Once the pandemic hit, we began hearing the term “supply chain” more than ever. Aside from consumers seeing less of their favorite products stocked up on the shelves of their local department store, businesses struggle to get their inventory delivered on time, and online products aren’t being shipped or delivered nearly as quickly as they used to.

The immense pressure of the pandemic and mandates have knocked everything off-track. While it has been frustrating for business owners and consumers alike, it has also stressed the freight and distribution industry. 

The Pandemic Sheds a Different Light on the Industry

Before the pandemic, consumers had a different attitude toward the distribution and freight industry. After all, it was this miraculous entity we never saw or heard about on the news or radio. Still, it was always behind the scenes making magic for consumers and businesses across the United States. 

Most of us became accustomed to a life where things were shipped and delivered at the drop of a hat. We were used to convenience and speed. But then, the pandemic pulled that rug out from beneath us. 

Since the supply chain has struggled throughout the pandemic and is still trying to regain balance, consumers have shifted their attention toward freight and distribution. This attention has sparked a newfound appreciation for the industry and its many dedicated workers. 

More visibility concerning this industry has opened the door to new technology focused on commercial driver safety, impacting demand for infrastructure investment regarding new roads and bridges and new pressures to increase compensation for commercial truckers.

The pressure on this industry has caused a domino effect of changes. In some cases, the changes are necessary. In others, it’s the opportunity to expand, strengthen, and advance their operations. 

These innovations and optimizations in the distribution and freight industry have been making headlines.

How Technology is Transforming The Industry 

Trucking is responsible for most overland freight movement in the U.S. The market was worth 732.3 billion in 2020. Here at Elder Logistics, we know how important it is to keep up with innovative technology.  

Technology is evolving rapidly, and many industries, including trucking, have adapted to this demand and leveraged the latest and greatest technological advancements. As a result, technology can offer many benefits, like optimizing operational efficiency and having an edge over competitors. 

Transporting goods from point A to point B as efficiently as possible is one of the primary goals for professionals in the trucking industry. Unfortunately, accomplishing this isn’t always easy. There are plenty of concerns regarding safety, quality control, driver retention, and labor shortages, all of which are obstacles for trucking companies. 

In addition to those elements, we also have other unexpected like brake problems, electrical failures, tire blowouts, etc. So it is not uncommon for truckers to have unique issues while on the job. 

Fortunately, technology has improved various areas of the trucking industry, making operations smoother, more efficient, and safer for drivers. Strengthening this sector ultimately returns the favor by helping the supply chain and economy. 

So what new technology is the distribution and freight industry adopting? Elder Logistics will break it down for you. 

Digital Automation

Many key players in the supply chain have adopted certain technology, like artificial intelligence and machine learning, to automate routine tasks. Doing so provides more time for employees to be more productive and take on more meaningful projects. 

AI and ML can be daunting ideas since some worry about automation leading to worker displacement, AKA trucking gigs will be obsolete. It’s more complex than swapping machines for people since drivers complete many tasks more than simply transporting products. Face-to-face interaction cannot be replaced, and the “human element” of trucking is still vital to operations. 

Fleet Management Software 

New and improved fleet data management hardware and software are sending shockwaves throughout the trucking industry. Analyzed metrics provide greater insight into fleets and how they may be performing. Metrics allow companies to understand their fleet better and identify what needs to be improved or what they excel in. Here are a few examples of what fleet management software can offer: 

  • Fuel management
  • Safety incidents
  • Engine hours
  • Route performance 
  • Hours of service (HOS) violations
  • Time on-site
  • Inspection results 

Vehicle Safety Features

Driver safety is a high priority in the trucking industry. Updated trucks in fleets will be equipped with new safety features and technology in place to protect drivers while on the job. Blind spot mirrors, lane departure warnings, automatic emergency brake systems, and truck dash cams are very prominent in this industry. Safety features can effectively reduce the number of fatal injuries involving large trucks, which have risen between 2014 and 2019. 

The more advances we make in this area, the safer we can keep our drivers. 

Big Data Analytics 

Big data analytics help companies improve their decision-making processes, prevent dangerous incidents, and ensure the safe transportation of goods. It also provides insights for fleets, such as identifying bottlenecks in the supply chain, identifying ideal travel routes, detecting networks with poor infrastructure, and calculating any travel delays or time estimates. As a result, big data in the transportation industry is expected to grow to $21.8 billion by 2027

Electric Vehicles (EVs)

Companies across the United States have opted to “go green” due to climate change pressures. For example, more progressive trucking companies have considered leveraging low-emission trucks to decrease the size of their carbon footprint while making transportation more sustainable. 

While switching to EVs reduces environmental pollution, it will likely take time to become normalized within the industry. 

Trucking Apps

Apps are an invaluable tool for professionals in all sectors. Downloading and using the latest apps can also make a difference for truckers; here are a few apps that may be useful for drivers working in the trucking industry:

  • Rolling Strong
  • Trucker Path
  • GasBuddy
  • GoShare
  • Waze
  • Google Tasks
  • The Weather Channel 

Life on the road comes with its set of challenges. However, many apps can make it a bit easier on the drivers. Most of the apps listed above can be found on the iOS App Store or Google Play Store. 

Transportation of goods is a critical element of the supply chain, and this sector is responsible for delivering goods efficiently and safely. While the world becomes increasingly digital, the distribution and freight industry will continue to target and identify new technology they can use to benefit their companies and drivers. 

The American Trucking Associations’ most recent forecast report paints an optimistic picture of the unknown ahead. 

Freight Transportation Forecast for 2023

While technological advances are certainly strengthening the trucking industry, our economic roadmap remains uncertain. Unfortunately, uncertainty can make it challenging to prepare for what’s ahead, and supply chain issues continue to pose obstacles.

The top five supply chain issues are:

  • Keeping transportation costs down.
  • Keeping up with customer and industry demands.
  • Sourcing consistent and reliable carrier capacity.
  • Keeping up with the latest technology solutions and demands. 
  • On-time pickup and delivery performance. 

Companies in the distribution and freight industry have been taking great strides to help improve these aspects of their business via changes to operations and adopting valuable new technology. 

The past few years haven’t been the easiest to navigate, although the road to recovery is slowly but surely being repaved. A report from the ATA, titled “U.S. Freight Transportation Forecast 2021 to 2032,” suggested that the future of trucking is bright despite supply chain issues, ports struggling with congestion and backlog issues, inflation, and so on. 

While these issues are, without a doubt, a primary concern and will continue to be throughout 2023, the ATA’s report uncovered some valuable (and positive) information. Here are a few key takeaways:

  • Total freight tonnage will grow from an estimated 15.1 billion tons in 2021 to 19.3 billion tons in 2032— a 28% increase.
  • Truck’s share of the freight tonnage will slowly decline from 72.2% in 2021 to 71% in 2032—overall volumes will grow across all industry segments: truckload, less-than-truckload, and private carrier. Truck tonnage may increase from 10.23 billion tons this year to 13.7 billion tons in 2023.
  • Total revenue derived from primary freight shipments in the U.S. will increase from an estimated $1.083 trillion in 2021 to $1.627 trillion in 2032.

The American Trucking Associations Freight Transportation Forecast to 2032 is designed to provide critical insight and essential data to help aid in informed decision-making. A long-term forecast helps us understand where our industry is and where it’s headed.