Using Technology to Solve Last Mile Delivery Challenges

Technology for last mile delivery & e-commerce omnichannel fulfillment
As supply chain trends come and go, this is a revolution. According to industry experts, Amazon reportedly has had an overwhelming effect on the buying habits of consumers. The supply chain and logistics industry has been turned upside down by ecommerce omnichannel buying trends. With online sales soaring and brick and mortar retailers looking for new ways to get goods delivered to consumers faster so that they can compete with online retailers, there are tricky problems to solve. Consumers report that they give great consideration to the customer experience: the speed, accuracy and quality of the on time delivery process is crucial to their satisfaction.
Essential to today’s e-commerce and omnichannel supply chains across North America, last mile logistics enables shippers to get goods into the hands of impatient consumers using a variety of optional methods and means.  The last mile of the supply chain is typically the most costly, problematic and inefficient. Delivering to residential consumers as compared to businesses is inherently less efficient.
This is because shipping carriers are typically delivering individual packages, frequently to low density areas.  When the consumer is not at home, often additional delivery attempts need to be made.  For many years, shipping carriers have tried to optimize last mile delivery service.  It has taken creativity, technology and a trend towards the gig economy to craft an array of solutions to the variety of challenges that this presents.
No matter the situation, there are challenges in last mile logistics for both rural and urban areas.  Delivery services in urban areas often face traffic, road closures and accident delays and parking may be problematic.  This is especially troubling when it comes to delivering large, heavy or cumbersome goods to the door of consumers.  Security is also a typical concern.  Rural deliveries have their own unique problems due to lack of delivery density, added fuel costs, transportation time and other factors.   Add to this:  recent constraints from a supply chain labor shortage and the expectation of consumers for fast, free delivery and there is a major puzzle to solve.
Retailers are looking for innovative solutions to the home delivery dilemma. Take heart, help is on the way. Technology can play a vital role in streamlining order fulfillment and delivery.  Whether retailers choose to outsource their needs to a 3PL, traditional shipping carrier such as USPS, FedEx or UPS or take advantage of the trend in crowdsourcing, technology can make last mile delivery less challenging.

From mobile computing solutions, barcode scanners and barcode readers to sophisticated, agile supply chain software and artificial intelligence, technology can help expedite order fulfillment and deliveries, provide real time traceability of packages and help ensure supply chain operational efficiencies that help keep costs down and deliveries affordable.

Using Technology to Optimize Order Fulfillment & Last Mile Delivery

Whether you are a transportation and logistics services provider, messenger or courier service or a 3PL that handles home delivery in North America, implementing the use of technology in your business can pay huge dividends and enable you to win new business.

 

Supply Chain Software for Transportation, Last Mile Delivery, Fulfillment & Inventory Management

 

Transportation Route Optimization Software Reduces Fuel and Labor Costs

Use route scheduling optimization software to save time and money.  This is especially effective when scheduling routes with dynamic volumes and changing destinations.  Utilizing route optimization software can reduce fuel, labor and time as well as your carbon footprint.  It can also enable you to make the most effective use of your transportation fleet, allowing you to “do more with less” and compete effectively with other transportation providers.  Route scheduling software can also help reduce overall transportation costs for home delivery when used in planning and updating regular delivery routes.

Enhance Supply Chain, Inventory and Order Fulfillment with a Warehouse Management System

Legacy WMS systems, essential for inventory management, were simply not designed to handle the heavy transaction volume experienced today from the huge influx of individual consumer orders.  If your company is in the business of processing orders (especially if you are handling last mile delivery), your business would benefit from using a flexible WMS designed to handle fulfillment.  This sophisticated functionality enables companies to optimize operations and inventory management when used in combination with RF devices.  For enterprise operations, look for real time multi-location inventory visibility and tracking, integration with e-commerce gateways, wave planning and seamless operations with shipping management.

Collaborative B2C Last Mile Delivery Resources in the Gig Economy

 

Harnessing the Gig Economy Transportation Workforce Via Crowdsourcing Apps

The supply chain logistics network in North America is facing a labor shortage.  Today’s worker does not face the same working conditions of those faced by the previous generation.  Gone are the days when everyone worked for one company for years, putting in eight hours a day from nine to five.  Today, millions of workers create their income stream by working on short term assignments, typically referred to as “gigs”.

