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Archives for January 2019

The Benefits of Web-Interfacing Technology in Truck Weighing Applications

By Contributing Author | 01/29/2019 | 7:25 AM

By Derrick Mashaney, Director of Product Development, Fairbanks Scales

One of the main challenges of truck weighing is keeping track of and properly utilizing scale data. There are numerous reasons to keep track of all the data stored by scales used in weighing on a daily basis, such as for use in invoicing, for monitoring trends over time, and for general convenience, but traditionally, there has not been an efficient, convenient method by which to track scale data. Traditional methods of tracking data are slow, cumbersome, and inexact, and yet the majority of the truck weighing industry still uses these outdated methods. Web-Interfacing technology is the efficient, convenient solution that the truck weighing industry has traditionally lacked.  

Web-interfacing technology is a method of connecting a truck scale or piece of weighing equipment to a computer or tablet via an ethernet connection, be it a local area network (LAN) or wide area network (WAN). Simply put, a web-interfaced weighing instrument can be connected to another connected device on its network, and then accessed via a web-based interface.

Overall Convenience

Web-interfacing technology in truck weighing applications offers numerous benefits, including overall convenience and efficiency.

This technology is convenient because it allows for more or less instant access to full archives of scale data. Stored transaction data and other important information such as customer files and product files to be accessed and edited remotely. The ability to complete these tasks without leaving one’s desk is undoubtedly more convenient than the traditional manual methods of completing the same tasks.

Many organizations still handle their data manually, using methods such as printing out desired data from the scale itself in the form of paper reports or tickets, and then having to keep track of those tickets or printed pages in order to maintain a usable archive of information. This usable archive of tickets and print-outs will still be quite difficult to navigate, and inevitably, tickets are lost and the archive’s usefulness diminishes over time. Archiving data in this way is antiquated and there is no reason for any organization to do so. Real-time data tracking using traditional methods is equally labor-intensive and ineffective. For example, using traditional scale technology and data tracking methods, to find information as simple as the number of transactions made on a given scale for a given month would require halting the scale’s use and then taking down the information manually, such as by going through printed tickets or transaction reports, not to mention having to leave one’s workspace and intrude into the scale house workspace. With web-interfacing technology, the desired information could be accessed near instantly from any computer or device on the network. Rather than having to leave one’s desk and walk to wherever the scale with the desired data is located, and then using some form of the old methods described above to retrieve the desired information, one could, using web-interfacing technology, simply open up the web interface for the desired scale and retrieve the information in seconds.

Even using a more modern method than tracking printed tickets, such as a PC serially connected to a weighing instrument, while slightly faster and more advanced than paper methods, is still wholly inferior to a web-interfaced system. A serial connection requires the connected computer to be within 50-1000 ft (depending on the protocol being used) of the weighing instrument. Web-interfacing technology, however, can be accessed remotely by any computer on the network, so it isn’t nearly as limited in terms of access to weighing instruments. In addition, data transfer via a serial connection is slower than an ethernet connection, and, of course, the serial connection limits data access to the single device that is physically connected at the time. Regardless of the traditional method it is compared to, the time and energy savings possible using web-interfacing technology are large, tangible, and essential.

Increased Efficiency

In addition to and as a result of offering the kind of convenience described above, web-interfacing technology in weighing also makes the operation of a weighing business more efficient. Rather than keeping track of and navigating physical files of scale data, as many organizations using traditional methods do, web-interfaced scale data is digitally stored as a CSV file, which can be saved, edited, and disseminated much faster and more easily than a printed ticket or piece of paper. Additionally, CSV files are easily imported into a variety of spreadsheet programs and applications, which allows for the data to be easily manipulated and configured in any number of desired ways, such as looking at metrics like high volume customers for the prior month, data regarding particular products, or total transactions for any set period of time.

One example of how web-interfacing technology makes businesses more efficient overall is invoicing. Invoicing under a web-interfaced system is more efficient than it would be using standard methods because important data used to set prices for services can be accessed in real-time as those services are being performed, i.e. the total weight of a delivery might determine the price. Rather than having to take down the weight manually after the delivery has been completed, that information is instantly accessible as soon as the truck drives off the scale.

