Thursday, September 29, 2016

Truckers of the future to become logistics managers, creating and utilizing transportation, technology and organizational structure

Technology! As you can see from this Volvo truck steering technology video, it's pretty impressive.

And Volvo is not alone in Europe. This spring we read that A fleet of trucks just drove themselves across Europe:
About a dozen trucks from major manufacturers like Volvo and Daimler just completed a week of largely autonomous driving across Europe, the first such major exercise on the continent.

The trucks set off from their bases in three European countries and completed their journeys in Rotterdam in the Netherlands today (Apr. 6). One set of trucks, made by the Volkswagen subsidiary Scania, traveled more than 2,000 km and crossed four borders to get there.

The trucks were taking part in the European Truck Platooning Challenge, organized by the Dutch government as one of the big events for its 2016 presidency of the European Union. While self-driving cars from Google or Ford get most of the credit for capturing the public imagination, commercial uses for autonomous or nearly autonomous vehicles, like tractors from John Deere, have been quietly putting the concept to work in a business setting.
Click on this picture if you feel up to watching a 1+ hour video of the Challenge which is impressive even though no one is doing any splits:

You may wonder what's the point? Well, as indicated in this London Financial Times story Lorries lead cars in the technology race:
The chief executive of Volvo Group Martin Lundstedt told the Financial Times that software companies were taking an interest in everything from long-haul freight and public transport to mining and waste disposal, as technology developed in these areas could be deployed later in passenger cars.

Volvo, the Swedish bus and lorry maker, has spent years trying to show that trucks can be at the centre of innovation. Its 2013 advertisement with Jean-Claude Van Damme performing the splits between two lorries in reverse, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the company’s steering system, has been viewed 85m times. Volvo is touting the world’s first driverless lorry to operate 1,320 metres underground in Boliden’s mine in Kristineberg, Sweden, which produces metallic ores that contain zinc and copper, among other things.

ZF, meanwhile, has a prototype self-driving lorry where the driver can step out and catch some rest while the truck moves around in confined areas to first be unloaded, and then loaded again. There is the potential with self-driving technology to also improve efficiency, by giving drivers new tasks to plan routes or process shipping documents. “The truckers of the future will go from being drivers to serving as logistics managers,” said Markus Heyn, a Bosch board member responsible for sales and marketing.
As the Journal of Commerce explains Automated trucks, warehouses seen transforming distribution. The lengthy story foresees a time + particularly after distribution facilities are relocated using designs that allow for automated maneuvering of self-driving truck convoys - that heavily automated warehouses using automated "fork lift replacements" will be serving self-driving trucks - long haul trucks and delivery trucks.

A lot of this seems off in the future, and indeed it is - a decade or maybe two. But last week we were told in Mercedes-Benz Reveals Electric, Autonomous Trucks and Commercial Vehicles:
It’s part of strategy to produce the types of commercial vehicles that can traverse congested cities – including some that are considering banning the use of transport with internal combustion engines – and meet increasingly stringent environmental regulations worldwide.

“We are presenting our vision of urban transport. Just like with long-distance haulage, our goal is to achieve more safety and efficiency than ever before – and also to be free of local emissions,” said Wolfgang Bernhard, who heads Daimler Trucks. “This will make our cities even more pleasant to live in, despite rising populations and an increased need for transportation.”

Daimler’s big reveal at the show was the electric Urban eTruck. It will be branded as a Mercedes-Benz and is designed to serve as a heavy-duty distribution transport with a range of about 125 miles. Targeted at the European market, it is scheduled for launch early in the next decade.

So, this is cool. But what's the point? As one blames trade pacts and other irrelevant things for folks losing their jobs, here are some statistics that could be considered right now and perhaps something could be done by ordinary people to prepare the country for the future, as opposed to spending the next decade watching cat videos on cell phones.

According to the American Trucking Association (ATA) there are 3.5 million truck drivers in the United
States. The total number of people employed in the industry, including those in positions that do not entail driving, exceeds 7.3 million. About 7% of workers in the United States are employed in the trucking business.

 It isn't any wonder that the San Francisco Chronicle this month reported:
Labor leader Andy Stern sees the biggest potential hit to America’s 3.5 million truck drivers. “Commercial truck driving is going to be the leading edge of a tsunami of labor displacement,” said Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union. “It’s not something the next generation is going to have to deal with — it’s going to happen in the next decade.”

Truck drivers, he noted, support a vast web of workers whose own jobs may be imperiled.

“We’re talking millions of jobs: the drivers themselves, but also the people in insurance, repairs, restaurants, hotels,” Stern said. “I think it’s incredibly irresponsible that no one’s making plans for this.”
What else isn't addressed in the discussion is another set of statistics from the ATA:
There are 586,014 for-hire carriers and 747,791 private carriers in the United States; 97.3 percent of them have fewer than 20 trucks and 90.8 are operating six trucks or less.
In other words there are 1,333,805 "carriers"of which 36,000 have fleets of more than 20 trucks. It's an industry that will change, but it is also an industry full of people who won't adapt. And that is the time technology giants step in after experimenting. So in December 2015 we had Amazon in talks to lease Boeing jets to launch its own air-cargo business, Amazon Buys Thousands of Its Own Truck Trailers as Its Transportation Ambitions Grow, and in the financial press Amazon's next $400 billion opportunity.

In the financial press article listed we have this:
Analyst Colin Sebastian from Baird Equity Research writes that Amazon has "powerhouse potential" in the transportation and logistics market, and that it could be "Amazon's next 'AWS' opportunity."

Sebastian's idea here is that Amazon could turn its in-house logistics network into a business in the same way that it grew Amazon Web Services, its insanely fast-growing (and profitable) cloud computing offering.

Amazon built AWS out of the infrastructure it had created to support its own operations, and now runs a business expected to pull in $8 billion in revenue this year. In the same vein, it could build a logistics network to clear up its own delivery bottlenecks, and then, eventually, offer services to other companies.
It is likely something like this will be the public face of the organization required for self-driving, self-loading technology in 2020...

...not this face of an owner-operator recently recognized by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association...

Which brings us to labor leader Stern's concern - it’s incredibly irresponsible that no one’s making plans for a "tsunami of labor displacement."

The face of displaced labor will not be the 69-year-old driver pictured above, but his under age 50 peers. At least those who are not already becoming adept at spreadsheets, math, and geographic databases will face an uncertain future because, as explained by Markus Heyn, the Bosch board member, using positive spin: "the truckers of the future will go from being drivers to serving as logistics managers."

But they may not be the truckers of today. The truckers of today could become the displaced unemployed or tomorrow unless we do better as a nation with our educational system.

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