The pandemic has brought with it many changes across the trucking industry, from shut-down rest areas and shipping ports to changes in road safety and manufacturing capabilities–but one positive change has clearly been the speed and efficiency of contactless deliveries.
In early 2020, The Consumer Brands Association collaborated with carriers, truck manufacturers, and retailers to outline contactless delivery method standards and test their usability.
“The task forces put emphasis on documenting the underlying use cases, understanding current processes, talking about what the technology would enable going forward, and then laying out the standards and publishing that,” explained the vice president of supply chain at the Consumer Brands Association, Tom Madrecki. “This is where we think that contactless delivery is headed.”
The task force has worked diligently to put in place various pilot programs that allowed it to easily test specific contactless procedures, Madrecki said. Companies have also been able to implement many short-term contactless methods including social distancing and communicating to dockworkers from the cab. However, aspects like paperless technology may be key to a lasting contactless system.
“The open question is, ‘How do you scale new technology?’” Madrecki added. “How do you accelerate carrier adoption? How do you get the facilities on board? How do you ensure that if people have different technology solutions…they’re quickly adopting those, and…they’re all sort of similar?”
Still, though, contactless options have seen massive shifts even in the short amount of time since the pandemic began.
“I think, at the start of the pandemic, contactless pickup and delivery was really for the sake of social distancing and keeping drivers physically distant from warehouse employees, shipping clerks, and guards,” said Vector Logistics co-founder, Will Chu. Vector is a provider of logistics software to fleets. “There’s a lot of traffic, a lot of people moving in and out, and you think about distribution facilities and the number of people coming in–[they are] definitely hot spots for potential outbreaks.”
In particular, Chu said, paperless systems save companies a lot of time by reducing the travel time from the staging area to check-in and by diminishing lines that would grow at the entrance of facilities. This also allowed companies to gain more overall insight into how time can be much more easily managed.
“We’ve been able to reduce dwell times from 30% to 50%,” explained Chu. “We’re replacing a process that really involved a driver speaking to multiple people, getting in and out of their cab multiple times to get paperwork, to sign paperwork. They’re removing into a process where everything can be done from the comfort of their own cab, over a mobile app.”
These time-saving contactless procedures will likely be here for the long term, Chu added.
“The conversation has shifted from safety and social distancing to efficiency and visibility,” he said. “That has been the larger driver of process and business process change. You’re moving from a system where it was just a physical piece of paper to now a digital system.”
Although these changes have been a long time coming, it seems COVID-19 has forced them to finally come into play at warp-speed. Now, companies like XPO Logistics and Ryder System Inc. have boosted their contactless delivery methods by incorporating contactless customer interaction through procedures like synchronized e-signature capture.
“Contactless and electronic supply chains have been a growing necessity in the industry for many years, and the pandemic has accelerated the need to innovate and adapt quickly,” noted Coyote Logistics chief network solutions officer, Nick Shroeger. Coyote has been working with the CBA’s task force. “While many of the recent advancements in contactless technology have been rooted in creating safer operations and working conditions for members of the supply chain, there are additional benefits to these solutions.”
Those solutions include overall cost savings brought about by automating data storage and paperwork, decreasing dwell times, and allowing for the full reconciliation of deliveries, Shroeger explained. The improved efficiency from these changes is showing that they are likely to become a permanent part of the trucking world.
“There’s a lot of success, not only around keeping workers safe,” said Madrecki, “which is the original premise, of course, and [in] trying to minimize interaction, but there [are] actually a lot of documented cases of enhanced efficiency when it comes to the speed that a driver can get in and get out.”