The shipping industry has always operated with amazing efficiency and has generally been reluctant to adopt emerging technologies that may be disruptive to their logistical systems. However, with higher consumer demands regarding shipping times and sustainable operations, operating in the digital age means the industry needs to take advantage of the benefits that new technologies must offer.
Consumers are purchasing more products online now than ever before; however, they still want the instantaneous gratification of a face-to-face purchase. This means that consumers are demanding faster turnaround on handling and shipping times.
This lack of contact between a brick-and-mortar vendor and customer means the burden of processing the orders now falls to the shipping company, or online vendor, in addition to shipping and delivering the product. This added logistical element makes adopting new technologies more important than ever.
Here are some of the ways that new technology is shaping the world of shipping.
Transporting products overseas is the first step of getting goods from the warehouse to the consumer, and 90% of this transportation is achieved via ship. But with increasing regulations regarding the environmental impact of ships, many companies are looking at more eco-friendly ways to transport goods overseas.
Recent research has looked at developing ships powered using sustainable energy, such as the wind. These wind-powered vessels would use trade winds and ocean currents to carry the ship from port to port. Though these ships may not be able to travel as quickly as gas-powered ships, they will also be constructed from lightweight materials to counter their slow travel times and, potentially, allow them to carry more freight.
Automated Ships and Trucks
One form of automation has already been implemented in the shipping industry with the use of automated cranes for transferring shipping containers from ship to shore. The future of shipping is heading beyond container handling to using automated vehicles and ships for transporting goods. Apple and Google both have autonomous vehicles in development, and this technology has big implications for the shipping industry.
Automated ships, directed from a central command center with minimal crew, would dramatically cut costs and potentially be more environmentally friendly. This automation would also cut down on human error which can account for onboard damage, slow delivery times, and loss of profit.
Trucks are also progressing toward automation, which will have a significant impact not only on the speed of delivery, as an unmanned truck can travel continuously without stopping, but also may benefit the environment. Trucks that are autonomously controlled can be driven at a slower pace and maximize their fuel efficiency.
Resurgence of Trains
Technology is not always just about new inventions; it is also about optimizing old technologies, which is the case with the predicted resurgence of train-based goods transportation.
Train freighting fell out of favor because of the high cost of fuel, and the significant carbon footprint of older modeled freight trains. With newer, cleaner technologies, and better infrastructure, trains look set to have a renaissance in the shipping industry by providing faster delivery routes, reducing the number of vehicles on the road for a smaller carbon footprint, and carrying more goods for more cost-effective transportation.
Smart Shipping with The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things is embedded into every industry, and it is revolutionizing the way that we collect data and process information—two integral factors for the shipping industry. Though ships have long been equipped with sensors to collect data, technological advancements now allow this data to be processed and sent in real time, further streamlining the shipping process. This real-time data can affect everything from route optimization, to tracking goods, to monitoring equipment.
This automation also extends to the delivery process, with smart technology taking over where GPS left off. Since the arrival of GPS, it has long been the standard means of navigation for delivery drivers. Unfortunately, like many early navigation systems, slow information processing and lack of up-to-date data left drivers with poor delivery routes which would cost them up to 29 hours per year in lost time. Improved sensors and real-time data collection can significantly reduce route confusion, allowing drivers to make more deliveries faster, effectively cutting costs.
Smart technology also opens the way for delivery sharing. Uber recently began offering deliveries as part of its driver’s service. So, using the same technology used to hail an Uber driver, you can organize for door-to-door delivery of goods.
Blockchain has been used in the financial sector as a more efficient means of recording data, and it has just recently been adopted by the shipping industry to replace labor intensive log books, spreadsheets, and individual databases.
The cloud-based application works by tracking the tens of millions of shipping containers that are transported annually, allows shipping companies to be more transparent, and encourages them to share information with other trading partners.
The implications for using this kind of digital technology in shipping is that it reduces the delivery times by simplifying the process of recording the travel logs, data spreadsheets, and inventory all into one system which cannot be altered by any single party without the go-ahead from the other parties involved in the transaction.
Though this may sound complicated, because it records every change chronologically, this prevents delays at port and minimizes human error and fraud, in turn reducing the cost of goods.
Robotic Processing Systems
One of the biggest areas for human error is at processing points, where mistakes with order selection, tracking numbers, and delivery destinations make processing a logistical nightmare. Fortunately, robotic technology has reached a point where it can be used to do most of the goods selection and processing.
Amazon has jumped on the robotics bandwagon with their purchase of Kiva Systems, a company that produces robots to retrieve customer orders from Amazon’s warehouses. This speed means that Amazon can fulfill more customers orders faster, effectively streamlining their shipping process.
The final leg of the shipping process, delivery, is also set to benefit from the latest robotic technologies. Amazon recently made headlines with the first successful drone delivery, and its success looks to inspire the further use of drones in the shipping industry.
The benefit of drone deliveries is that it drastically cuts the cost of labor by reducing the number of vehicles on the roads, and it also has the potential to eliminate the challenges of accessing rural areas or difficult geographical locations, which can add to the cost of shipping.
Though often slow to take advantage of the latest technologies, the shipping industry with its ever-increasing consumer demands for speedily delivered goods needs to make some changes and embrace new technological innovations.