How is Middle-Mile Delivery Contributing to the Automation Boom?
The process of delivering goods from the supplier to the consumer involves multiple steps that all require efficiency, effective communication, and innovation. Generally, said steps in the delivery process are separated as follows::
- First-Mile Delivery. The first step in the process involves the transportation of the goods from the supplier’s factory, farm, etc to the distribution facility or warehouse for processing and/or storage.
- Middle-Mile Delivery. As the name suggests, middle-mile delivery is the transition point in the process whereby the products are taken from the warehouse to the store in which they will be sold to the consumer.
- Final/Last-Mile Delivery. The terminal phase of the delivery process is known as last-mile delivery. This is when the goods reach their final destination (i.e. the retail store).
While steps one and three in the delivery process are vitally important, the focus of this article is on middle-mile delivery and how it is playing a massive role in the automation boom throughout the logistics industry.
Middle-Mile Delivery: The Forgotten Step in the Delivery Process
For a long time, automation in the logistics industry has focused on first-mile and last-mile delivery. These portions of the delivery process are ripe with opportunities for automation and it’s easy to think of ways to improve efficiency and communication during these phases.
However, in fairly recent times, innovators have looked between the lines and seen the benefit in automating portions of the middle-mile step in the delivery process. After all, the middle-mile tends to be the most expensive portion of the whole operation. Add this to the fact that there is a significant shortage of drivers to fill the ever-increasing demand in the field and it’s easy to see why automation is not only a helpful change to the delivery process; it is essential.
Luckily, automating portions of the middle mile doesn’t require re-inventing the wheel. Other industries can be used as a model for middle-mile automation such as the ride-sharing field.
Automated Ubers as a Model for Middle-Mile Automation
Following the lead of ride-sharing companies like Uber, which have started to transport passengers in a driverless capacity, delivery trucks are beginning to take to the road with less need for human drivers. While driverless cars have gotten some significant pushback, driverless delivery vehicles used for the middle-mile are rapidly gaining in popularity.
In fact, compared with the hurdles and issues associated with driverless cabs on the road, issues inherent with driverless delivery vehicles are a breeze to troubleshoot.
To name a few of the primary differences that make automated delivery easier than other forms of automated transportation such as cab rides:
Delivery of Goods Does Not Involve Human Passengers
If you’ve ever shared a taxi with a rude or impatient rider, you get a glimpse into what drivers have to deal with. People who are hurrying to get to work or their next obligation can often be rude and may complain about the driver, whether the said driver is a robot or a human. If passenger satisfaction is low, it makes selling driverless taxis as the new norm a tough hurdle to navigate.
People Need to be Comfortable During Transport, Packages Do Not
When people are transported, they need to be at least somewhat comfortable. Packages do not have the same needs. Goods can be neatly packed into the delivery vehicle in whatever box or piece of packaging makes the most sense and will keep the goods safe during transport.
Middle-Mile Delivery Routes Follow Predictable and Straightforward Paths
When trucks only need to take the same, predictable route repeatedly, it becomes easier to automate the trip. This contrasts taxi and Uber rides where passengers will frequently change their minds, road closures will force drivers to change course, and other impediments inherent in this type of driving affect the overall experience.
While for many companies, autonomous vehicle operators are along for the ride, it is predicted that there will soon be a shift toward a fully automated delivery system controlled only by a “teleoperator”. These individuals will monitor the path of the truck throughout the middle mile remotely, and intervene as necessary.
Automation is one of the most critical trends in the logistics industry today, and its importance in improving middle-mile operations cannot be overstated. Companies from all different backgrounds are racing to find the next way to best automate the middle-mile process and the technology is improving daily.