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How AI, Automation, and Big Data are Disrupting Freight

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Insights from big data drive business decisions in the freight industry and increase companies' chances of success

  • Automated tools help eliminate the need for manual labor in tasks like customer service and tedious processes like scheduling

  • Artificial intelligence is poised to revolutionize the freight sector through ambitious projects like predictive and prescriptive analytics, as well as driverless technology

Advanced technologies are gradually occupying even more significant roles in the freight industry, and supply chain management. With the rapid pace of innovation, the sector is bound to look completely different in the next several years. Three technology buzzwords are currently responsible for transforming current freight processes. These are automation, AI, and of course, that which governs them — big data.

It All Starts With Big Data

For modern businesses that seek new ways to stay competitive and remain relevant, they find significant value in big data. The term refers to the mining of enormous amounts of data which is analyzed to come up with valuable information such as trends, patterns, and associations. Big data provides organizations with new insights and ideas for building better strategies.

These insights can be especially useful for freight companies, in fact, it’s in logistics and supply chain management where big data holds massive potential. When utilized by digital tools for freight operations, big data can provide benefits like reduced operation costs, increased efficiency, and network optimization. The Dzone, reports that 93 percent of shippers and 98 percent of third party logistics companies believe that decisions based on big data are crucial to supply chain success. In this regard, two high-end technologies reliant on big data are disrupting the freight sector in powerful ways:

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The Rise of Automation

Automation is any technology that performs a process without human assistance. Automation’s most significant benefit is that it reduces labor time and costs, providing workers with more opportunities to focus on more impactful tasks.

One example is customer service. Gravity Supply Chain Solutions previously discussed how supply chain impatience had gotten out of hand, mainly because consumers now enjoy even quicker and more convenient services. However, with automated software, freight companies can readily provide supply chain visibility and communicate real time information on inventory to the customer without having to run a report, pick up the phone or send another email.

Automation doesn’t only benefit consumers. It can also optimize workflows for supply chain managers by doing all the mundane tasks that are typically frustrating or strenuous. For example, automation can eliminate the manual keying in of data on shipping schedules, purchase orders, invoices and so forth which can take hours of time. In the freight industry where efficiency is vital, automation like this is a welcome improvement.

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Gravity’s shipment tracker product saves 30% of an operators’ time by automation. Learn more.

Also, the Maasvlakte II shipyard has drawn worldwide attention for being the first fully automated container terminal. Through its smart sensors, the port gathers big data from machines and remotely operated cranes to streamline the moving process and tackle any performance issues. Currently, its terminal operators move 25 to 50 percent more containers per hour than any other freight terminal in Northern Europe. Freight operations in the shipyard continually improve as the automation software collects more data to analyze and work on. The team behind the technology plans to introduce AI capabilities in the future.

A Future With Artificial Intelligence

The term “artificial intelligence” is often used interchangeably with automation, but the two have significant differences. Artificial intelligence (AI) is the more advanced technology since it seeks to mimic human behavior through machine learning. Nevertheless, AI and automation both complement each other.

AI, for instance, can enhance supply chain management in unprecedented ways through prescriptive and predictive analytics.
Prescriptive analytics analyzes the supply chain network of a freight company and provides robust recommendations on how the supply chain could be made more efficient. For instance, if ETAs are not getting reached 20 percent of the time, prescriptive analytics can recommend taking alternate shipping routes to speed those ETAs up.

Predictive analytics takes things a step further and uses AI to predict supply chain events before they even occur. For example, based on social media analysis on consumer sentiment, an AI would be able to predict that consumer demand for a particular type of product will rise significantly in the next few weeks, allowing businesses to increase their stock of that product to meet the increased demand. The ultimate AI will be able to dynamically adjust supply chain management based on its prediction of events without any need for human intervention at all.

Read Gravity’s blog on how predictive and prescriptive analytics result in healthier supply chains

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Another area in which AI is making significant strides which affects freight is driverless technology. In theory, an AI-powered car would be able to navigate without any human assistance. Through numerous sensors and its access to information from other connected devices and vehicles, it collects big data and translates this to its navigation system. When the AI technology fully matures, it could become a practical solution for road safety. Self-driving vehicles would benefit freight companies as far as labor distribution is concerned since no drivers are required, and can also help reduce costs since the AI-powered vehicles are designed to use fuel efficiently.


Just last June, Volvo, and FedEx held a truck platooning demonstration on U.S. public roads. It involved a convoy of digitally connected trucks, with a designated driver in the lead vehicle. The driver is fundamentally in control of all the trucks in the platoon, since they are all programmed to follow the lead truck’s movements; for instance, if the driver hits the brakes, the rest of the AI powered vehicles automatically do the same. Truck platooning is poised to improve fuel efficiency, increase safety, and reduce driver fatigue.

As updates on AI and automation continue to emerge, the freight industry, along with other sectors, will be on the receiving end of the many benefits they provide. The increasing importance of these high-end solutions is proof of how big data is a powerful asset in any enterprise or business. 

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