For shippers, rise of driverless trucks presents opportunities
With the rapid advancement of autonomous vehicle technology, and the likelihood of loose regulations governing its use, driverless trucks could soon become the norm within supply chains.
In October 2018, the Department of Transportation published a regulatory document saying it will “no longer assume” that the driver of a commercial truck is a person, and the agency will “adapt the definitions of ‘driver’ and ‘operator’ to recognize that such terms do not refer exclusively to a human, but may in fact include an automated system.”
The regulatory changes come as various companies begin testing autonomous trucks in their delivery operations. Volvo AB and FedEx started utilizing truck “platooning” technology on a section of North Carolina highway 540 in April 2018, with plans to expand tests to other states.
The implication for manufacturers, warehouses, distribution centers and other ecommerce players is that the supply chain will run 24/7, with driverless trucks leaving with orders and arriving with replacement inventory around the clock. Shippers will have to optimize their packaging solutions to account for this near-term shipping evolution.
This practice of driverless “platooning” at close distance can reduce drag to improve aerodynamics, ultimately contributing to an improvement in fuel consumption by up to 15 percent. Along with lower labor costs, driverless trucks could save the trucking industry as much as $125 billion annually when widely implemented.
Meanwhile, Amazon has been hauling cargo in self-driving trucks developed by Embark along the key Interstate 10 corridor. The success of those pilots has led industry experts to expect that driverless trucks will gain widespread adoption as early as 2022, with one human-driven truck being closely followed by several driverless trucks, all wirelessly connected.
The nationwide driver shortage, which was expected to rise to 160,000 in 2028 from 60,800 in 2018, would start to dwindle, and capacity issues could be decreased significantly. For the ecommerce industry, concerns about how to move the rapidly growing number of online orders speedily could be a thing of the past.
Autonomous cars will be getting in on the action too. Google has indicated that it hopes to use driverless cars to create a rival for Amazon Prime’s same-day delivery service, and Uber, which has launched a package delivery service in New York, is opening a testing facility in Pittsburgh to build robotic cars for deliveries.
Packaging for driverless delivery
The implication for manufacturers, warehouses, distribution centers and other ecommerce players is that the supply chain will run 24/7, with driverless trucks leaving with orders and arriving with replacement inventory around the clock.
Shippers will have to optimize their packaging solutions to account for this near-term shipping evolution. And that means choosing a packaging partner that knows and stays ahead of shifting rules and guidelines from carriers like FedEx and the USPS, as well as retailers like Amazon.
Automated packaging solutions from Pregis are already here and can help prepare shippers for the pressure of same-day delivery expectations. Machines for paper packaging, foam-in-place technology and poly bags make it easy for shippers to protect and ship their products, ultimately reducing damage rates. The solutions automatically right-size packaging, eliminating costly shipping charges for dimensional weight and allow more items to fit on each truck, speeding up the delivery process.
Although significant advancements are still needed in order for driverless trucks to fully replace human-driven trucks, the proof is in the packing that driverless trucks are helping to optimize the supply chain. And it’s almost a guarantee that as the shipping evolution continues, Pregis will stay ahead of the game.