Freight Tracking 101

Freight Tracking: What You Should Know

This article was originally in the first quarter issue of The Illinois Manufacturer.

Even before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic which has upended the supply chain, the Amazon effect had changed consumer expectations across the board. As far as shipping goes, the Amazon effect has created an environment in which customers expect and demand to know where their orders are from pickup to delivery.

However, all too often the safe pickup and delivery of goods in transport are dependent on a variety of things out of the shipper’s control, from major weather events and traffic problems to manufacturing or warehousing delays. 

In order to save time and money, many shippers work with reputable 3PLs or freight brokers. Professionals in the logistics space tend to focus on good communication because it’s the number one element they can control. Tracking full truckload shipments is essential to good communication which in turn builds customer confidence and satisfaction. 

Let’s take a look at four tracking methods available to logistics providers and their reliability in an ever-changing logistics environment.

Tracking Methods

Check calls. Most logistics providers complete check calls. For years, there was simply no other way to inquire on the whereabouts of customer freight. However, this is the least reliable tracking method for a variety of reasons. For example, there is no way to verify someone is telling you the truth until the load is actually delivered on-time.

ELD/GPS Tracking. Electronic logging devices have been required on semi-trucks since mid-December 2017. These devices record truck drivers’ off-duty and on-duty time, engine power status, vehicle motion status, miles driven, and engine hours as well as other data points. Most ELDs also incorporate GPS tracking which can be used by logistics providers to keep track of freight location. And while this is an optimal method of tracking it requires the trucking company to provide access which isn’t always easy to acquire unless that company is doing a certain amount of shipments.

Driver Cell Phone Tracking. This is probably the most common tracking method and has a low barrier to entry. Most experienced drivers are accustomed to this and if they balk, it is likely they have something to hide.

Pallet Tracking. Pallet tracking is a relatively new addition to the tracking game. In pallet tracking, the shipper attaches a small tracking device to the pallet, and this device communicates location to the 3PL. One of the benefits of pallet tracking devices is they actually track the freight and not the driver who may or may not be with the freight at all time. 

These devices provide data that can help improve routes, monitor carrier behaviors, and analyze everything from idle times and delays to temperature, humidity, and incurred damages. And while some shippers are wary of the added cost of these devices, successful companies are successfully creating reverse logistics processes to recycle devices, thus reducing costs.

Tracking and the future.

Most logistics experts predict the current upheaval in the supply chain will continue well into 2022 if not longer. Smart manufacturers know that information is the best defense. Customer expectations of quick, reliable, and on-time delivery are not going to wane. Therefore knowing where your freight is at all times is imperative to success and customer satisfaction.