Loadsmart’s drayage automation move lands it on FreighTech 25

Loadsmart’s showing on the FreightTech 25 caps a big year for the New York-based company. Along with a $19 million investment from the world’s largest shipping line, Maersk, and the largest U.S. ports operator, Ports America, Loadsmart made its first move into intermodal trucking with a platform for carriers and shippers to better manage port drayage.

Major shippers including Coca-Cola and Kraft Heinz use Loadsmart’s freight-matching platform to automate quoting and booking truckload freight on 900,000 lanes across North America and integrate that data into their transport management systems (TMS). 

But the efficiency that its customers saw in managing their over-the-road freight was not seen in container freight coming off docks, said Hunter Yaw, vice president of business development at Loadsmart.

In many instances, drayage dispatchers manually enter the number of a particular customer’s container to see whether it is ready at the port and then dispatch the driver for a pickup.

Due to the volume of boxes that need to be picked up, a dispatcher might only search once or twice a day for a container’s on-dock availability. Any container available soon after that initial search will not be seen until the next day’s search. Then a driver has to be assigned to pick up the box, which may not occur until the following day or two. 

Yaw said many containers are sitting on a dock an average of four days from becoming available, not because shippers want them to but because of the manual dispatch process. That long dwell bumps up against the free time allowed by ocean carriers before they start charging demurrage fees to shippers and carriers.  

“Two of our largest Fortune 100 customers use large-scale TMS for their full truckload freight,” Yaw said. “But their intermodal team is still running on spreadsheets, emails and phone calls. We saw an opportunity to add more value.”

Loadsmart’s Smart Drayage platform uses application programming interface (API) integration between the shipper and carrier TMS and the marine terminal’s own software to see in real time when a container clears customs, where it is in the terminal yard and whether the truck has gated in and out to pick up the box.

Many customers are “struggling with port drayage,” Yaw said. “There’s this huge amount of fragmented emails and phone calls that can be replaced through an API integration.” 

Betty Liu, operating partner at Maersk Growth, said “Loadsmart’s technology coupled with its ability to tackle long-standing industry challenges with a fresh set of eyes” is one reason the venture capital arm of Maersk led the funding round for the Smart Drayage platform. 

“When looking at the Smart Drayage solution, we were able to create and deploy that in just a few short months, which isn’t a small feat when you are re-engineering a complete process,” Liu said.

Visibility into where a container might be in its course off a dock and into a warehouse is a growing requirement for many shippers nowadays. But it becomes the driver’s responsibility to provide that information, either through a smartphone app or calling back to dispatch.

Loadsmart’s drayage platform takes the onus off of drivers through its integration with electronic logging devices (ELDs). Loadsmart can geofence ports and warehouses to automatically update when a container moves in and out of a location based on the ELD data. 

It’s not only the retrieval of full containers that need better management but also the return of empties. The typical process might involve a trucker at a warehouse randomly picking up the closest available empty for a dual transaction, without giving heed to the free-time allowance for that box. Yaw said Loadsmart’s platform can dispatch an empty based on when it was initially dropped off, thereby minimizing per-diem fees on late returns. 

Shippers “are footing the bill on the container for no reason other than there was no protocol in place for what empties are available and when,” he said.  

Further iterations of Loadsmart’s drayage platform will include a more flexible intermodal network, Yaw said, explaining that instead of assigning a specific truck to pick up a specific box at a specific time, trucks can be dispatched to pick up the first available container and sent to the preferred destinations that the carrier selects.

That operational model, though, will come as the platform spreads out across from its initial rollout at Ports America’s Newark, New Jersey, container terminal to other terminals, carriers and shippers. 

“There’s a certain amount of density required to get to that free-flow model since having just the truckers doesn’t get you there and having just the containers doesn’t get you there,” Yaw said.  “We are actively and aggressively moving in that direction as we pick up more volume.”