E-commerce is booming as consumers increasingly shop online for convenience, price, and availability. New trends and emerging technologies are driving consumer expectations for shortened, lower-cost, more flexible delivery options. But what do those expectations mean for the freight industry? What challenges does the industry face in meeting the demands of the new on-demand economy?
Participants at the annual Freight and Logistics Symposium in December focused on finding answers to these questions as they explored freight’s integral role in the on-demand revolution.
“Today we don’t just shop online. We buy online, and goods are delivered to their point of consumption—not to a point of purchase,” said David Wangler, president of Trimble Transportation Enterprise and the symposium’s keynote speaker.
In his presentation, Wangler explained how technology is leading a major and exponentially growing shift of consumer expectations. As a result, more pressure is put on carriers and logistics service providers to increase their own pace of change, adapt to new distribution and delivery models, and provide higher service levels that typically underutilize capacity.
But technology can also help providers respond to rising consumer expectations while facing the pressures of reducing cost and improving service. Examples include employing advanced routing and scheduling to help carriers as they establish local delivery operations and using predictive analytics to understand potential maintenance issues before vehicles break down.
Following the keynote, a panel presentation provided details about the new CN Duluth Intermodal Terminal, the first international intermodal container ramp in the Twin Ports of Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin. Duluth Cargo Connect operates the ramp at the Clure Public Marine Terminal, which is served by Canadian National Railway Company (CN). With the new service, shippers gain the advantage of reaching the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf gateways from one facility.
The terminal offers businesses access to international markets, greater efficiencies, and reduced supply-chain costs and transit times. Moreover, it supports the growth and stability of the five-state area’s manufacturing, agricultural, and forest products markets by offering cost-effective logistics solutions and an opportunity to expand into markets they couldn’t otherwise reach.
The terminal also provides a variety of value-added services, including more than 40 acres of secure outdoor space for cargo storage, staging, and assembly; container stuffing and de-stuffing; and storage, warehousing, and distribution services.
“When you place an intermodal terminal in the middle of all those services, and you don’t have to move that container onto a public street, you have really hit a home run,” said Jonathan Lamb, president of Lake Superior Warehousing. “Now you are in a position to make the supply chain as seamless as possible for that customer.”
The symposium closed with a dialogue about preserving the Twin Cities metro highway system and prioritizing investments.
Keeping the system in good working order and operating safely are the highest priorities, said Brian Isaacson, director of metro planning, program management, and transit at the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). But with most funding being used to preserve current assets, not much is available for mobility projects, he added.
In addition, the area’s projected growth, combined with funding gaps, almost ensures chronic congestion in the metro. “Consumers and freight are going to have a much harder time moving around in 2040 under the current scenario,” said Nick Thompson, transportation director for the Metropolitan Council.
However, a hierarchy of regional mobility investments supports the goal of maximizing funding to combat congestion. The hierarchy includes four layers: traffic management technologies, spot mobility improvements throughout the system, MnPASS, and strategic capacity.
The freight industry also has an opportunity to share its expertise as planners gather data to make decisions with limited resources, Thompson said. “If industry is saying, ‘There are these fundamental changes that you are not reflecting in your planning process,’ we need to know that. We rely on industry to tell us that.”
For more information about the event, download a summary of the symposium (PDF).
The symposium was sponsored by CTS in cooperation with MnDOT, the Minnesota Freight Advisory Committee, the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, the Metropolitan Council, and the Transportation Club of Minneapolis and St. Paul.