Trucking Crisis: How Warehouse Automation Can Help

Dustin Caudell
Thu, Jul 30, 2015
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A shortfall of truck drivers may force the shipping industry to reevaluate warehouse management practices.

America is low on truck drivers, and has been for quite some time. According to the American Trucking Association, 70 percent of the country's freight is moved by trucks, and the current shortage of 30,000 drivers isn't good news for carriers across the U.S. In fact, the ATA estimates that by 2022, there will be a shortfall of about 239,000 drivers, which will certainly cause an unsettling shift in the way the trucking industry operates and force the shipping world to reevaluate its processes.

There are several reasons for the lack of truck drivers. The profession isn't appealing to those of the younger generation, according to Business Insider. Low pay and stringent regulations are two other factors that contribute to the shortfall, as well. Another reason could be attributed to changes in career paths for a lot of drivers after the financial crisis of a few years ago.

"[The financial crisis] forced drivers to look for other work where they were able to be home more with their loved ones and be a part of the day-to-day life of a family," Gretchen Jackson, manager of recruitment at Con-way Truckload, told Business Insider. "Drivers saw what they [were] missing being out on the road for 2-3 weeks and many made the decision not to give that up."

This is only one of the reasons carriers are experiencing a lack of qualified drivers, and the problem continues to worsen. As the shortage grows and more drivers are needed where none are found, distribution centers and warehouses will need to find ways to accommodate. For instance, in the future, order-fulfillment practices will need to become more automated. Here are two ways warehouse automation can help create a better environment for inventory managers trying to make up for the lack of trucking:

1. Enhance Productivity
The turnover rate for Q1 of 2014 was 92 percent at for-hire carriers, according to the ATA. This high turnover rate could exist for several reasons. Drivers don't want to sit for a long time waiting for orders to be loaded onto trucks. Warehouse automation through automated data collection like voice picking can make the loading process move faster. The collection of data using voice technologies allows warehouse managers to make sure their inventory is in the right place at the right time in order to get things loaded more quickly and take full advantage of drivers' time.

2. Streamline Order Fulfillment
Warehouses currently operate by filling orders and allowing products to sit on shelves until a truck comes to pick them up for delivery. However, as carriers continue to experience the shortfall of drivers, it may not be conducive to best inventory management practices to fill an order and then have it sit on the shelf for an extended period of time, according to Manufacturing.net. Automating data collection will speed up the order fulfillment process so that instead of filling an order ahead of time, companies can wait until they're sure a truck is coming.

As the shipping and distribution industry evolves to accommodate for the truck driver shortage, one thing remains certain: where the goal used to be adequate use of storage, it's now about filling complex orders in as short a time as possible. Incorporating an inventory control system within the enterprise resource planning software of a company will allow warehouse managers to view their current inventory and make real-time decisions about order fulfillment and storage so that products aren't just sitting on the shelves.

The trucking crisis may continue, but companies can be prepared by making sure their warehouses are automated.

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