Category Archives: Logistics

Five Ways Big Data, Analytics Are Transforming the Trucking Industry

1. Mobile Notifications

Using an open-architecture remote diagnostics system, truck drivers and fleet managers can receive mobile notifications about pending performance issues. The ability to predict issues before they happen helps avoid unplanned downtime. Notifications can be delivered via computers, email, cell phones and more, making it easier for drivers and fleet managers to receive and act on critical updates.

2. Over-the-Air Engine Reprogramming

Much like mobile phones, today’s engines benefit from frequent software updates and recalibrations, and will soon be able to receive these updates remotely via over-the-air reprogramming. Benefits like improved fuel economy can thus be achieved without having to schedule multiple service visits. Over-the-air reprogramming can potentially be used to recalibrate engines for new usage patterns, such as mountainous terrains or heavier loads, to optimize vehicle efficiency.

3. Truck Health Reports

Open-architecture remote diagnostics systems that work with a truck’s existing telematics systems pull diagnostic-related data from vehicles to create vehicle health reports. Using these reports to capture insights into the operational health of the vehicle, fleet managers can understand the severity of vehicle issues and identify the appropriate corrective actions, ultimately leading to increased uptime. By gaining advance visibility to potential maintenance issues, fleets can also schedule maintenance during planned downtime, avoiding service visits while the truck is scheduled to be in use.

4. Environment Tracking

Truck drivers’ on-time delivery is enhanced when mobile data is used to track emerging traffic and weather patterns, approaching truck stops, hotel locations and more. Real-time access to this information enables drivers to cut down on time spent fighting traffic, braving hazardous weather or searching for lodging. It can also speed drivers’ access to the right maintenance or repair facility for their needs, thus contributing directly to improved uptime

5. Fuel Economy

Analysis of vehicle data can pinpoint driver behaviors that reduce fuel efficiency, such as excessive idle time, harsh braking or rapid acceleration. Fleets will also be more empowered to select the right product features and other specifications needed to optimize their vehicles’ fuel economy. Tailored vehicle specifications will increasingly be relied on to address truckers’ emphasis on fuel economy, as well as other user needs.

Class I railroads expect domestic intermodal ramp up

Despite sluggish performance in the second quarter — as in the smallest quarterly growth rate since 2009 — domestic intermodal volume is poised to pick up through the remainder of 2015, and beyond. Class I executives and intermodal industry observers cite several reasons for optimism, such as the steadying economy, trucking industry woes, and railroads’ improving service performance, aggressive marketing strategies and continued infrastructure investments.

Although there’s still some uncertainty shrouding the domestic intermodal market, such as the degree to which truckers can take advantage of falling fuel prices, Class Is anticipate steadier volumes, especially during the traditionally busy fall peak season. For the most part, shippers continue to consider rail not only for the lower-cost, long-haul portion of their transportation moves, but for other areas of their supply chains that are suited to railroads and trucks working in concert. Case in point: A retailer tapping intermodal to more quickly receive time-sensitive freight associated with a promotional sale.

These are the conclusions reached by our freelance writer Robert J. Derocher, who sought to gauge the domestic intermodal market by probing Class I execs and industry observers. He shares his findings in this article he contributed to our September issue.

SENSORS (What do they have to do with Vending Machines?)



Recently, Mike Martz introduced us to the Internet of Things (IoT). This is what happens when you combine cloud technology, wireless networks, standardized communications protocols, RFID, worldwide IP networks, Big Data, miniaturized sensors, and cheap storage and computing power. Let’s drill down on SENSORS!
The concept of IoT originated in the Auto-ID Lab at MIT in 1999 and was based on RFID, but has been expanded since to include sensor devices that enable machine to machine communication and autonomous event-driven decision making. Sensors are appearing in traffic signals, factories, distributors, homes and even the weather. A while back I reported on XML in Your Weather. While I was primarily focusing on the METAR coding scheme to send weather data around the World, the “Weatherman” told me a lot about Big Data and things like “smart” rain gauges.

Not like they sprung these sensors on us overnight. They have…

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Algorithm Will Tell All UPS Trucks Where to Go


A UPS driver has, on average, 120 stops to make each day. But what’s the most efficient route that driver can take?

The company is hoping its Orion (On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation) computer platform will solve this issue for its 55,000 US routes using an algorithm that examines travel costs, distance, and other factors to spit out not necessarily the optimal route, but the most reliably good one, the Wall Street Journal reports.

“Customers and drivers like consistency,” a UPS senior director of process management tells the Journal. “Orion has to know when to give up a penny to make the results more stable.”

