PRODUCE TRANSPORTATION Data-Driven Predictive Models Could Aid Industry Down the Road
By Tim Linden U sing information provided by many different shippers and a computer program, the Western Growers/C.H. Robinson Transportation program has brought increased efficiency, better service and cheaper rates to shippers enrolled in its LTL (less than full load) program. Aggregating these LTL shipments has allowed the program to schedule transportation on a reoccurring basis, allowing a shipper with even a partial load to take advantage of completive rates. Heretofore, a load requiring multiple pickups and multiple drops was the scourge of the industry. No trucker wanted to participate without premium rates. And the new electronic logging device regulation makes the proposition an even harder sell. But access to data has allowed CHR schedulers to note that several shippers have LTLs headed to Chicago, for example, on a regular basis. Loads can be scheduled and efficiencies can be achieved. Collaboration and cooperation is the key…and it works. But still Luke Gowdy, general manager of operations for C.H. Robinson Worldwide, said this type of advanced planning is only occurring three to 10 days out. Imagine a future, he said, in which data science and artificial intelligence can be used to always make sure the capacity is where it is needed, to be able to accurately predict, with a great amount of certainty, how long it will take a load to get from point A to B and where it might be most advantageous to pick up a shipment if there is a choice. Might it be better to pick up a load in Santa Maria rather than Salinas because of an unrelated event snarling traffic? Charlie Loes, director of fresh technology for CHR, said the company is already moving in that direction with the introduction of its Navisphere Vision platform last fall. The effort is on the front-end of creating a predictive model for the transportation of fresh produce and other items. Loes though is candid in noting that the accuracy of such predictions improve as the number of data points increase. “Our logistics operations
has generated three billion unique data points over the last six years, and the Western Growers partnership has made a significant contribution to that,” he said. While that is seemingly a great deal, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. In a discussion with Western Grower & Shipper on the future of fresh produce transportation, Loes and Gowdy said transparency is the key for the most efficient use of transportation. If everyone had access to all the data surrounding the shipments of fruits and vegetables from California to the rest of the country, a very efficient transportation system could be managed. The use of a computer and artificial intelligence could much more efficiently schedule those 500 loads that might be leaving the state with lettuce for the Midwest today. The produce industry, rightly so, prides itself on its unpredictability. Every day is different is the mantra heard from everyone along the supply chain. Loes said that while that is true on the granular level, zoom out and nine out of 10 loads are reoccurring and predictable. If only all the data was available to a transportation scheduler, a better system could ensue. Bottlenecks could be identified and avoided. Pickups and deliveries could be better scheduled to decrease wait times at each end. Gowdy said there will always be a need for spot market brokering of a truck. A shipper will make an unusual sale to a new customer in a different place and will need a truck quickly. But that is the exception. “We just want to move the industry forward to a more predictive model,” he said. Of course that is already occurring for many shippers participating with CHR and other logistics companies to fill their contracted sales. Many companies have standing orders from buyers, which allow for the advanced scheduling of equipment. But Loes said much more could be done. More data, he reiterated, leads to better analytics and allows transportation service providers to better cater to the needs of their customers.
12 Western Grower & Shipper | www.wga.com MARCH | APRIL 2018
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