70% of these independent workers are categorized as either free agents or casual earners.   Providing home delivery transportation services on a per assignment basis tends to work well for this population. Pervasive in today’s society, the gig economy  has enabled an independent workforce, available to ebb and flow on demand.  What brings people and gigs together?  Technology of course.
In the past few years, the Silicon Valley is pushing the expansion of the “on demand” gig economy hard.  By developing crowdsourcing delivery apps, local, non-professional couriers and messengers are able to find opportunities to deliver packages to customers, often same day and in less than an hour.  Examples of this include Postmates, Deliv, Instacart, Hitchit and UberRUSH.  Here are two examples:
  • UberRUSH: provides on demand delivery for both small and enterprise businesses.  A digital map indicates the location of the delivery partner, enabling visibility throughout the last mile.  UberRUSH integrates with popular e-commerce platforms including Clover, Shopify and BigCommerce.  The system can be integrated with the checkout flow on the client’s website or app.
  • Instacart: designed to be an on-demand grocery home delivery service enabled by crowdsourcing, Instacart enables connections with Personal Shoppers in the needed area to retrieve and delivery groceries to the consumers’ doors.  The system relies on crowdsourcing to coordinate orders with the gig workforce.
Use of crowdsourcing for parcel delivery has already made its mark in last mile logistics, enabling deliveries to be expedited in urban areas.  This is primarily due to the likelihood that in larger populations, there tends to be a higher density of deliveries and potential couriers which can be coordinated.  Because of this however, crowdsourcing delivery is not as effective in rural and less populated areas.

 

Alternative Last Mile Delivery Models Disrupting the Industry

 

Artificial Intelligence and Last Mile Logistics

The vast amount of inexpensive cloud computing power is bringing a dream to come to life.  Marrying the cloud computing power to the massive amount of data is expediting new solutions involving artificial intelligence.  Artificial intelligence (AI) is “having a moment” in last mile logistics.

Previous iterations involving technology were focused on transactional automation.  Today, innovation is focused on cognitive automation, the means of impacting how decisions are made and executed.  These AI solutions learn the inner and outer workings of the business.  The AI solution then uses this knowledge to make recommendations in real time.  It also makes predictions on business outcomes and can facilitate autonomous action.

Highly useful for supply chain networks and last mile logistics, the field of data intelligence has made considerable strides, enabling predictions based on machine learning and simulation to be delivered directly to shippers.  This can include use of arrival time windows and confidence intervals.  Accurate risk metrics involving potential shipping delays can also be provided.

Because the speed of supply chain operations and last mile logistics have increased noticeably in the past few years, supply chain managers need assistance with optimization and recommendations on a variety of issues.  Data science to the rescue!  Utilizing algorithms, the AI solutions are able to handle demand-supply chain optimization.

Artificial intelligence solutions learn over time.  This increases the level of knowledge, confidence in utilization of data for predictions and recommendations and level of autonomy.  The AI system retains records of all alerts, actions and data.  Human executives can then review the information.  After reviewing the data and AI records, the human executive can decide to make changes, altering factors to achieve a different outcome.  This will be incorporated into the machine learning of the AI system, enabling it to adapt to these changes.

AI is gaining in popularity for supply chain management.  Ventures such as ClearMetal utilize artificial intelligence to enable flexible, automated supply chains.  Harnessing the wealth of Big Data, ClearMetal applies artificial intelligence technology to interpret events, manage data and apply predictive intelligence.
Because of the fast paced, dynamic nature of supply chains today, companies need to be able to adapt quickly and make effective decisions with greater agility.  This improves the response time and enables businesses to outrun the competition.

AI is the next step in the journey towards achieving predictive logistics.  Today, 3PLs and other companies that provide transportation and delivery services or supply chain management services, utilize AI to predict the ETA of parcel delivery to the doors of consumers and inland location.

 

Alternative Transportation and Logistics Methods

 

Autonomous, Robotic and Drone Delivery Service

Approximately 60% of the cost of deliveries in North America is labor.  At the present time, deliveries tend to be limited by the cost, availability and shifts of the workforce.  In contrast with this, robotic delivery service could, at least theoretically, be done 24 hours a day.  This may not be the case with drone deliveries, however due to regulatory and operational restrictions in highly urbanized areas.

