Richard Hartshorne, Business Unit Director, Expleo Group
As the economic landscape rebounds to — and in some verticals, exceeds — pre-pandemic levels of activity, the logistics space is primed and ready for a phase of tech-led transformation. Regulatory changes and evolving market conditions can often be the driving impetus for new strands of innovation to take hold, and this sentiment captures the perfect storm that will spur the logistics space towards a new era of efficiency in 2022.
As it happens, the logistics space has been long overdue a phase of recalibration. The dramatic shortage in truck drivers in the UK is forecast to worsen, with nearly a quarter of lorry drivers expecting to leave the industry in the next three years. This, coupled with potential legislative changes coming down the line, mean the table is set for much more sustainable delivery practices to become firmly embedded in a revamped logistics space.
The European Truck Platooning Challenge, unveiled in 2016, called for cross-border cooperation between truck manufacturers, logistics operators, road operators, research bodies and governments to work towards a new, automated landscape for logistics. Since then, innovations in Automation have made this lofty ambition a distinct possibility in the near term. In fact, the United Nations recently highlighted the significant impact Autonomous Vehicles and truck platooning will have on the environment and global sustainability initiatives. Impending UN legislation could stipulate for this technology to be in place by 2022, a vision that firmly aligns with recent targets underscored at COP26.
Driving the sustainability agenda forward
For all logistics operators, a primary objective is exploring tangible means of reducing CO2 emissions. It has been estimated vehicles account for 20% of the world’s total carbon emissions, with a quarter of this being attributed to heavy duty vehicles (HDVs). Reducing energy consumption might be an obvious avenue to pursue for fleet operators, if only it could be done in a way that wouldn’t undercut competitiveness. Well, today, achieving commercial growth and giving genuine expression to a solid sustainability agenda doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, and a full industry embrace of smart truck platooning can enable serious efficiency gains while cutting CO2 emissions.
In essence, smart truck platooning is a form of automated carpooling for large trucks and lorries. One human-driven truck would lead the convoy, with autonomously driven lorries following suit, maintaining a predetermined and close distance between each other — unlocking the benefits of the slipstream effect. By leveraging connectivity technology and autonomous driving support systems, vehicles can adapt to changes in the movement of the convoy leaders, ensuring streamlined transportation and minimum disruption.
Research indicates that smart truck platooning could deliver a 16% reduction in CO2 emissions, and when these sustainability initiatives can yield tangible cost savings for logistics operators, the case for smart truck platooning becomes iron-clad. The ‘Fuel Economy in Truck Platooning’ report illustrated how fuel cost represents close to 30% of the life cycle cost of owning and operating a truck, and how a 4.7m gap between vehicles can lower energy consumption by up to 18% — demonstrating the intrinsic link between snug vehicle convoys and energy savings. So, with a clear set of rationale for the implementation of smart truck platooning, both from a commercial and sustainability point of view, how do we turn this vision into a reality?
Embracing a culture of collaboration
Logistics operators who want to execute an agile, sustainable growth strategy will need to be open to a new culture of collaboration, enabling partnership synergies that can optimise the frequency with which fleets are deployed on various routes. A siloed approach must be set aside, and privacy-enabled collaborations between logistics operators — even competitors — could in turn become the norm. This could create regulatory-compliant partnerships, delivering data points that are mutually beneficial and pave the way for more sophisticated and efficient fleet management systems.
In the new Smart Truck Platooning era, logistics companies can securely share relevant scheduling and truck information with Centralised Hubs via mobile networks, guaranteeing the optimum platoon configuration and navigation, while enabling trucks to join and leave the platoon seamlessly.
Charting a smart regulatory road
The case for smart truck platooning is clear: making road transport safer, cleaner and more efficient. Forging a truly sustainable path will undoubtedly require a culture of collaboration becoming the industry standard, with continuous exploration and testing of platooning technology, and a rewiring of logistical IT hardware to enable interconnection between providers. Moreover, robust investment in infrastructure will be needed to facilitate a smooth transition to the new era of platooning.
We will also need to build on the groundswell of momentum from COP26, and tap into the sentiment of 2016’s European Truck Platooning Challenge to develop a clear regulatory framework that facilitates smart truck platooning on the EU and international stage. This framework would need to encapsulate universal signaling and road markings, driver training and monitoring, inter-truck communications protocols, automated steering functionality and bespoke trafficking rules. Expleo is passionate about helping logistics operators navigate the evolving landscape with conviction in 2022, offering best-in-class testing to ensure optimum performance of platooning in real-traffic conditions, to expedite the UK logistics industry’s road to Net Zero.