The Automation of Freight

The Automation of Freight

Intelligent Automation Technologies set to transform movement-of-goods community

The growth of intelligent machines to expand human capacities is as intrinsic to human nature as is to eat, sleep and drink. Right from the invention of the wheel to its application in a bullock-pulled cart, the objective has always been efficiency — to reduce human effort as much as possible, whilst getting output greater than yesterday. Fast forward to today, and we stand in the midst of the fourth global industrial revolution where the race for ever-expanding efficiency has shifted focus firmly towards the proliferation of intelligent automation technologies, regarded increasingly as the third pillar of the production life-cycle after technology and transportation. Consider the case of Hillwood’s Mobility Innovation Zone (MIZ) in Alliance Texas in the United States as an example.

Movement-of-Goods reimagined

MIZ was built for the testing of several mobility solutions and technologies lying at the heart of intelligent automation, such as unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and automated goods freight movement. According to a report from consulting giant Deloitte, “By automating freight, companies can address driver shortages in the United States (over 60,000 in 2018 and expected to grow to 160,000 by 2028). Automatic freight can also reduce costs. Driving labor expenses are the largest cost for trucking companies and make up approximately 28%–50% of revenue. Companies are also exploring UAS to expand and transform delivery and transportation of goods beyond human limitations.”

Image Source: Deloitte

According to recent research from Deloitte, most firms today have already taken initial steps on their journey towards a more connected movement-of-goods community with intelligent automation powering a new era of autonomous trucks and ships, last-mile delivery drones and droids, and automated digital fulfilment centres.

However, needless to say, making scalable holistic changes to existing processes is a rather challenging task. So, while the survey found almost 49% respondents actively pursuing the development of a new transportation ecosystem, it also found almost 35% of the respondents to be responding rather slowly given the high degree of inherent complexities involved in the process. Deloitte opines: “The journey toward a truly touchless movement of goods network will take time, digital and physical resources as well as a commitment from organizations along the transportation supply chain.” Yet in spite of the challenges involved, 43% of the survey’s respondents claimed to be planning for the implementation of intelligent automation capabilities within the next year.

Leveraging Intelligence

While there are several major aspects that need to be considered while adopting intelligent automation technologies, experts concur that the primary objective will be to reimagine the organisation’s entire logistical system in order to properly maximise a touchless network. Using scalable cloud-based applications to support and optimise digital-based workflows (especially repetitive tasks) are set to be unequivocally crucial in this regard. Furthermore, the use of big data will aid in adequate streamlining of the process through the feeding of cognitive technologies and predictive insights into the robotics networks. This will help bridge the gap between real-time events’ data and physical events, thereby increasing efficiency even further.

It would be prudent to remember, however, that automated technologies must work in holistic conjunction with human beings to enable extracting the best out of both worlds.

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