This efficiency has become paramount as UPS struggles to compete with FedEx, boost earnings growth, and figure out a way to optimize the many residential stops it now makes.

Rough Patches
The deployment of Orion isn’t always so smooth, though. That is where Mr. Levis

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Role Expands For US Inland Ports

Local, state and federal officials gathered in Duluth, Minn., in early spring to celebrate the beginning of a new era in Great Lakes intermodal transportation. Ground officially broke on May 27 for the Port of Duluth Intermodal Project, a $17.7 million redevelopment effort that will restore service to an abandoned dock at the western end of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway.

The completion of this long-awaited rebuild and expansion will enhance the Duluth Seaway Port Authority’s intermodal capabilities by increasing capacity to handle more heavy-lift and project cargo, installing rail connections for two of the four Class I railroads with access to the port, and adding enhancements for safety and security that ultimately will bolster the competitiveness of the entire region by increasing freight capacity via the seaway system. Port officials expect this first phase of reconstruction to be completed in fall 2016.

“It will be our largest capital project since the formation of the port authority back in the 50s,” says Vanta E. Coda II, the authority’s executive director. “Transportation is the elasticity of commerce, and the Great Lakes are great off-ramps.” The role of Midwestern ports is expanding in today’s global economy, as shippers seek alternate transportation routes. Inland port visibility increased even more during recent trucker shortages and West Coast labor disputes that snarled international trade at ocean-side ports up and down the Pacific earlier this year.

What’s more, in April, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx designated the Mississippi River a container-on-vessel route, which provides a viable multimodal solution to the country’s freight transportation needs, says Aimee Andres, executive director of Inland Rivers, Ports and Terminals Inc. (IRPT), a trade association. The Mississippi River reaches 10 states and now provides a main stem corridor for container-on-barge shipping to the Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Red rivers.

The Port of Duluth-Superior isn’t the only Midwestern inland port undergoing major expansion projects that include rail-related upgrades. “We have to stay ahead of the curve,” says Frank Papa, sales manager for America’s Central Port, the St. Louis region’s only full-service, public intermodal port, which is in the midst of its $50 million South Harbor project that includes adding two rail loops to an existing 9,600-foot-long loop that will connect to the new harbor and provide access for six North American Class I carriers. “The completion of that second harbor is going to have a major impact, especially here in the Midwest.”

“Port authorities are seeing what’s happening nationally and planning for the future,” says Andres. “Economic development has been the catalyst for river port authorities for quite some time, and for the most part, ports are created for the main purpose of driving economic development through the advantage of infrastructure such as river, rail and highways. It takes all three modes for a port to be successful.”

Ports of call

It’s no secret that Chicago is the world’s largest rail hub. At least a dozen mainline railroads feed into selected terminals at the Port of Chicago, and all have reciprocal switching arrangements. But with the Chicago Area Transportation Study for years calling for the addition of more port acreage than the city has available, alternate options are clearly needed.

Which is why smaller ports in the Midwest are doing what they can to keep intermodal transportation booming, especially as the definition of “intermodal” broadens beyond the movement of containers involving two or more modes of transportation to include conveyance of bulk and other non-container goods.

What follows is a rundown of recent developments at key Midwestern inland ports and rail’s impact at each one.

America’s Central Port

Strategically located in Illinois on the Mississippi River, just north of St. Louis, America’s Central Port sits on 1,200 mixed-use acres that offer 1.7 million square feet of rail-served warehouse space. Major rail cargo includes fertilizer, grain, steel and asphalt products. In addition to being a hub for six Class I railroads, America’s Central Port also connects to the regional switching carrier Terminal Railroad Association (TRRA) of St. Louis.

The Port Harbor Railroad, the port’s own short line, provides 24-hour local switching and connections to the TRRA and Class I carriers. Several locomotives are stationed onsite to accommodate the increasing number of tenants requiring on-demand rail service.

For now, the port’s 6,000-foot North Harbor is the most northerly ice-free port on the Mississippi River. Upon completion of the South Harbor project located just south of Locks #27, that new port will be the most northerly lock-free one on the Mississippi. The project, which involves converting a former 800-acre U.S. Army base, “has been in the dreaming stage for decades,” says Ben McCall, a senior planner at the port. It received financial backing from a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, as well as the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

The expanded rail capabilities are expected to attract trains in excess of 100 units. Although the South Harbor isn’t slated for completion until Oct. 1, Union Pacific Railroad already is conducting trial runs on the new track “to see how we’ll work it,” Papa says. “It’s a test for us, and we’ll pass it.”

