VOL. 9 | NO. 5 | Saturday, January 30, 2016
EMPHASIS Distribution & Logistics
Tech Developments Advance Efficiency in Logistics Industry
By Lance Wiedower | Special to The Daily News
Memphis is known as a center for the logistics industry, and technology advances keep things on the move.
Attention for technology trends in distribution often center on the use of drones, but there are other ways companies look for efficiencies in business. The Memphis EPIcenter created a Logistics Innovation Accelerator in 2015 to help entrepreneurs turn their ideas into businesses that enhance the distribution industry.
Co-Founders Peter Bassa and Sasha Kucharczyk, left, serve as Preteckt's CEO and COO, respectively.
(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)
Preteckt is a software solution created by a team of Canadians who came to Memphis to participate in a different accelerator through Start Co. The program ended but they stayed in town to open shop.
Peter Bassa, CEO and co-founder, had an idea for software that could detect mechanical issues in a vehicle. Once in Memphis they realized the need is greater for a software solution that could help predict truck breakdowns weeks in advance.
The team built a computer that is installed on tractor-trailer rigs. It connects into wires that run to all the computers on the truck, and thousands of sensors measure everything imaginable on the machine.
“Every second it drives we take that information and pass up to the cloud servers and analyzes everything,” Bassa said. “We built a computer system that learns how a failure in one unit can be predicted on another unit. Because we’ve kept data for other trucks we can look at the history of all trucks.”
The software currently is installed in three fleets of 850 trucks, where those companies use it to accurately predict failing parts well before any kind of check engine notification comes on.
Cody Behles, manager of innovation and research support at the FedEx Institute of Technology, said data drives everything in distribution these days, including software such as what Preteckt offers.
Those decisions are low- and high-tech, depending on the application. The low-tech spectrum includes less-than-truckload, or LTL, shipping that’s collecting data from customers on a handwritten bill of sale.
But there are ways that process can be streamlined with the development of sensors that collect data of shipments in real time.
Behles said the institute is interested in research of drones and robotics. He said there are viable ways to deploy drones, especially as a platform for delivering sensors.
“It’s not commercially viable, but in the next couple of years you’ll see that in limited capacity in targeted areas where it presents some efficiencies,” he said, referring to high-density areas where trucks have trouble accessing. “That’s what the industry is about, efficient ways to deliver packages.”
Elizabeth Lemmonds, director of EPIcenter’s Logistics Innovation Accelerator, said it’s an exciting time for the industry, even though Memphians don’t always consider it a “sexy” topic.
Preteckt's device is connected thousands of sensors inside a truck and uses those data points to predict maintenance needs.
(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)
“But they do get excited about being able to get a thing from almost anywhere in the world delivered to anywhere they are in lightning speed,” she said. “There are GPS-based opportunities to be able to know where it is and if it’s been disturbed, what temperature it’s at.”
The logistics accelerator helps identify ideas that can help advance the industry, such as one to develop packaging that can better regulate temperatures for biologics deliveries. Another is a software solution that serves as a Kayak or Expedia of the shipping world, enabling consumers and small businesses to access LTL deliveries for their shipments.
Efforts will only continue for companies to learn ways to gather data to make delivery more efficient. When freight is moved from Point A to Point B via train or plane, there rarely are circumstances that delay that delivery. But once it gets from a port on the West Coast to a distribution center in Memphis, the certainty is less known.
For one, traffic backups can delay delivery. Behles said equipping trucks with sensors that can monitor traffic patterns can help a company plan more efficient routes for delivery. And loading methods also play a role in creating financial efficiencies for a company.
“When you talk to LTL people, the big issue is space,” Behles said. “When you ship something it can be any shape or size. Space configuration on these trucks is a challenge. How do you most efficiently use your space? If you can cut off one truckload on a delivery line, that saves a lot of money.”