Drones

Watch out!  Drones and robots are coming.  Between partnerships such as that of Mercedes-Benz and Matternet as well as third party logistics providers including Kenco, that buzzing sound you hear might not be a bee, but a delivery drone.

Mercedes announced the debut of their concept van which features roof-mounted autonomous drones as well as a robotic package sorting solution.  The idea is simple.  The entire cargo section of each delivery van is designed to pull out as packages are not loaded individually.  Empty vans receive a new cargo section “cartridge” which contains new packages that need to be delivered.

The robotic package sorting solution organizes the parcels and makes their respective positions know to the robot arm that is inside the vehicle before the van departs for deliveries.  When arriving at a delivery location, the driver notifies the robotic arm to load the package(s) onto the drone.  As it pulls the package, a battery pack is also retrieved and connected to the drone through a hole in the delivery van’s roof.  Once package and battery have been successfully loaded, the drone deploys to its destination. This fascinating use of technology still has many hurdles to overcome to be cleared for take off (and landing).  Between Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, local concerns and many concerns, the Mercedes Vision Van will be in development for some time to come.  Stay tuned.

 

Delivery Robots are on the Way

Yes, you heard correctly.  The robots and drones ARE coming. In fact, last mile delivery innovators DoorDash and Postmates have been testing delivery bots developed by the founders of the highly successful communication product, Skype, Starship Technologies.  Consumers use a mobile app to request delivery and soon, this six-wheeled autonomous delivery robot brings them their goods.  The Starship Technologies platform engages with specific stores or hubs in order to handle the delivery details.

These self-driving delivery robots are capable of carrying items within a 3 mile radius within 3 to 30 minutes.  Able to maneuver around people and objects, the last mile delivery journey can be monitored on a Smartphone.  To keep goods secure, the cargo bay section of each delivery robot remains locked throughout transport and can only be opened by the recipient of the delivery.

Thinking Outside the Box of Standard Last Mile Delivery

One of the vexing challenges with last mile delivery of ecommerce and omnichannel parcels involves parcel security and deliverability.  Unsuccessful deliveries (missed delivery attempts that result in the need to attempt again to delivery the package) add additional cost to couriers and last mile delivery service providers.  Re-delivery may occur because no one is available to sign for the shipment, regulations or residential policies that prevent leaving the package, etc.  This wastes time, fuel and labor of transportation and logistics providers and causes a great deal of frustration for all concerned.

To help alleviate these challenges, logistics innovators have introduced new ways to help satisfy the needs of both the consumer and the delivery service providers:

 

Parcel Delivery Lockers

Alternative delivery locations and lockers are already in use by companies including Amazon and United Parcel Service through their UPS Access Point Program.  This program makes it easy for consumers to schedule package delivery at an established time to a specific UPS Access Point location for quick retrieval. This provides peace of mind for the consumer, knowing that their parcels are secure and helps meet their scheduling needs.  Package drop off is also available at these locations.
Online tracking using the UPS mobile app facilitates independence and helps to relieve consumer concerns.

 

Smart Mailboxes

There are Smart watches, phones and other technologies-why not a Smart mailbox?  MailHaven is a smart mailbox that provides protection and tracking for your packages.  The IoT-enabled mailbox helps ensure safekeeping from thievery and weather and works with a mobile app that provides alerts when the package arrives. Using the MailHaven mobile app enables the user to track purchases and receive exclusive deals from retailers.

IoT, RFID, Sensors and Smart Technology Provide Parcel Traceability to the Consumer

From IoT sensors that monitor data including location, fuel consumption and cornering speed in delivery vans to sensors that measure and monitor the temperature of parcels, technology is enabling supply chain executives and consumers to have access to the most expansive array of real time information in history.

The Internet of Things is revolutionizing the supply chain logistics industry and completely altering delivery operations.  Supply chain operations are using combinations of technologies including barcodes, RFID, IoT, Bluetooth and NFC.  Used in combination, these technologies help both consumers and supply chain operators see across the supply chain network from the retail store to the point of delivery.  Here is a brief look at some of the recent technologies:

 

Sensors and Smart Technology

With increased interest in traceability and tracking of temperature sensitive items, companies are inserting probes and monitoring devices in the packages themselves.  This enables the shipper to know the probe temperature and other factors including humidity at every step of the package delivery journey.

