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.
The U of M Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships recently began a project that connects small- and medium-sized farms to wholesale markets using existing infrastructure.
The pilot project is the first in the nation to develop and test “backhauling” as a way to help these farms get their produce to wholesalers for wider distribution. Backhauling uses the return trip of a delivery truck to carry locally grown foods from rural grocers back to wholesale distribution centers. The long-term goal is to increase the viability, competitiveness, and sustainability of the farms through access to the wholesale market.
The Minnesota Freight Advisory Committee (MFAC) recently published its 2017 annual report on the state of freight in Minnesota.
Established in 1998, MFAC ensures that planning, research, investment, and operations of Minnesota’s transportation system address the needs of the state’s freight transportation industry. In addition, MFAC strives to help build a better understanding of freight’s role and to shape more effective and efficient ways for moving the products that drive a thriving economy.
The annual report highlights a number of 2017 MFAC activities that supported those aims, including a white paper authored by Humphrey School researcher Matt Schmit that identified the key components of an attractive freight market.
Driving south of the Twin Cities on a fall late afternoon, you’ll see the sun shining pale and coarse through the dust kicked up by autumn harvesters. On either side of the road, grain stalks roll on in a smooth, seemingly endless tan sheet. But when the harvest ends and the crops are sorted, where does all that grain go?
With grain and feed comprising 28 percent of all freight volume along local highways—the largest share of any commodity in the state—answering this question is not only a matter of safe and efficient transportation planning. It also means securing the livelihood of 340,000 state residents who work in Minnesota’s growing agriculture sector.
At the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, researchers with the Transportation Policy and Economic Competitiveness (TPEC) Program have mapped this movement on Minnesota roads. Our novel GIS-based approach unveils how technological, political, and market shifts in the grain supply chain impact the way local producers and wholesalers navigate their local freight networks—a network that spans road, rail, and barge infrastructure.
Now, TPEC is shifting its attention to the medical supply chain, which is another central driver of the Minnesota economy. But how do we design transportation policy that invigorates and accommodates growth in this burgeoning sector? What lessons are there to learn from grain that can inform this new study?
Minnesota is the fourth-largest producer of biofuel in the country and home to a growing livestock industry. These market forces, along with changes in the grain supply chain, are directly influencing the way grain producers and wholesalers navigate their local freight networks. To better understand these changes and their impacts, researchers in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs have collected data and developed new spatial analysis tools, ultimately aimed at informing freight transportation policy and infrastructure investment decisions.
Grain and medical technology may not seem to have much in common, but they share at least one trait: both are key industry clusters that help drive Minnesota’s economy. At a roundtable held by the U’s Transportation Policy and Economic Competitiveness (TPEC) Program, speakers discussed trends in grain and medical-sector supply chains and the implications for freight transportation policy and investments.
TPEC director Lee Munnich opened the event. “Transportation is necessary—but not sufficient—for economic growth,” he said. “In our research, we look at how well the transportation system is working for the economy, and in particular, for the industry clusters that are so important to an area.”
The University of Minnesota’s Thomas E. Murphy Engine Research Laboratory has received $1.4 million to research ways to boost the energy efficiency of cloud-connected delivery vehicles. The funding was awarded by the NEXTCAR Program of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.
The U’s NEXTCAR project researchers are partnering with UPS and electric vehicle manufacturing company Workhorse to improve the energy efficiency of medium-duty delivery vehicles through real-time powertrain optimization using two-way vehicle-to-cloud connectivity.