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Innovations in technology are changing how the world does business, and technology is dramatically changing how entities in the logistics industry function in nearly every aspect. From increased affordability and efficiency of the transportation management system (TMS) to the application of Bluetooth technology for superior tracking of product movements, 2016 will be the year in which technology becomes an integral, if not the exclusive, part of the shipping process. Now, it’s easy to think of technology as being a manufacturer-only realm. Yet, technology breakthroughs are further pushing the bounds on what we see as normal shipping standards. Let’s take a look at what logistics technology trends will become the dominant factors of the logistics industry for 2016.

1. The Transportation Management System, a Long Time Logistics Technology, Becomes More Prevalent, Yet Affordable

Historically, shippers were unable to take advantage of a TMS unless the shipper processed an extraordinarily high volume of shipments. For many smaller shippers, utilizing a TMS was simply out of the question. However, the rise of the cloud has changed that. The rise of software-as-a-service, or SaaS, applications will further level the playing field between large and small to medium-sized shipping companies. Essentially, today’s TMSs tend to focus more on cloud & web-based systems, which can be accessed by nearly any applicable party, while previous TMS systems were located on site and only capable of minimal communication. 

As explained by Bridget McCrea of Supply Chain 24/7,  the return on investment for TMS cloud-based solutions has, on average, experienced a positive growth of 7.5 percent. This logistics technology helps shippers allocate funds and bring forth savings to their transportation budgets.

2. The Use Of Autonomous Vehicles & Drones Will Increase

Think about what happened when Amazon announced that it was planning to eventually use drones to deliver products within an hour, if not minutes, of when the consumer places the order. Over the past few years, the use of drones has become increasingly common. As explained by Robert J Hall, president of Track Your Truck, Prime Air will [eventually] deliver products within 30 minutes of being ordered. Ultimately, this logistics technology is not yet ready for roll out on a massive scale. However, Intel recently set a world record for having the most unmanned aerial vehicles, which is simply the technical term for drones, flown in a single location, at the same time.

If drones are being used for such an artistic display of human compassion and intelligence, logical reasoning leads to a notion in which autonomous truck delivery of products is perfectly acceptable. Autonomous vehicles, which are essentially unmanned vehicles, are also going to become common. In fact, autonomous vehicles are already being used by a logistics provider in Arizona.

This holds major implications for addressing the driver shortage and minimizing the potential damage from long-haul driver fatigue. Ultimately, third-party logistics providers (3PLs) and other shipping entities are looking towards the insurance industry for the successful roll out of this technology. Historically, the insurance industry’s approval has led to some of the most successful roll outs of assisted-driving technologies in the market. For example, when the insurance industry approved the use of GPS and traction control measures in vehicles, the application of these logistics technologies became widespread within a few years.

As explained by Alexa Cheater, Google announced in 2011 plans to develop an autonomous, or self-driving car.  In early 2015, Apple announced plans to ship its first, albeit far from ready today, self-driving car in 2019. As more companies become more involved in the idea and benefits of a self-driving truck, the role of this technology will become increasingly linked with the logistics industry. It will also save money on fuel costs, which results in savings of the cost of shipping.

For example, a self-driving truck may lock onto a truck in front of it, which would result in a train effect for the shipment.  At first, this doesn’t seem like it would logically save any fuel costs. However, a procession of trucks moving in tandem, at a safe distance from one another, and able to communicate with one another in the event of a blow out, accident, or other event, would help to reduce drag on the overall caravan, which results greater fuel efficiency.

3.  The Use of Robots in Warehouses, Loading, Unloading, and Delivery Will Increase in 2016

Have you missed anything about the sale of robots for logistics purposes recently? A few years ago, Kiva robots seem to be rolling out everywhere. Then, Amazon purchased Kiva, and they vanished. In today’s reality, Amazon uses these robots exclusively for internal production. However, this has not stopped other robotic inventors from working to create similar systems that do not impinge on the Kiva patent, asserts Steve Banker of Forbes Magazine.

logistics technology greyorange butler
GreyOrange Butler Robot – Logistics Technology Trend for 2016

The GreyOrange Butler robotic systems take the leg work out of the picking process by bringing shelves to the pickers, and Fetch Robotics Freight has developed a mobile base and a mobile picking robot to make the physical workload of manually picking items and placing them in a given tote simpler and less strenuous. There are many other types of robotic systems in development, and more are being created to make the logistics industry run more efficiently. 2016 will an increase in the use robotic technology in more warehouses, when loading shipment and freight on tow trucks, when unloading shipment at distribution centers, and possibly when the item is delivered at the doorstep.

Although each of these technologies will help to bridge the gap between large-scale and small 3PLs, none of them would be function at today’s level of efficiency without the Internet of Things. In the next portion of this series, we will take a closer look at forthcoming changes and trends in the Internet of Things for logistics providers, and we will move forward into how the technology of 2016 will rely on Omni Channel solutions and become further interconnected through a non-internet-driven device that you probably have in your office right now–Bluetooth connectivity.