Today, companies such as ParceLive provide peace of mind for supply chain operators and customers.  ParceLive is a data driven service that takes the data from sensors and tracking technology for use by its clients and can provide benefits across the supply chain.

Using a postcard-sized device that is inserted into the parcel at the point of distribution, ParceLive uses GPS and has the capability of monitoring data including temperature and light (to see if the package has been opened or not).  Ideal for use in tracking high value, fragile and time or temperature sensitive goods, ParceLive offers a subscription service and enables companies to rent devices to reduce the expense and risk of implementing a parcel tracking system.

 

IoT, RFID and the Seamless Flow of Data for Last Mile Delivery

What is IoT and why is it impacting last mile logistics?  According to Gartner’s definition, the Internet of Things (IoT) is “the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment”.  To be clear, everyday devices are embedded with sensors, network access and computing power so that they can produce and gather data.  These devices are then able to interact with other systems and equipment without the interruption or interference by humans.

IoT devices require much less human control regarding their functioning and can process a huge mass of information.  RFID is also being used across the supply chain for a variety of purposes including inventory and asset tracking and has reduced need for human intervention.  Unlike barcodes which need to be scanned. RFID chips can be used to reduce the cost of labor and time.

 

RFID Tags

What is RFID?  An RFID system is comprised of electromagnetically responsive RFID tags and RFID readers. Embedded within each RFID tag is unique information.  Attaching an RFID tag to an object such as inventory or goods makes it possible to track and monitor placement and movement, making it traceable throughout transport.  This has made RFID useful in supply chain logistics, especially for tracking shipping containers, components used in the manufacturing process and for other similar purposes.

RFID tags utilize mini-circuitry which is identifiable by radio waves.  As thin as paper labels or as large and cumbersome as a keychain, the size of an RFID tag depends upon the quantity of data strings that the tag can store as well as the distance from which it can be read. Active RFID tags include their own battery power.  Some active RFID tags also include sensors.

To be read, an RFID tag does not necessarily require “line of sight” as in the case of barcodes.  Instead the readability distance is determined by whether the type of RFID tag is passive or active.  Although RFID readers can be fixed or mobile, Smartphones cannot be used to read RFID tags as they are in the case of barcodes.

Active and passive RFID tags provide data regarding the goods to which they are attached.  How can you tell the difference between active and passive RFID tags?  Passive RFID tags include an RFID antenna as well as a microchip that stores data.  They draw power from the radio waves that are extended by the RFID reader and reflect this back to the readers.  The reflected wave is captured by the reader so that the RFID tag and parameters can be identified.  Radio waves are reflected, much like a boomerang.  This results in erosion of the strength of the radio waves by the time they reach the RFID reader, reducing the readable range to less than 20 feet on average.

 

The readability range of active RFID tags is typically 100 feet.  This is primarily because active RFID tags have batteries incorporated within them.  This enables active RFID tags to beam information toward the RFID reader much as you would do in using a Smartphone.  One of the most popular uses for active RFID tags are in monitoring high-value cargo, packages, assets and equipment in warehouses, railways and other supply chain facility yards.  Because the readability range is greater, there is less need to have as many RFID readers.  This helps to reduce the overall cost of using RFID.

Wide-area RFID technology is now available.  A California company, Mojix specializes in providing IoT platform solutions and innovative RFID technology to provide increased visibility for retail, manufacturing, oil and gas, healthcare and other industries and uses.

Conclusion:

With parcel delivery and home delivery challenges ranging from transportation management, real time visibility and traceability of the retail supply chain, deliverability rates to final destinations, there is a tremendous need for innovation and affordable technology.

Using these revolutionary technologies including IoT, RFID, AI and more in fulfillment centers, distribution centers and by delivery drivers will help ensure cost, time and labor savings and reduce frustration for both consumers and supply chain operators.

The Friday Report May 25, 2018

The Greening of IoT How can the transportation and logistics industry reduce its carbon footprint?  According to research by Vanson Bourne for The Future of IoT in Enterprise, 44% of the 100 respondents indicated that they have prioritized environmental...

read more

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This