Paper documents still dominate much of the labor-intensive less-than-containerload (LCL) pickup and delivery process at U.S. container freight stations (CFSes), but the coronavirus pandemic and state government social distancing measures to prevent its spread are hastening the drive to create a totally paperless and contactless environment.
Shipco Transport and its CFS subsidiary International Container Terminals (ICT), which had prior to COVID-19 implemented a warehouse management application to electronically receive LCL export cargo, realized they still had much more to do to protect their workers from the deadly virus.
“COVID-19 accelerated the need for us to think outside the box,” Thorkild Hove, ICT’s senior vice president, told American Shipper. “With the pandemic surging, we identified that there were too many touch points and close interactions [and] that something needed to be done.”
Before the virus, a truck driver arriving at an ICT facility to pick up an LCL import presented two papers — a delivery order and an ICT pickup receipt. The ICT CFS office staff processed the paperwork and provided the driver with two copies of each service invoice to give to the warehouse staff.
Using the documents, the ICT warehouse staff pulled the cargo and loaded the truck. Once loaded, they would hand their copy back to the driver for signature and this document was then taken back to the front office for filing.
For an export delivery, the driver handed the office staff printed copies of the truck bill of lading, which was then manually processed into the ICT system. The office would print the dock receipts and labels, which the driver gave to the warehouse staff. The warehouse workers unloaded the cargo, signed two copies of the paperwork and gave one copy back to the driver. The warehouse used the paper dock receipts and labels to process the cargo through Shipco’s warehouse management app, Hove explained.
When state governments began imposing COVID-19 social distancing measures in late February and early March, ICT asked its customers to email their documentation for cargo pickups and drop-offs.
“ICT can now pre-enter all this information in our system,” Hove said. “The only thing the driver has to do is present his or her ID at the gate and reference the cargo pickup or delivery.”
For truckers that lack access to email or are not initially aware of ICT’s new process, the company has installed a scanner outside the office clerk’s window.
While this rapidly implemented requirement minimized most contact points in ICT’s facilities, Hove said there were still data processing aspects, especially at the dock level, which needed automating.
ICT researched many different systems over the past several months. One of the trucking companies calling its facilities recommended using Vector Systems.
“Vector was most responsive from the beginning,” Hove said. “They were keen to explore what they could do for ICT, considering our quest to make it safer from a COVID-19 health perspective to deliver and pick up freight.”
Vector is a cloud-based application that allows users to upload documents from email and make them visible on a smartphone or tablet. Time-stamped notations and comments can be added to the shipment record, including attaching photos of the cargo as it is received for export or prepared for trucker pickup.
“All electronic documentation can be shared instantly with our customers and truck drivers,” said Michael Tiernan, ICT’s vice president of operations. “This is a game-changer for our industry, which has relied on antiquated paper-based systems for too many years.”
ICT declined to reveal how much it invested in the Vector application.
So far, the system has been rolled out at ICT’s Atlanta CFS, with its facilities in Long Beach, California; Miami; and Elizabeth, New Jersey, to follow in the weeks ahead.
“Our ultimate goal is to have a fully integrated system that can start from truckers and the dispatcher setting up a reservation online,” Hove said. “Drivers arriving at our gate can then go straight to a preassigned door to pick up or drop off their LCL freight.”