Transportation technology takes center stage on last day of NITL Summit

Freight industry innovators presented their ideas for the future of transportation and supply chains on the final day of the National Industrial Transportation League’s 2020 Summit.

The panel of freight tech professionals discussed everything from artificial intelligence, 3D printing and blockchain, to how Generation Z interacts with technology.

“There’s this explosion of data. One of the things I like to talk about is the democracy of data — everybody’s getting access to it. That changes the way that we deal with people on our teams, people across functions from us, the way we deal with our partners,” said Sean Fallon, president of logistics technology firm FourKites.

Along with Fallon, other panelists included William Green of IBM distribution packaging technology; Bob Tuchek, president of RSI Logistics; and Christian Piller, vice president, value engineering at project44.

The NITL Summit was held Jan. 20 through Jan. 22 in San Antonio. It brought together hundreds of professionals from across the freight transportation sector for forums, networking and discussions about the future.

Green said the big freight technology trends in 2020 could include connectivity, security, artificial intelligence and blockchain.

“Blockchain — essentially, you have a bunch of different parties on a network, every party has a role, and you program that into a hyper ledger. Every transaction that goes up is encrypted and written on this hyper ledger,” Green said.

He said one of the most important applications for blockchain would be security for freight and reducing paperwork and costs.

“We’re looking at security with freight, the fact that you’re moving through different places, customs, different countries — you can move from a stack of 200 pages of documents down to just a few minutes with two megabytes of files that you can look at,” Green said.

Piller said freight companies also need to “make sure that they have a very good process in place to incorporate these new technologies.”

“Let’s  take 3D printing and cellphone cases as an example. If I have a 3D printer, I could just go create my cellphone case; I don’t need to go to Target or Walmart to get my cellphone case,” Piller said.

Piller said if people start printing their own cases, it could change the supply chain for manufacturers like Otterbox and for retailers.

“If you have customers that are 3D printing cellphone cases, there’s no need for the manufacturer to sell cellphone cases to Target — that fundamentally changes the supply chain for Target, changes it for the truckload carrier, it changes it for the supplier, as well as potentially for the rail provider. That’s a big change,” Piller said.

Pillar said another key to success in the future will be companies that can adopt and integrate emerging technologies and think about the customers they serve.

“The new generation is Gen Z. They grew up with digital assistants like Alexa or Siri — when I look at my nieces that are 9 years old, the way they use technology in their daily life is way above mine,” Piller said. “So as this generation comes to the workforce, corporations are really gonna have to think about retraining and how they change your processes to support emerging technologies.”

Green said that despite all the technology and revolutionary ideas, one of the most important questions for companies is “Did I get my money’s worth?”

“Before you start, you have to decide, you know, what your objective is, you have to know what your objective is before you go into it,” Green said. “As a packaging guy, damage avoidance is what I’m interested in. I have a goal — the simple goal that I want to reduce damage.”