Last month, I wrote a big-picture view of what our industry will look like in 2015 and beyond. I only touched briefly on technology, which covers everything from mixer truck-based systems to accounting software, and everything in between.
In March, two information technology providers in our industry, Command Alkon and Systech, held their annual Customer Conferences. I spent some quiet time with a few of the senior executives at the two companies and heard their thoughts on the future direction of technology in our industry. They shared many of the same views on the next round of technological innovation, all of which are converging to bring even higher levels of efficiency to our industry. Here is what they see:
Mixer Truck Technology: This area has seen the most rapid advances in just the last two years, driven by increased digital bandwidth in wireless communication that allows more and more information to be captured from the vehicle in real time. Advances in driver safety include the DriveCam system which is demonstrating its value throughout the industry, along with technologies that measure acceleration, G-forces during turning, and braking forces.
New engine interfaces now allow micro-second updates of up to 160 different engine metrics, a leap that will play a major factor in developing new preventative maintenance programs.
So what's next? Soon, these indicators will be overlaid onto intelligent map data, which will provide drivers with real-time delivery optimization, reflecting the types of delivery technologies currently employed by the UPS and FedEx fleets.
Intelligent Plants: If GPS-based systems and central dispatch technologies have been the wave of the last few years, the next focus will be on “intelligent plants,” where batching capabilities will become the hub of the plant facility.
Wireless networks will join admixtures, cement silos, aggregate bins, slump stands, color systems, and even the trucks in the yard with comprehensive information utilized by batching and operations personnel to maximize efficiency and provide self-diagnosis.
These networks even will display inventory levels over the Internet to suppliers who will restock their producer-customers with just-in-time inventory levels.
Dispatch: Even with the recent advances that have revolutionized dispatching, more is coming. Scheduling and tracking information for the customer via the Internet will further bond the producer to the customer on jobs of every size. Balancing truck flow based on real-time data that measures round-trip travel and unloading times at a job will assure more accurate scheduling, bringing greater fleet efficiency and better service to the customer.
Most importantly, management “dashboards” are being developed to display and summarize the myriad amount of information available in today's advanced technology systems. Instead of multi-page reports chocked-full of information on yesterday's business, information will be displayed to operations and management personnel on a “dashboard” in real time.
If there is one trend we see in dispatch, it is to bring a higher level of intelligence to the dispatch process, reducing the current art to a science. “It's like the Wright Brothers,” Command Alkon's Jim Wagner told me. “While they were brilliant at inventing and flying rudimentary aircraft, today's airliners fly and land themselves. The pilot has gone from flying the plane to overseeing the systems that fly the plane.”
Technology will drive further gains in optimizing material costs, fleet utilization, and plant performance, squeezing out greater efficiency. Further, the trend of ever-growing bandwidth opens up exciting frontiers for technology that we haven't even thought of yet.