This increased efficiency in invoicing could carry over into other areas of the business. For example, imagine a rock quarry delivering stone to a job. These kinds of jobs are often paid by the ton. Using web-interfacing technology, the quarry can easily track the process on the job based on the percentage of the total weight ordered that has been delivered to the customer at any given point in time. Each time a truck is weighed and departs with a load for the customer, that information would be instantly accessible to managers at the quarry, who can then use that information immediately to inform how they prioritize all jobs at hand and how they can best allocate resources to them. For instance, if the stone delivery job is behind, managers would know this in real-time, and could send more trucks or come up with other solutions to complete the job on time.

Maintenance is also more efficient under a web-interfacing scale system. For example, Fairbanks Scales’ system can be maintained through the web-interface. Fairbanks technicians can log-in to the network on-site using their device and perform diagnostic checks, troubleshooting procedures, or even calibration processes on any connected scale or piece of weighing equipment. Being able to perform these tasks via the web interface makes the tasks much easier and faster to perform, so fixing or recalibrating a troublesome scale is no longer a significant endeavor.

Easy to Implement, Yet Underutilized

Despite the advantages of web-interfacing technology, very few in the truck weighing industry utilize the technology. There are no real barriers to entry for using such technology. Most businesses already operate on a local area network or wide area network, and if not, setting up a stand-alone, private network between a device and a scale is easy and inexpensive.

In short, web-interfacing technology is essential to running an efficient truck-weighing business, offering remote and instant access to all scale-related data that could be needed in any situation. Such technology greatly increases the convenience and speed with which numerous tasks involving stored scale information can be performed, and as such, its importance should not be overlooked.

 

Derrick Mashaney is the Director of Product Development at Fairbanks Scales, a company that provides scaling technology and web-interfacing technology as a standard part of all of their truck weighing instruments. The exact specifications of their scales vary from application to application and model to model, but the effect that web-interfacing technology has on the ease of access to those scales’ data is universal. 

How the Latest Government Shutdown Affects Today’s Transportation Professionals

By Contributing Author | 01/25/2019 | 7:13 PM

By Jason Craig – Director, Government Affairs, C.H. Robinson

 

Whenever a government shutdown happens, there are bound to be areas of disruption within our industry. As it currently stands, the December 2018 shutdown is only a partial closing.

Yet, issues are already apparent—including some significant problems that cannot be resolved until the shutdown is over. If the shutdown extends longer term, more supply chain professionals may be affected.

While the government shut down most directly affects the thousands of employees not receiving paychecks, others are beginning to feel the effects too. During times of uncertainty, many people choose to slow spending and wait. It’s likely that this behavior could affect our entire economy if the shutdown continues.

Department of Energy and fuel surcharges

Many supply chain professionals routinely rely on Washington every week when they review and use the weekly diesel price average. Published by the Energy Information Agency (EIA) to adjust contract rates for fuel surcharges, this rate plays an important role in trucking.

On September 21, 2018, after President Trump signed a bill funding energy and water related portions of the federal government, the Department of Energy received funding for 2019. Accordingly, this area of the government is still operating during the shutdown.

Department of Transportation and future rulemaking

Even more directly related to our business, the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) did not receive funding for 2019. Yet the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is currently open as it was funded through the Highway Trust Fund. A long-term shutdown may delay the high-level approvals required for rulemakings from the Federal Motor Carrier Administration around new hours of service (HOS) proposals.

Customs clearance process and delays

The customs clearance process is feeling the immediate impact of a longer-term shutdown. Often, cross-border freight requires approval from partner agencies—the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to name a few—beyond just Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

While many CBP employees are required to report to work, CBP will not be funded during the shutdown. Accordingly, certain processes may be held up during the shutdown, including duty refunds, Post Summary Corrections, and Duty Drawback claim refunds. While hard working customs officers are essential personnel, the closing of these partner agencies may cause significant delays at borders and other related requests to go unprocessed.

Changes to the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS)

The CBP updated their electronic version before year end and accordingly, tariffs are being filed correctly. Alternately, the International Trade Commission has not yet published a 2019 version of the HTS.

Certain private HTS resources have the updated tariff for their subscribers, yet there appear to be updates to certain Unit of Measure that were not previously announced (e.g., grams now to be reported as gm instead of g; hundreds is now reported as HUN). We’re also seeing that certain changes not implemented by January 1, 2019, cannot be claimed until the shutdown is over. Talk to your import expert if any of these changes directly affect your business.

Staffing at various locations is limited

The quota desk continues to work openings. The next opening is for the specialty sugar quota on January 23, 2019. They will issue a CSMS message prior to the opening.

