Much of America ground to a halt in April as states and cities across the country enacted public health measures to combat the coronavirus outbreak, but trucks kept rolling. Loads had to be delivered, and trucking companies, their drivers, and office personnel rose to the task.
But while delivering these goods is essential work, fleets of all sizes are also taking steps to help protect their drivers and office staff from contracting the virus themselves while on duty. These steps include plenty of sanitizing of workspaces, truck cabs, paperwork, and anything else people come into contact with, even setting up a number of home offices.
Technology has played a key role. In some instances, the web-based nature of transportation management system products has allowed for an easy transition to home offices for managers, dispatchers, and others. Document scanning reduces excessive paper handling by drivers and office staff. A number of applications help reduce personal interactions between drivers and dock personnel or drivers and shop technicians.
At Werner Enterprises, about 60% of office employees are now working remotely. But that capability was something Werner has been developing for some time, according to Danny Lilley, vice president of fleet systems and technology.
Speaking during an HDT webinar April 20, he noted that Werner started well before the current crisis to covert some teams to laptops instead of desktop, making it easier for the staff to access their work software at home. While many staff are working remotely, the company has used video conferencing, Lilly said, and that it’s been “really great for us.”
In addition, Lilley said one of Werner’s primary focuses during this emergency is to make sure drivers get all the information they need to stay safe while on the road. Technology has helped there, as well.
“We have a driver-facing application, we have a driver portal, and we use social media,” he said, adding that the company has been proactive in building content, including videos and information from sites such as the Centers for Disease Control. “As that content becomes available, we're pushing it out to each of those channels.
“We wouldn’t be able to do that without the technology we use.”
Social Distancing at the Dock
For Fusion Transport in Glen Rock, New Jersey, a yard management app recommended by a customer has proven to be perfect for reducing face-to-face interactions for drivers and dock personnel. With four warehouse facilities across the country, the company consolidates LTL shipments for customers such as Walmart, so their distribution centers can take fewer full trailer loads of freight instead of smaller loads. The company, which tends to ship a lot of essential items, saw volume spike 30-40%, says CEO Frank Matarazzo, with the increase creating some staffing challenges.
The company has about 150 employees, with another 40-50 doing warehouse work that are not directly employed by the Fusion.
The office staff, which accounts for about 70 people, have all transitioned to working remotely, according to Matarazzo. “They can do everything they need to do from home. We feel that is a huge feat we’ve accomplished.”
Technology made that task easier, including an app from e4score called EZCheck-In, which the company began using two months ago at the request of one of its large customers. The app is designed to manage the loading/unloading and detention process.
“When this thing hit, we looked at how to eliminate driver interaction at the warehouse, since we load 60-80 drivers from a warehouse in New Jersey each day. This software allowed us to cut out interactions,” he says.
The app allows drivers to check-in to a location from their phone, with office personnel able to automatically pull all the load information from their TMS. The driver then gets instructions on where to back in, and the app confirms when he is at the dock. Loaders let the driver know when he is loaded, and the driver taps a button on the app confirming he is loaded. He taps another button on the app when he checks out.
Matarazzo says while the app does eliminate the check-in and on-dock interactions, there is some risk, as the drivers rely on shippers to count the load.
Adjusting in California
In California, the first state to issue stay-at-home orders, trucking companies faced an adjustment to a new reality early on.
“Most of the driver managers and executive team can and are conducting business remotely,” says Denny Wyatt, managing member Apex Logistics, based in Adelante, California. They are able to sign into the company’s computer system via the internet. But Apex still has staff coming into the office and shop, he adds, with mechanics working their regular schedule, and personnel in areas such as accounts receivable/payable and accounting continuing to work in the office.
Apex’s customers include a number of businesses that deal with items considered essential, such as construction products, food, and energy generation, so its business has held up so far, Wyatt says, with volumes off about 20%.
Employees coming into the office are wearing masks and face shields at all times, and the company follows a vigorous regime of disinfecting. Work stations are disinfected daily, common areas six times a day, and trucks are cleaned whenever there is a driver change. All paperwork turned in by drivers is also disinfected before being scanned into their system, according to Wyatt.
Robert Ramorino, president of Roadstar Trucking in Hayward, California, says all of its trucks are running, but volumes are down. Initially thinking, “Wow, what do we do now?” after California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home order, he was contacted within an hour by a customer who called to let them know they were an essential business.
“As a result, we were essential, too,” says Ramorino, adding that he was not even aware how many of their customers ended up providing essential products.
While most of its staff comes into the office, they have been divided between two separate buildings to facilitate social distancing.
“We also set up an outdoor office to receive inbound drivers to our dock and warehouse operation and limit company drivers from entering the offices and dock areas,” he says.
As for handling paperwork, Ramorino says, many shippers have procedures for handling paperwork indirectly. Drivers are all also supplied with disinfectant wipes and other protective gear.
Keyword Trucking out of Salt Lake City, a relatively young company founded last December by Kyle Costomiris, Le Tran, and Loc Tran, hauls intermodal containers from rail terminals in Salt Lake City to warehouses within the area. Starting with two trucks, they now run 15.
The work involves a lot of paperwork, as they go in and out of rail terminals and warehouse locations. They use software from Vector, which allows drivers to scan the paperwork before returning to the yard. The software has been “insanely helpful,” according to Costomiris.
“We all worked at other trucking companies, and there were some places where a person’s job was to scan documents all day. With this, the driver takes a picture of the order number and it uploads the shipment information,” he says, adding that the company uses a cloud-based TMS tailored for intermodal work, which makes working remotely easy.
Fleets have long used technology to improve efficiencies and make their employees’ jobs easier. Now those same technologies may help save lives.