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It’s Faster and It’s Fancier. It’s The 2020 Supply Chain

These nine technological advances are reshaping supply chains, and allowing projects to be completed quicker and with a higher level of accuracy.

* By Nick Fortuna *

Autonomous Trucking

Jason Gillespie is looking forward to a time when autonomous trucks can handle the lonely part of truck driving, the grinding long-haul trips that keep drivers away from their families and make it difficult to recruit new drivers. But unlike some industry experts who think it will be several decades before autonomous trucks are widely in use, Gillespie thinks big changes could come in short order.

Gillespie, the supply chain director of continuous improvement for DHL, points to Arizona, where companies like TuSimple, Uber and Waymo have been testing autonomous trucks on public highways for months. Last May, TuSimple began using self-driving trucks to make daily runs for UPS between Phoenix and Tucson, with a driver and an engineer onboard for safety purposes. Daimler Trucks and the technology firm Torc Robotics have partnered on a similar pilot program in Virginia.

Gillespie said autonomous trucks eventually could allow most drivers to work a traditional workday, driving locally or intrastate, with autonomous trucks doing the grunt work.

“We’re looking at driverless vehicles pretty hard, and there are some solutions out there that are very interesting,” Gillespie said. “The technology is there and, I believe, fully capable. It’s exciting stuff. In these pilots, the driver doesn’t touch the steering wheel, the brake or the accelerator; they’re there just in case. The timing of implementation is really only restricted by legislation at this point because every state is doing their own thing. If I had my way, we’d be doing it now, but we just have to wait on some of that legislation.”

Daimler said its autonomous trucks are at Level 4 of the five-level system for categorizing driving automation established by SAE International, an association for auto engineers and industry experts. At Level 4, a driver still needs to be present, but the vehicle can drive itself under most conditions without any driver input or backup assistance. Level 5 means full automation, with no driver needed.

“Bringing Level 4 trucks to the public roads is a major step toward our goal to deliver reliable and safe trucks for the benefit of our customers, our economies and society,” Daimler executive Martin Daum said in a statement.

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This issue of MHI Solutions tackles the important topic of digital technologies in the supply chain industry, especially as it relates the transportation and logistics. Transportation plays a central role in supply chains, whether they are local or global enterprises. And just like the overall supply chain, transportation is facing a digital revolution including new solutions for tracking road, rail, sea and air freight and parcel transportation. These digital technologies are disrupting the industry, but they are also providing im-portant new solutions for transportation inefficiencies and urban logistics challenges. They are also creating new digital business models that enhance transparency and sustainability and contribute to end-to-end supply chain visibility. Like the innovations impacting supply chains, these trends are being driven by the growth of e-commerce and the consumers’ never-ending need for better, faster and cheaper. Ignoring them is done at your own peril.

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