Things are heating up — for the better — on the supply chain front. Here are the latest efforts...

Things are heating up — for the better — on the supply chain front. Here are the latest efforts inside the beltway.

Graphic: HDT/Canva

Things are heating up — for the better — on the supply chain front. On Aug. 9, President Biden signed into law the $280 billion CHIPS & Science Act (H.R. 4346), which earmarks more than $52 billion to support U.S. companies producing computer chips. The measure should go a long way to ramp up automotive and commercial vehicle production.

The next day, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and federal Supply Chain Envoy Stephen Lyons convened the motor carrier, shipper, logistics provider, chassis supplier, and port authority partners of the Freight Logistics Optimization Works (FLOW) program. This public-private initiative aims to harness new technology to keep supply chains flowing.

FLOW is a joint information-sharing effort by the Biden administration and supply chain operators to pilot the exchange of key freight information between links in the goods-movement supply chain. FLOW members are charged with developing a digital tool that will give companies information on the “condition of a node or region in the supply chain” so goods can be moved more quickly and cheaply to bring down costs for consumers.

Launched in March, FLOW has already doubled the number of participants, and existing partners have begun securely sharing data with the Department of Transportation for the first time. At the convening of FLOW, the partners that operate across U.S. supply chains discussed results of their recent data-sharing and how it can help meet the challenges that remain, according to DOT.  

There are 36 FLOW participants as I write this, a number DOT stated will grow over the coming months. Members range from DHL, FedEx, and UPS to J.B. Hunt and Werner Enterprises to the Ports of Los Angeles and of Long Beach.

“To keep supply chains moving and prices down, we must invest not only in our physical infrastructure but also our digital infrastructure, and FLOW is an important part of that effort,” Buttigieg says.

“The start of data sharing between industry and DOT is an important milestone for FLOW,” according to Lyons. He noted that the digital tool under development will “enable industry to make more informed decisions that will improve the movement of goods along our supply chain.”  

Right now, per DOT, the “lack of transparency across supply chain networks makes our supply chain brittle and unable to adapt when faced with an anomaly.” Through the FLOW pilot, the agency is serving as an “independent steward of supply chain data across a largely privately operated enterprise” that spans shipping lines, ports, terminal operators, truckers, railroads, warehouses, and beneficial cargo owners. “By providing a shared view of the national logistics system, including both supply and demand assets, participants can better understand supply chain capacity nationally.”

DOT specifically casts the solution as one of “better cooperation on foundational freight data exchange so supply chain stakeholders can make better informed decisions that will reduce shipping costs… Supply chain parties deserve reliable, predictable, and accurate information about goods movement.”

DOT explained that recent supply chain disruptions have raised national awareness of the need to be able to make more efficient use of existing assets through improved information exchange. “FLOW will support American businesses throughout the supply chain and improve accuracy of information from end-to-end for a more resilient supply chain.” 

Trucking and logistics members of the FLOW initiative praised the effort.

“We are looking forward to helping improve the speed with which we can identify and resolve freight bottlenecks, by increasing collaboration across the freight transportation network and across government agencies,” said Jason Craig, director of government affairs for C.H. Robinson.

Andy Damkroger, Werner Enterprises’ vice president of logistics, called the initiative “a well-organized, thoughtful approach to aligning stakeholders toward common supply chain goals.”

This commentary first appeared in the September 2022 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking magazine.

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David Cullen

David Cullen

[Former] Business/Washington Contributing Editor

David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

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