Heading down trucking’s road

Managing hidden risks
October 4, 2016
Beyond industry standards
October 4, 2016

Heading down trucking’s road

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A glimpse into what commercial vehicles could be like in 2030…

It is the year 2030. The number 15 flashes on the display of Thilo Schneider’s tablet. Now he knows that in a quarter of an hour he will have to leave the highway convoy and take control of his truck, at least for a short period.

But before that he still has time to check his GPS coordinates and update the route to his destination. The display shows quiet traffic patterns off the freeway. He takes a quick look at his e-mails: there’s no important news. Schneider uses WhatsApp to inform the other trucks that he’s about to leave the platoon.

The more or less random series of trucks that get together to form convoys on the freeway represent real progress compared with the long, tedious journeys of previous years. The platoons are able to maintain a uniform, brisk speed and, what’s more, use the road more efficiently – leaving space for other vehicles – and consume less fuel.

Furthermore, accidents have long been a thing of the past, ever since sensors and computers relieved the burden on drivers in critical situations. The technology for this scenario has existed for a long time, allowing trucks from various manufacturers to form coordinated moving groups on the road.

The vehicles communicate with one another smoothly and, thanks to unified systems, there are no longer any language barriers like there sometimes used to be between one driver and another.

The autopilot gives the signal to leave the group in good time before the exit. As he heads down the off ramp, Schneider takes control of the truck though, in fact, he doesn’t have to. His vehicle would manage the task by itself, but during the last few hours in the cab Schneider has sorted out his logistics online and now decides to enjoy a bit of nostalgia, even if the joystick for steering the vehicle does not really resemble the huge steering wheel that heavy trucks used to have up until the mid-2020s.

Since large and small trucks have been connected and, as a rule, are on the move without needing a driver to take action, the large steering wheel is simply no longer required. Instead, in the cab you now fold out a small desk where you can deal with your everyday administrative tasks. Connectivity has completely changed both the truckers’ job and their image.

Truck drivers used to be responsible mainly for driving and for loading and unloading, but today Schneider and his colleagues are not only trained to drive trucks – they have also completed an apprenticeship in logistics. The proportion of women in the industry is much higher than before. The higher qualifications are also accompanied by higher incomes.

So Schneider can do his office work while his truck is travelling in the platoon or driving itself on special lanes on the freeway. After all, loads have to be confirmed today, especially because clients will snap up unused space in the trucks on whatever route they are taking.

First come, first served – as long as it makes logistical sense. Empty trips should always be avoided, and to this end Schneider’s truck must always be connected with planners representing various clients, and with people at loading and unloading points.

It’s hard to believe that back then – at the beginning of the 21st century – on average trucks were empty on around one third of all journeys. That kind of inefficiency made commercial transport unnecessarily expensive. Fuel consumption – and with it CO2 emissions – was also much higher.

It is true that diesel engines are still in operation, particularly in vehicles that cover long distances. But they use climate-neutral fuels. Electric- powered trucks and fuel-cell trucks are on the roads as well. Today the forwarders are connected and freight exchanges ensure that goods are distributed efficiently.

Schneider has now reached his destination – a large logistics hub close to a major city. Long- distance trucks have been kept out of inner-city areas for quite a while now, and only e-mobiles are allowed for deliveries within the last mile.

As Thilo lives in a big city, he appreciates this. It has improved the quality of the air he breathes – and today’s quiet e-vehicles don’t create the old traffic noise.

As he drives through the main gate his display starts flashing again: he’s to go to loading bay 14. He knows that the ramp will be free when he gets there, so he won’t have to wait. Since the grounds are spacious, he manoeuvers the truck himself – a little practice is not going to hurt. But he could just as well have let the guidance system do the job, so the truck would take itself up to the loading point.

When he arrives, a service vehicle is already waiting for him. His truck has registered tiny discrepancies in its AdBlue intake and passed this information on to the operator. A service technician takes a look while the load is transported to the storage halls. Now that smaller repairs and maintenance measures such as changing the tyres are carried out promptly at such opportunities, the operator’s trucks are far more efficient and wear and tear has been reduced.

During the fully automated unloading procedure Schneider checks his e-mail. He learns that he has to go back onto the freeway after picking up some goods in the nearby town. A parking space has been reserved for him at the next service station, where he can take his statutory rest period. After that he will join another connected convoy, this time as the leader.

• A lot of what trucker Thilo Schneider will use in 2030 was seen last month at the 66th IAA Commercial Vehicles Show in Hannover. Under the banner “New Mobility World Logistics” the IAA demonstrated to visitors the future of the logistics industry in four themed presentations.

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