There are many reports that other locations are not operating at full staff. Expect delays while contacts are tracked down to assist when necessary. Overtime is allowed but ports will be cautious and prudent in allowing it as the overtime budget for the coming year is unknown.

What’s next?

The longer the government shutdown lasts, the more disruptions supply chain professionals will notice. As the shutdown continues, more cross-border freight delays will occur as well as some ancillary impact that motor carriers may see while the U.S. DOT is down.

Work closely with your supply chain team or bring in skilled logistics experts to keep you up to date about what the shut

The Importance of Data Visualization in Logistics

By Contributing Author | 01/23/2019 | 11:52 AM

By Carolyn Nowaske, Senior Account Executive, iDashboards

Logistics is all about efficiency. In order to make sure your business is firing on all cylinders, you need to track and understand huge amounts of data. And it doesn’t stop there; you need the right tools to turn that data into actionable information. You need a plan. This is where data visualization comes into play.

By creating scorecards and reporting that compile and display data in a singular, easy-to-understand place, you can see how your business stacks up against its most important KPIs. With a data visualization plan in place, you can transform virtually unlimited amounts of information into tangible and effective improvement strategies.

Data visualization on the psychological level

Did you know that data visualization is psychological? It’s true! As a general principle, seeing data in the form of a chart or graph is better than trying to understand spreadsheets or reports. Your data tells a story, and the most effective medium is a picture book. It might sound simple, but the psychological benefits of data visualization go far beyond the pretty colors and stylish graphs. It’s all about the way our brains process and understand information.

Pre-Attentive and Attentive Processing

Pre-attentive processing is the secret sauce of data visualization. It’s what makes pictures (such as graphs and charts) easier to absorb than Excel spreadsheets. Imagine a poster filled with blue squares. Somewhere on that poster is a cluster of red squares. At a glance, your brain will automatically identify these unique elements. In other words, you don’t have to actively think about finding a discrepancy; your brain does it for you. That’s the beauty of pre-attentive processing.

On the flipside, attentive processing requires concentration. A word search, for example, requires attentive processing because you have to actively search for the information (or letters) you want to find. Data visualization allows you to maximize pre-attentive processing so your brain can skip the line and get right to the good stuff: the story within the data.

How data visualization improves KPI reporting and monitoring

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are the backbone of business intelligence. They are (or should be) the strongest indicator of whether or not your business is successful. If your KPIs are on track, your business is too. This isn’t to say you should only track one or two performance indicators, but simply that your KPIs should reflect the overarching goals of your logistics business. Once you understand what those metrics are, you can build additional data visualization for smaller, supporting metrics.

Data visualization improves performance monitoring for several reasons. First, it saves time. Time is money, especially for logistics experts, so any tool that helps you streamline reporting is a good thing. Here are a few ways data visualization can speed up the data reporting process:

  • Provide instant reporting (no lag time)
  • Is available to stakeholders at every level, even on-the-go
  • Viewable from multiple devices (computers, tablets, smart phones, etc.)

Turning information into useful information

Most importantly, data visualization bridges the gap between “what information do we have?” and “how can this information help us become more efficient?” When you send a static paper report out, the data is instantly outdated. It’s also easy for important information to get lost or buried. By integrating dashboards that are easy to understand (thanks to pre-attentive processing), your reporting can eliminate the middleman and help you spend more time using data and less time trying to understand it.

There are several practical ways to accomplish this on your dashboard:

  • Proximity: Pair related metrics next to each other. By doing so, you can more easily spot trends and patterns that share a causal relationship. The number of deliveries within a given month and the average number of minutes it takes to unload shipments, for example, could relate to each other in ways you didn’t notice before.
  • Choose the right charts: Not all graphs are created equally. In fact, specific types of data visualization are best suited for specific metrics. If you want to track the number of deliveries in a specific region throughout the month of January, a pie chart probably isn’t your best option. If you want to know the percentage of deliveries that included no broken merchandise, however, a pie chart might provide the best, at-a-glance view of the data you need.
  • Use drilldowns: Drilldowns are like reports within reports. To avoid cluttering up your dashboard with every possible piece of information your business needs, try displaying the most important metrics on the front page. Then, give users the ability to choose their path of analysis. Whether they drill down to charts, other dashboards, or external URLs, they will have immediate access to the answers they need. In short, drilldowns are the best way visualize data that supports your larger objectives.

Which key performance indicators should you visualize?