Port of Duluth-Superior

Ranked among the top 20 ports in the United States based on cargo tonnage, the Port of Duluth is located at the crossroads of four Class I railroads: BNSF Railway Co., CN, Canadian Pacific and UP. Primary cargo includes forest products and steel.

Coda says the port’s current intermodal project will provide new access for BNSF and UP, giving the shipping community new options. Located on property that formerly housed a large grain elevator, the project has been in the works for almost 30 years and took five TIGER grant applications to become reality. In the end, funding came from a $10 million TIGER grant, the Minnesota Port Development Assistance Program, Minnesota’s Contamination Cleanup Grant program and the Duluth Seaway Port Authority itself. Completion is scheduled for September 2016.

The port will have 75 acres of infrastructure in place for one or more tenants. “We didn’t even make the radar screen for site selectors prior to this project,” Coda says, adding that interest from potential lessees is increasing. “We’ve already received some tire kickers.”


Indiana, whose borders are 57 percent water, ranks sixth in the country in domestic waterborne shipping, and the Ports of Indiana operates a system of three ports on the Ohio River and Lake Michigan. In 2014, the oldest of those ports — Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor — handled its highest annual volume since the facility opened in 1970. Total tonnage climbed 30 percent compared with 2013, driven by strong shipments of steel, grain and salt.

Burns Harbor offers a direct interchange with 16 different railroads in nearby Chicago, including Class Is, while Norfolk Southern Railway provides direct service to all sites on port property. The port’s strategic location at the intersection of two of the world’s busiest waterways and all of the nation’s Class Is provides significant competitive advantages for multimodal companies that locate at the Burns Harbor facility, Ports of Indiana officials say.

In fact, all three Ports of Indiana had a banner year in 2014, with collective tonnage surpassing 10 million and involving 60,000 railcars. “That will give you a sense of what role rail plays in our operations,” says Phil Wilzbacher, director of the Ports of Indiana-Mount Vernon. “We view our ports as multimodal transportation hubs, and access to water is obviously important. But that doesn’t override the way we view rail and road.”

To that end, each of the three Ports of Indiana will undergo rehabilitation of existing rail infrastructure, including the laying of additional track and the creation of more railcar storage — beginning at Burns Harbor this year, followed by Jeffersonville and Mount Vernon in future years.

How Walmart Wants You to Deliver Your Packages


In an effort to compete with e-tailers, Walmart is looking at a plan to have their store customers deliver packages to online customers. Currently, Walmart uses express carriers such as FedEx for online deliveries. So how would this (to be “crowd-sourced”) idea work? Walmart shoppers could register to drop off packages to online customers who live along their route back home, in exchange for a discount on the customers’ shopping bill, about the cost of their gas in return for the delivery of packages.

Before implementing the plan, they need to consider things like theft, fraud, licensing and insurance. It might be a year or two and might not initially cover all 4,000+ U.S. Stores. Walmart wants to be more competitive against e-tailers like

Other delivery options are:

  1. Company owned vehicles operated by company employees.

  2. Contracted third party home deliverers.

  3. Lockers or a desk in a Walmart store.

  4. Pickup…

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Can The United States Postal Service Be Saved?


Pictured above represents a Supply Chain Management Control Tower. Don’t expect to currently find one in back of your local post office. Look for lots of them at company called DHL which is the German Post Office.

Jim O’Reilly, writing in EBN, presented a very good discussion on saving the USPS.

Yes, his ideas are good and I encourage you to read his article. Other countries, like Canada, have postal cost problems and are following a deliberate path to shed unneeded buildings, cut home delivery, etc.

But out there is a winner: Germany, the owner of DHL Express, a division of the German Post Office.

The United States government, and the sometimes-awkward Congress have surprisingly “thought out of the box” a couple of times in the last forty years in a very successful way. First in 1976 with CONRAIL, then more recently with General Motors.

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Guess What? A “Traditional” Retailer Might Beat Amazon and Google at “Same-Day Delivery”


Much has been made of Amazon’s  race for same-day delivery and Google looking to cut them off at the pass. In fact, Google just revealed they have been testing their own airborne drone delivery system, dubbed Project Wing, that could deliver small items to customers. While Google and Amazon’s drones are still a few years away – these online giants are still going to need physical space from which to distribute. That’s a substantial capital expenditure.
What if then, there were a store that already had “distribution centers” all over the country from which they could offer same-day delivery right here and right now.
That store could be MACY’s
It is a known fact that they are piloting it in four markets. They are working with FedEx, UPS and eBay. They are adding all sorts  of  technology as part of the renovation of their New York City flagship store.

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