Will the logistics sector be ready for the ride?

Predictive Analytics

With the implementation of 5G wireless, IoT’s B2B services will speed up, but will the logistics sector be ready for the ride?

Technologies related to shipping and logistics technologies are accelerating. The rollout over the next few years of 5G wireless will bring with it the speeding up of the Internet of Things (IoT), an ability of machines to instantaneously communicate with us and with each other.

So, it’s easy to get caught up in futuristic visions of logistics where robots completely supplant humans, where autonomous trucks rule the roads and advanced drones fill airspaces. All these machines bring with them the promise of handling and delivering products at lightning speeds in a completely seamless fashion, sort of like some gigantic, global conveyor belt.

However, the logistics industry itself is moving toward technology at a velocity that is far less than supersonic. Emphasis is largely put on provability and reliability rather than dramatic leaps of technological faith. Part of this is cost. Part is resistance from many of the industry players who can be conservative, skeptical, hidebound or just inertia-laden.

“It’s true for a lot of the technology involved with B2B logistics, we want to see it before we implement it, so that means often that we are waiting on the answer to be proven and tried and true before our industry jumps on it,” said Charlie Midkiff, a senior vice president at Odyssey Logistics & Technology’s global managed logistics services. Odyssey Logistics & Technology is one of AJOT’s 50 IOS Innovators. “In a lot of cases, the supply chain has been slow to come forward in some of the technology offerings.”

This tug-of-war within logistics between technology’s promise and its implementation won’t stop advances from coming, but it will determine the pace of change.

Take, for example, Annexia International, the Montreal-based manufacturer of Internet of Things (IoT) devices for freight transportation and another of AJOT’s 50. According to its co-founder Kim Lim, the company has developed the technological devices to turn a passive chassis into a highly evolved smart chassis, which could provide everything from the temperature of an axle to the number and type of pallets in a truck. But he believes that it will be two to three years before the industry embraces this advance. “Nobody wants to invest in it,” Lim said.

Instead, Lim said, his company is rolling out a first-generation product that will allow users to know where chassis are, their mileage and usage, but little of advanced capabilities.

Even within particular sectors, the response to new technology varies. David Correll is a research scientist at MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics who studies the American trucking industry. “There’s some real big players but there’s a long tail of smaller players,” he said. “Many of the companies have full-on visibility solutions so that a shipper can see right where that truck is. Those that aren’t are feeling some pressure to invest in the technology.”

Not all technology is developing apace. Analyzing data to determine what will occur is one technological domain that is gaining traction swiftly. Over the past two or three years, “you’ve seen a lot of people trying to come up with the next big thing especially in areas of tracking or predictive analytics,” said Midkiff.