January 15, 2014 11:30 AM, EST

Freight Shippers Want Predictability, Researchers Say

WASHINGTON — People who study shippers said senders and receivers of freight want predictability — even as the economy and technology change rapidly.

Truck makers and other manufacturers, meanwhile, said their engineers are pushing scientific advances to improve transportation operations, all during several sessions at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting.

The logistics manager of a retail chain, for instance, said Jan. 14 that he uses as much software technology as possible to lessen the likelihood of supply chain disruptions, and a University of California, Berkeley engineering researcher said he is trying to develop truck platoons that are similar to trains on highways.

“Visibility is key for us at every level,” said Gary Fast, logistics director for Canadian Tire Corp., a retail chain. Fast said he plans deliveries to the minute and tracks the performance of vendors and internal company operations. He also talks to suppliers, government officials and anyone who might affect his operations.

Industry, researchers and government are trying to make transportation systems more fuel-efficient in order to reduce engine emissions and save carriers money. In another session at TRB, Steven Shladover, a research engineer at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Transportation Studies, talked about truck platooning, in which two or three trucks are linked electronically, not mechanically, and drive together.

To an observer, this looks like tailgating as just 3 to 10 meters separate the vehicles, but early tests suggest that it could be done safely.

Joakim Svensson of Volvo Group, also on the panel, said the Swedish truck maker is investigating this.