technology (IT). The process employs computer controls, advanced analytics such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of things (IoT) and, fixed and wireless connectivity.

Broadly speaking, manufacturers are looking to bring in visibility across supply chain, customize the production process, automate certain processes for workplace safety, and incorporate analytics to predict operations performance and forecast product demand to make informed production-related decisions.

Siow Meng Soh, Technology Analyst at GlobalData, says, “The aim is to achieve manufacturing efficiencies, often through open infrastructure and dramatically improve business agility. The ideal end state is a fully-integrated, collaborative system responsive to customer needs, supply chain and market conditions. This should cover upstream suppliers, midstream suppliers and downstream suppliers.”

“Factory automation will be a top investment priority to drive a sustainable competitive advantage,” says Oh. “Technologies such as augmented reality, AI, 3D printing and IoT are among the key technologies to change the manufacturing sector, but forklift upgrades are highly unlikely in this sector.”

“Besides the benefits from maintenance and the prevention of unscheduled repairs. A leveraged IoT connected city, state and country solve a lot of problems for trucking,” Dan Serewicz, co-founder of Dock 411, tells FreightWaves.

“Delivering in a big city can be a challenge as it is, I used to deliver to job sites in downtown Chicago.  4 different gates to get into one facility, which gate is mine, do I have to wait, is there a temporary dock built yet, double parked cars, etc. Now this isn’t always the case but I totally understand the struggles,” says Serewicz.

“The smart city mentality is to take problems and solve them differently, making the same place more livable. We have taken this mindset and applied it to the shipper facilities. Take something that’s already there (dock info), add technology to make better, accessible and more efficient (the app) and create a better experience for everyone,” he adds.

As urban areas continue to expand and grow, smart city technology will continue to expand as well. Generally speaking, the ideas focus on sustainability and efficiency to better serve humanity as a whole. By leveraging pervasive connectivity, open data, end-to-end security and software monetization solutions, we can align evolving smart city needs for a greatly improved experience for all partners in the supply chain. Fewer are more important than the drivers who get our goods from point to point.