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More manufacturers hit the road with mobile logistics management

Many manufacturers opt to use transportation services from third-party logistics suppliers to outsource their logistics needs. For a sizable minority, however, owning their own fleet -- whether trucks or airplanes -- is the

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best way to go for maximum control and quality assurance, and mobile logistics management applications help to manage these fleets.

Source: ARC Advisory Group survey of 60 supply chain professionals, 2011

According to experts, mobile devices, including smartphones, have become the premier tools for manufacturers looking to stay connected and manage their supply chains while on the move. Truck drivers began using a variety of apps on their iPhones for things such as locating gas stations with the cheapest gas prices and the best places to eat on the turnpike.

Rather than relying on third-party logistics (3PL) or transportation personnel to use their own smartphones while on the job, manufacturers are now investing in consumer handheld devices so their truck drivers can do everything from capturing delivery information to tracking assets to executing transactions, experts say. Luckily, building a business case for supplying drivers with the newest mobile logistics management technology has become almost trivially easy as costs per smartphone or tablet number in the hundreds, rather than thousands, and the potential uses just keep growing. 

"These devices are important if you have a private fleet," said Evan Armstrong, president of Armstrong & Associates, a consulting and analyst firm in West Allis, Wis. "Now you can use a $400 smartphone or an iPad to capture delivery information. And the cost of these solutions keeps going down."

Coming as they did from the consumer space, these devices are not as hardy as traditional handheld units used in delivery applications, but they can be made more rugged with the use of cases and other protective gear. As with any handheld device, said Armstrong, "there will always be battery failures and user errors." 

Transportation professionals who participated in a 2011 ARC Advisory Group survey said they were most interested in using smartphones for a variety of supply chain applications (see chart). According to Steve Banker, supply chain management service director for Boston, Mass.-based ARC Advisory Group, transmitting proof-of-delivery and barcode scanning top the list of desired functions, as does track-and-trace functionality for orders, shipments, assets and mobile workers.

Banker has seen a wide variety of useful logistics-oriented and delivery-oriented smartphone apps come on the market recently. For example, Banker recalled one small vendor that introduced a Software as a Service routing solution for private fleets. This is the first routing solution that uses "real-world" average speed data, according to Banker.

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This routing solution -- accessible on smartphones -- bases its fleet plans on road statistics, which include average speeds across five-minute intervals, on any day of the week. It provides quarterly updates on the average speed on a section of road by the time of day, said Banker, which point the way to more useful mobile logistics management apps that can help manufacturers with private fleets cut costs and provide better customer experience.

A recent federal ruling prohibits truck drivers from using their smartphones while moving. "That seems like common sense," said Roz Wilson, senior business analyst for Delcan Corp., an international engineering, planning, management and technology company. "The ruling does not prohibit the hands-free aspect. And there are a lot of apps being developed to be used in the dashboard."

Smartphones are becoming ubiquitous due to the fact that they are cost-effective, easy to use and can facilitate tracking, communication and process execution. Experts predict that with enhanced productivity -- packaged in a form factor that is easy and convenient to use -- mobile logistics management applications will stick around in transportation for the long haul.


This was first published in September 2012

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