Researchers Say New Dispatch Approach Could Save Millions
Engineers at Oregon State University are studying a new approach to organize and route truck transportation that they believe could save millions of dollars, improve the quality of life for truck drivers and make freight transportation far more efficient.
The findings, published recently by the American Sociological Association, show the feasibility of the new system. Engineers involved say the research is still needed before implementation, but there's potential to revolutionize the way that truck transportation is handled in the United States and around the world.
Researchers say under the new system loads could be delivered more rapidly, costs could be lowered, and the exhausting experience of some truck drivers who often spend two to three weeks on the road between visits back home might be greatly reduced. Removing the lifestyle problems that often leads drivers to quit the industry will also help reduce turnover, researchers predict.
That turnover problem is sufficiently severe that more long-haul, truckload drivers quit every year than there are trucks of that type on the road, they say.
"The perceived quality of life for long-haul truck drivers is poor, and it shouldn't have to be that way," said Hector Vergara, an assistant professor in the OSU School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, who is working on the project in collaboration with researchers at the University of Arkansas.
"It will take a transition for companies to see how the approach we are studying can work effectively, but it should help address several of the problems they face," he said.
None of these systems by themselves are ideal for long-haul transport. The hub and spoke system is among the most popular with drivers because they get home much more frequently, but it can be costly and inefficient for full-truckload transportation. Relay networks make sense in theory but are difficult to implement.
The new approach under study combines the relay system and the point-to-point system for full-truckload transport. The researchers at OSU developed a new mathematical approach to optimize the design of the dispatching system for the movement of goods and to minimize the impact on drivers. It's one of the first models of its type to create a mixed-fleet dispatching system at a large scale.
"We now know this approach can work," Vergara said. "Compared to point-to-point, this system should cut the length of trips a driver makes by about two-thirds, and get drivers back to their homes much more often. We can also keep loads moving while drivers rest, and because of that save significant amounts of money on the number of trucks needed to move a given amount of freight."
The computer optimization determines the best way to dispatch loads and tells where to locate relay points, and how different loads should be routed through the relay network.
Truck transportation systems will never be perfect, researchers concede, because there are so many variables that can cause unpredictable problems – weather delays, road closures, traffic jams, truck breakdowns, driver illnesses. But the current system, especially for long-haul, point-to-point transport, is already riddled with problems, and significant improvements based on computer optimization should be possible.