Drayage has long been one of the least understood and most critical processes in the supply chain. Without effective drayage systems, cargo doesn’t get unloaded from container ships and international trucks in a timely manner, creating backups that slow operations at warehouses, retailers, ecommerce hubs, and more.
For generations, the intricacies of drayage have been managed by a select few expert portside providers who know the trade up and down. As a result, systems at the port have been slow to catch up with new technology trends. For example, drayage is a black hole for shipping data in many supply chains.
The shift to a more connected, more transparent drayage system is happening. New drayage and portside warehousing technology is moving cargo faster, tracking it more precisely, and optimizing systems to improve the whole supply chain. Here’s what to keep an eye on:
The growing popularity of specialty-use smart containers with RFID and GPS tracking brought big data into the transnational supply chain. However, until recently most drayage providers haven’t had the technology in place to prevent gaps in the data chain between container ships and intermodal transport systems.
All that is starting to change as startup leaders and legacy companies challenge visibility, execution, and capacity limitations to improve portside data collection. Several companies are working on data tracking and scheduling technology to create an Uber-like experience that will expedite cargo through the port and on the way to DCs. For BCOs, that translates into unmatched transparency and cargo tracking, plus more effective big data sourcing to feed the algorithms.
The big data revolution
How does all this data perform at the port? Analytics software allows companies to test scenarios, project outcomes, and streamline processes. It’s also valuable for gaming out situations before they can wreak havoc on operations.
Take for example the new work done at the Port of Vancouver. Using a data modeling software called the Drayage Model, designers at TranSystems employ GPS data to experiment with future scenarios in a workshop setting before implementing actual changes to operations. Scenarios they experimented with include extending gate capacity, preparing for double-ended move coordination, and implementing rolling truck age restrictions for starters.
In addition, a number of startups are pulling back the curtain on their data collection, addressing the pain point drayage represents for many shippers through innovative new approaches. That includes everything from demand-driven market rates on ramps and block-and-tackle drayage to establishing pools of external operators and drivers, all with the aim of faster processing and less money spent on detention and demurrage fees.
Near-dock rail yards
In some instances, near-dock yards are providing alternatives to traditional drayage systems by expediting intermodal container transfer directly along rail channels. These intermodal channels can move containers to inland facilities with fewer delays, in part because containers may only be handled two or three times before arriving at the BCO’s loading dock.
For example, a new facility at the Port of New York and New Jersey opened recently that directly connects container ships with rail transport, bypassing one of the region’s biggest marine terminals. Similar sites are in the works elsewhere in the world, and near-dock connections and trucking solutions can be arranged by trusted 3PL partners at the Port of Los Angeles.
Transparency is a buzzword in supply chain logistics for a reason. A number of startups are working to bring blockchain technology to the supply chain, to a kind of incorruptible digital ledger that will follow cargo from the manufacturer to the end point. Nowhere is that more valuable than at the port.
Millions of containers travel through American ports everyday. Millions more depart from mega-ports in China, taking a journey that may touch the shores of several continents before they come to a destination. Between A and B, a lot can go missing (and it does). When drayage systems aren’t transparent, that cargo loses accountability.
Blockchain unifies data tracking from origin to destination through a coded documentation system. At each step along the supply chain, blockchain logs waypoints that can’t be changed once documented. Blockchain enables easy transfer between transportation modes by logging cargo as it’s processed at the port, through 3PL or freight forwarding systems, through cross-docking facilities and into warehouses – anywhere and everywhere it goes.
Technology in the logistics sector is changing rapidly. An immense amount of investment is pouring into ports and rail yards as VC firms realize how much of ecommerce relies on strong supply chains. For professionals in this space, the next few years will be an exciting and innovative time at the port.