Industries that rely heavily on private fleets to move raw materials inbound and finished products outbound are prime candidates to adopt an exciting, recent innovation in transportation management and optimization tools. We’re looking today at the integration of real-time weather data into modern, web based TMS software and transportation optimization tools, an idea we reported on in this October 2013 post. Since then, circumstances conspired to prioritize the need for such an innovation.
The “perfect storm” of transportation-related factors influencing the ISM’s reported drag on manufacturing includes recently tightened hours of service rules and a driver shortage (see another recent Collaborator post on this topic here). These existing challenges have been greatly aggravated by an exceptionally bitter winter bringing unprecedented cold and crippling snowfall to more than two thirds of the continental US. In fact, disruptive weather patterns seem to be occurring in ever greater frequency over the past decade which is why engineers at Ultra have been working on ways to leverage the ubiquitous, up-to-the-minute weather data available online to help private fleets mitigate the effects of weather on pickup and delivery times.
The resulting advance is reflected in the addition of a real-time weather data overlay on the map features included in the fleet management module of the UltraShipTMS solution.
With a number of large food producers/shippers as clients, Ultra engineers had willing participants when it came to testing the viability of this idea. The relative predictability of private fleet movements between farm facilities, processing plants and distribution centers, made for a less complicated proving ground for working out the challenges of including real-time weather data in the transportation management process. With a private fleet, the real-time weather information can be acted upon by the dispatcher who is alerted to inclement conditions in a lane or region where the fleet regularly operates.
Making this work for TMS users managing the far more variable common carrier movements presents the next hurdle facing the engineers at Ultra. For common carrier movements, the TMS’s auto-tendering engine is designed to work in an automated fashion with very limited human intervention. The consideration of mitigating weather conditions – which are ephemeral and quickly changing – is a tricky proposition, but one the team is confident they can overcome. In addition, the programming group responsible for Ultra’s optimization tool set, LoadFusion, is equally intrigued by the possibilities for involving weather data in the optimization of routes in real time. They too report progress on including weather data in the functionality of the optimization engine.
With capacity issues not expected to improve in the near term, and with increasing frequency of disruptive weather across the continental US, having the ability to plan around weather that may stymie the transportation plans of competitors provides a very attractive advantage to shippers in all industries. Does your transportation plan take weather into consideration?