Picking the right KPIs will shape the way you view your business’ success. In other words, knowing what metrics to pay attention to is a vital step in the data visualization process. In the world of logistics, some common and useful metrics include:

Solutions_Laptop_T&L

  • Shipping and Delivery Times
  • Order Accuracy
  • Transportation and Warehousing Costs
  • Warehouse Capacity
  • Number of Shipments
  • Inventory Accuracy and Turnover
  • Inventory to Sales Ratio
  • Percentage of Damaged Goods
  • Driver Safety and Incident Metrics

Before you design and launch your logistics dashboard, take these metrics into consideration and prioritize them. Scrutinize the implications of each data set and pair them with related metrics, then begin compiling a storyboard to visualize what you want your dashboard to look like. Additionally, keep in mind that – just like your goals – your dashboard can change over time. If you want to focus on one specific area of improvement, focus on that in your dashboard. If a metric doesn’t seem to give actionable insights, remove it. Your dashboard is a work in progress, just like your processes.

 

Carolyn Nowaske (iDashboards)Carolyn Nowaske is a Senior Account Executive at iDashboards. She has over 10 years of experience in IT software and solutions. She is responsible for new business growth, specializing in the transportation & logistics sector. Outside of work, she enjoys quality time spent with her family.

A day on, not a day off

By DC Velocity | 01/21/2019 | 4:54 AM

By Kathy Fulton, Executive Director, American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN)

“Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?’"
—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Montgomery, Ala., 1957

Martin Luther King Jr. statueIf you’ve ever viewed my Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, you already know that I’m a fan of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., because I frequently use his quotes.

That’s been especially true since I had the chance to visit his memorial in Washington, D.C., a few years ago. (If you’ve never visited, I urge you to do so—once the partial government shutdown ends, of course.) The memorial is inscribed with many excerpts from his speeches and writings—and even though all were written more than 50 years ago, they still serve as powerful and timeless directives to love and serve others. They certainly serve as motivators for me.

So why in the world am I writing about Dr. King, besides the obvious fact that each year around this time we recognize his work with a holiday? Because in addition to choosing the third Monday of each January to honor him, Congress also designated that day as a national day of service and appointed the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to be responsible for it.

CNCS calls this holiday a “day on, not a day off,” and notes that “[t]he MLK Day of Service is intended to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, create solutions to social problems, and move us closer to Dr. King's vision of a ‘Beloved Community.’"

So in the spirit of a “day on” (because days off in logistics and disaster response are rare), we’d like to present you with a quick request: Won’t you consider registering to volunteer with ALAN in some form or fashion?

We have many individual roles available, so there’s sure to be one that fits your interest. For example, we need logistics coordinators; liaisons to work with our non-profit partners; transportation, warehousing, and material handling subject-matter experts; fundraisers; marketing and communications professionals; policy experts; process improvement specialists; and more. (When you sign up, you can tell us what skills you have to offer.)

We also have numerous ways to get your company involved. So if your business is interested in learning how you can donate your logistics services or expertise (before, during, or after disaster), we invite you to submit your information here. The needs you offer to fill can be as simple as storing or transporting a few pallets one time, or as complex as donating dedicated equipment for a few days, weeks, or months to support a response. But wow, can your help ever make a difference. And by the way, it’s important to point out that filling out the form will really only commit you to be on ALAN’s radar screen. It’s a way to let us know that you’re a group we can call upon when disasters hit—not an ironclad commitment to donate in-kind services each and every time. If we call you with a specific request and the timing isn’t right for you, we’ll completely understand. We’ll just keep your name on the list for the next request!

Prefer to provide financial support? We also have a role for you, because we welcome one-time and sustaining donations of any amount. More information is available on our website, or contact us and we’ll give you a call to discuss your interest.

Dr. King, upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, proclaimed, “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture of their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”

Taking a page from his book, I have the audacity to believe that well-coordinated supply chain activities hold the key to solving the challenges wrought by disasters. No one affected by disaster, regardless of the size of the storm, or their location or social status, should go hungry, or without hydration, medical care, or shelter—especially not when the supply chain community has the resources to deliver what is needed.

I hope you’ll join us in that dream—and make 2019 a year filled with service to others

The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

About One-Off Sound-Off

Welcome to "One-Off Sound-Off," a blog page devoted to guest commentary on all things supply chain. This is a space where industry leaders can share their opinions and expertise with the logistics and supply chain community. If you have an article or commentary you'd like to share, please consider sending a guest blog proposal to feedback@dcvelocity.com.



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