Logistics and transport businesses have been increasingly strategizing for digital-led exponential growth with acute focus on operational excellence. The aim is to improve throughput and cost, while ensuring quality. However, due to COVID-19, safety is now an even more urgent and non-negotiable imperative. In fact, over 50% of American employees are concerned about contracting COVID-19 at their jobs, a survey by Eagle Hill Consulting found. So, how can logistics operations managers ensure safety in the short and long term? The answer lies in efficient logistics planning to minimize human interaction, enabling real-time tracking for contact tracing of impacted drivers, and ensuring social distancing. This requires technological intervention and collaborating with stakeholders for change at the organizational level. Here are five ways to do it:
Enabling logistics planning and scheduling
Optimized routes to meet delivery timelines are key for logistics planning. However, with safety becoming a crucial imperative, it is important to consider driver availability, driver health status, staggered workforce schedules, COVID-19 hotspots, parking rest zones, and customer availability to re-plan pre-defined routes. At the same time, it is important to stagger assembly areas for employees overseeing material handling by using telematics devices and track drivers visiting the hotspots. For instance, GPS-enabled contact tracing set up for drivers can help clearly identify the driver’s previous touchpoints to avoid spreading the virus. In addition, a seamless collaboration through application program interfaces (APIs) with systems of government and transport authorities can help incorporate region-wise federal regulations with fleet management solutions.
Ensuring over-the-road (OTR) safety
With the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in the US, and the European Union transportation body relaxing hours of service (HOS) regulations, drivers are at increased risk of injuries and fatal accidents. In the US, data from the National Safety Council found a 14% spike in motor vehicle fatalities in March 2020. Telematics devices combined with driver cabin video tools and wearable devices can help companies monitor driving hours, driver stress, and fatigue conditions. Similarly, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can analyze real-time driver condition data and historical driving patterns while raising safety alerts in case of accidents. According to Gartner, telematics can reduce safety incidents by 20% and plays a crucial role in enhancing driver safety.
Reducing risk of in-plant logistics
The entry and exit points in a manufacturing plant pose contact risks for drivers and plant staff. A digitized entry and exit screening process, weighbridge automation, and paperless processing of documents can help minimize contact and reduce turnaround times. Organizations can deploy a combination of telematics, geo-fencing, mobile application, and analytics to track the trajectory of drivers and their touch points as they navigate through the plant. Similarly, automation could be introduced in the form of conveyors, forklifts, and robots to improve safety of intralogistics.
Enforcing safety of intermodal logistics
Intermodal operations typically involve manpower for transloading and cross-docking. The estimated time of arrival (ETA) enabled by telematics devices at the intermodal facilities can help in better workforce planning, enhanced safety, and wait times. At the same time, facilities must be sanitized regularly while ensuring safe handling of shipments, social distancing, and virtual operations monitoring of intermodal operators. Manufacturers must also encourage carriers to enforce safety procedures and must only partner with those who are compliant.
Ensuring safe last-mile delivery
Last-mile deliveries leave drivers more vulnerable to the virus due to the widespread nature of customer destinations. Typically, delivery companies get customers to sign on glass surfaces of devices as proof of delivery. The glass can act as a transmitter of the virus as it keeps exchanging hands. Deliveries should be made contactless with advance alerts, electronic proofs, confirmation photographs of the customer, text acknowledgement, and digital payments. For instance, drivers can capture an electronic proof of delivery through a photograph and share it with the customer to get instant text acknowledgement. The constraints around red zones should also be considered while planning last-mile deliveries. A granular map-based visibility enabled through telematics devices can help drivers and dispatchers safely navigate to destinations.
Given the magnitude of risks due to COVID-19, technology augmentation, organizational change, and workforce training need to be triggered progressively to address logistics challenges. The right technology partners with comprehensive capabilities can help firms streamline activities from planning to last mile delivery. This will not only help manufacturers tackle COVID-19 but also support them in adopting the latest technologies, which will benefit them long term.