Fleet of vans parked up

Fleet optimisation: Easing fleet and driver shortages

Wednesday, April 13, 2022 - 05:50
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Drivers with no sleep, poor nutrition, and extended hours – can the fleet industry rely on its existing practices? Labour shortages and container freight rates will remain elevated throughout 2022, putting additional pressure on the remaining workers. Yet, the average commercial truck driver in the U.S. is a 55-year-old man likely to retire within the next 10 years. With a tired workforce on a countdown to resignation, it’s time for companies to look to the future and strategize a plan.

The fleet industry has primarily been male-dominated, with perceptions of tight steering and heavy lifting of packages deterring all but 6% of women truck drivers. The position becomes even less attractive when drivers are expected to commit to extremely long working hours, with a maximum of 70 hours in an eight-day run.

Catching up on backlogs of deliveries by skipping sleep periods or reducing breaks for decent meals will slash time away from the road – along with the driver’s mental health, physical wellbeing, and self-esteem.

Fleets have to simplify things for their business and its people. It’s not about cutting corners; it’s about maximizing capabilities. Here’s how.

Lorries in sunlightChallenges for drivers in the logistics industry

Payment support from employers and governments enabled consumer spending to persist throughout the pandemic while many cargos were cancelled, leading to significant backlogs. The shippers’ desires to meet the rise in demand have caused congestion and container pileups that minimize throughways, reduce fleet utilization at total capacity, and create stressed-out workers.

While a lack of resources versus demand is one reason for congestion, McKinsey’s analysis found slower trucking equipment turnover as the main driver. Maintenance and equipment turnover improvements require a downtime period for vehicles to get checked – and in more severe cases, these will demand an empty load. In the case of full warehouses, drivers have little choice but to get to their end destination as safely as possible or wait until local warehouse space is available and offload for fixtures.

Extended working hours, more shifts, and promoting drivers to make sharp turnarounds with salary increases look like quick fixes to combat the reduced time on the road during maintenance. However, these parameters are reaching inhumane levels, and fleet companies must factor in decent rest periods, sufficient lunch breaks, and optimize the experience for the driver if they plan to keep a workforce. Enhancing employee conditions is in trucking companies’ best interests, considering 34% of workers across industries are planning to quit this year with demands for flexible working benefits.

Optimising the capacity of the fleet

Fleet companies can maximize capacity through many methods – including software designed specifically for asset management. By leveraging repositioning algorithms, distribution managers can find calculated storage plans for multiple warehouses, prepare each lorry for a full load, and enable quicker turnaround in the loading process for their fleet of drivers.

For example, a lorry in Milan could be filled at full capacity with 24 pallets of shoes for five stops to Munich. An additional batch of shoes needs to go to each location. Looking at demand per location, delivery schedules, available fleet size, and variation in route speed (by eliminating stops), artificial intelligence (AI) could tell fleet managers whether to restructure the load and send a larger truck to make all touchpoints. In cases where a large truck doesn’t exist, it could provide the alternative to remove five pallets for Trento and hire a smaller van for a direct trip.

It can be a timely process to make these calculations manually. AI-driven software enables logistics companies to assess multiple scenarios in seconds to generate the most suitable solution. Each time businesses make changes within the supply chain, they can instantaneously evaluate new plans by feeding the system real-time and historical data. This way, drivers can take each vehicle at full capacity and deliver any additional items that fill the van to pitstops within the route.

In addition, companies like TuSimple, Gatik, and Aurora Innovation are already operating driverless heavy-duty trucks, allowing the safety drivers to sit back and relax while the vehicle drives itself. Minimizing the driver’s responsibilities on lengthy trips optimizes fleet utilization and reduces driver burnout; one of the preventions for companies to use their total fleet.

Decreasing the journeys and time needed per driver is crucial in a driver shortage crisis. By finding the best way to store items, pack complete loads, and deliver in orderly drop points, drivers take fewer journeys with quicker stop-offs, as they can ensure they pack items for the first stop towards the back of the lorry.

Maximizing the journey planning

Alleviating time wasted on lengthy detours and inefficient driving improves the driver’s experience and the fleet’s efficiency. Drivers have a more pleasant, shorter route, and the vehicle isn’t as heavily worn by stop-starting in traffic. Managers kill three birds in one plan – the drivers are less reluctant to quit due to painful gridlocks, more deliveries can be made per day, and vehicles are fully utilized. Add reduced carbon emissions and increased vehicle life expectancy, and that’s five obstacles tackled.

Route planning software and AI-assisted platforms make for better shipment allocation by determining the most cost-effective, shortest, safest, and traffic-free routes. Inputting data such as driver schedules, fleet available, the number of stops, live traffic, roadworks, and weather conditions means the software can calculate optimal journeys based on your company’s key metrics. Take our Milan to Munich example: Software that can factor in the time saved passing by Trento in truck one and sending a smaller vehicle on a return Milan-Trento route maximizes both journeys. Increasing journey efficiency also helps keeps fuel costs low – and with the ever-rising global oil price increase, this is on everyone’s checklist.

Devices that wirelessly share telematics data allow the planning and maintenance team to remotely monitor the conditions of assets and the workshops on route to make informed scheduling decisions. The work for the drivers eases as careful monitoring and periodic maintenance can reduce the number of unexpected breakdowns and unplanned delays. Regular maintenance will also extend the life cycle of each vehicle, increasing the capacity per vehicle and ROI.

With real-time monitoring of planned versus actual capacity and routes, companies gain visibility into location status, fleet and driving performance, and traffic conditions throughout the area. This means that fleet managers can make better, more informed route planning decisions and maximize the use of their vehicles. And with more efficient processes and happier workers, the trucking industry is in a better position to recruit and retain their talent.

Author: Marc Meyer, CCO at Transmetrics

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