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The trucking industry has relied on technology like dynamic routing software, forward-looking cameras and electronic logging devices for years. But with increased pressure on supply chains, the transportation and logistics industries are eyeing the next wave of innovation.
Truck drivers working longer hours are facing health and safety risks while disruptions are driving companies to build more reliable supply chains that depend on faster and more traceable delivery methods.
New software developed by Milwaukee-based startup Renaissant is guiding companies toward that new digital horizon by solving a major logistics issue at the intersection of truck drivers and loading docks.
Renaissant chief executive officer Thomas Dean says warehouse and logistics companies have struggled to match drivers with loads, and it’s causing congestion that costs drivers and companies millions of dollars annually.
“The biggest cause of these issues is simply lack of visibility,” Dean said. “The human eye is not able to see 500 loads going through in a day, but our system sees it really easily, organizes it and makes their warehouse intelligent.”
Renaissant organizes warehouse and transportation management system data on a single platform to help companies visualize their operations. The platform then optimizes shipping and receiving schedules based on weather, traffic patterns and a whole host of variables incorporated into its machine learning algorithms, Dean said.
“We’re taking all of this information about when drivers arrive, matched up with their schedules, and optimizing how many loads you schedule at a particular time slot,” Dean said.
Renaissant’s platform, called Dock C2, focuses on streamlining communication between warehouses and truckers using digital kiosks. When a trucker arrives, the driver can check into a kiosk and provide critical information to warehousing staff including load number, max load weight and their phone number.
Stationary QR codes placed on signs around facilities also enable truckers to use their phones to connect into Dock C2, providing the same functions as the kiosks, Dean added.
“We then know what’s going on at every single door,” Dean said. “We can tell them, ‘You’ve got eight open doors out of 700, so get this driver over here.’”
The platform is also transcending language barriers that many companies face with truckers, Dean said, adding that as long as a driver’s operating system on their mobile device is set to their native language, texting through Dock C2 will be translated.
“(Customers) have told us this has been an enormous struggle because English is a second language for so many drivers,” Dean said.
Dock C2 is not only making shipping and receiving more efficient in terms of time, but also allowing companies to reallocate the industry’s shrinking labor pool by taking employees away from the loading docks and placing them in other roles in the warehouse, Dean said.
Mequon-based steel products supplier Charter Steel is one company that leverages Dock C2 to streamline its driver sign-in process, Charter Steel logistics director Andrew Gash said. Before Dock C2, the supplier’s legacy processes involved restaurant pagers, CB radios, dock coordinators and a lot of paperwork, Gash wrote in a recent social media post.
Renaissant is also tackling a long-standing issue in the trucking industry: driver detention. The industry standard for detention or layover time at a warehouse is about two hours; beyond that, carriers are saddled with paying drivers for excessive wait times. Despite the detention payments, truck drivers make more money when they are on the road. They are paid for the number of miles they drive and drivers are also limited to working 14-hour shifts including an 11-hour daily driving limit.
According to a 2018 survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation, truck drivers lose an estimated $1.1 billion to $1.3 billion in wages every year due to detention. That’s because the wages received for detention are in some cases lower than what a professional truck driver would earn on the road logging billable hours, according to an American Transportation Research institute report.
As C2 Dock optimizes scheduling and streamlines communication between truckers and warehouse staff, congestion levels fall, decreasing detention rates in the process, Dean said.
“For most companies, we think we can reduce their detention charges by 50% in under a month and that can be hundreds of thousands of dollars a month,” Dean said.
Estimates suggest that the transportation industry faces a shortfall of nearly 61,000 drivers and will need to hire roughly 1.1 million new drivers over the next decade to keep pace with the economy’s increased freight demand, according to the American Trucking Associations.
This is one reason large corporations like Amazon are pouring millions into autonomous truck systems. However, experts say it may take decades to commercialize these systems.
In the near term, companies will look for innovative solutions like Renaissant’s platform, particularly throughout the I-94 corridor in southeastern Wisconsin, where traffic patterns are changing rapidly as more logistics companies establish a presence, Dean said.
“The big thing that is changing for all of these shippers is everything that’s being built between here and Chicago,” Dean said. “All of those operations down there are dramatically changing truck patterns because you have those multi-million-square-foot facilities that are going in.”