Automation is a forward-looking evolutionary step for any industry. From the assembly lines of Ford to the advent of large-scale robotics in the 1980s, automation has been a driving force behind a more productive economy. While trucking automation has been on the horizon for quite a few years now, the Covid-19 pandemic was the clearest sign for the trucking industry to take the great leap forward.

Self-Driving Trucks Are Just the Start

Self-driving trucks have been the most visible component of truck automation. A computer-driven Class-8 vehicle with a human copilot could improve productivity and safety. Carriers such as Amazon and others have been pouring tons of money into the technology behind self-driving trucks. This has not been free of controversy, however. It was not too long ago that self-driving trucks easily navigated routes major highways, but required a human copilot to take over at a more granular level to adjust for city construction, closed roads, possible accidents, and weather conditions. Self-driving trucks have come a long way in just a few years, with a number of fleets already employing the robotic vehicles on regular hauls.

Yet truck automation is not just about self-driving trucks. Logistics and supply chains are moving by leaps and bounds to make shipping more efficient and more detailed. The implementation of blockchain technology has reduced revenue losses on damaged or recalled products, by giving shippers, carriers, and business owners the ability to track shipments down to individual items, whether it’s a car, a stereo, or a single avocado.

Necessity Drives Truck Automation

The Covid-19 pandemic kicked truck automation into high gear. With rising concerns about safety for drivers, growing worries about the trucker shortage, and the need to find a more efficient and secure way to improve the trucking industry, automation went from a thought exercise to a plan of action. However, to carry out automation smoothly, everyone needs to be on the same page. Docks need to fully automate systems to reduce waiting times. Brokers need more modern systems to distribute hauling jobs faster. Drivers need new training so they can function as copilots and understand what to do if there is a snag along routes. And of course, roads, bridges, fueling stations, and communication systems need to be optimized to ensure everything keeps moving. To keep up with the pace of commerce and guarantee fully-functional supply chains in case of future pandemics or crises, truck automation is a necessity.

Apprehensions and Resistance to Automation

As with any big technological shift, people are hesitant about embracing change. There are arguments that automation will result in massive layoffs within the trucking industry. The truth is that truck automation is not looking to replace drivers, especially in an industry that regularly experiences workforce shortages. Instead, the process will involve more re-skilling to create a blend of both human workers and artificial intelligence, yielding a much better path forward without forgetting that ultimately, people make the system work.

The other big apprehension in truck automation comes from the cybersecurity sector. With breaches like what happened with Solar Winds, or the ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, there is cause for concern about similar issues happening to a fully-automated trucking industry. Considering our economy relies heavily on freight, our supply chains, logistics, and automated vehicles need to be protected against attacks at all levels before we can move forward.

Challenges on the Road to Truck Automation

Truck automation is being likened to the Interstate Highway System of the 1950s – it will be a tremendous undertaking, will require efforts from both the public and private sectors, and the results will revolutionize commerce for decades to come. Yet there are still challenges in implementing full automation and bringing everyone on board. Over the past decade alone the trucking industry has adopted new technologies and sophisticated methods, ranging from electronic leaderboards to ELDs. Yet there are many aspects of the trucking industry that are still old-fashioned compared to other sectors. Dispatching is starting to adopt automation processes. Trucking companies are saving overhead in the long run by building out fleets with smaller trucks to maximize capacity in the LTL market.

Accounting, however, still remains a challenge in the fast-paced digital age, with many trucking companies and owner-operators generating physical invoices. Even when invoices are sent electronically, the trucking industry is steeped in a system that adhered to staggered payment schedules of 30, 60, and even 90 days. This creates lag in accounts receivable and can even cause gaps in revenue, which can prevent trucking companies from covering overhead costs. One of the biggest steps in successfully pivoting to truck automation is for fleets and owner-operators to optimize cash flow so they can ramp up other processes.

To eliminate lag, forward-thinking trucking companies use freight bill factoring. Although factoring is almost as old as commerce itself, the process has become faster and more automated. Now, instead of waiting a month or longer to receive payments, trucking companies and owner-operators can convert their unpaid receivables into cash and access funds within a single day. Freight bill factoring from Single Point Capital gives trucking companies a head start on optimizing cash flow so they can build up reserves and roll out plans for automation. Beyond freight bill factoring, Single Point Capital also offers dispatching and logistics services to keep your operations ahead of the curve. To learn more about freight bill factoring or any of our other services, contact the experts at Single Point Capital today.

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