Supply Chain Expertise and Technology Blog by TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson

Connecting into the Future of TMS Technology


Is your transportation management system (TMS) wired to the Internet of Things (IoT)? If not, you could be missing out on one of the most exciting chapters in the development of TMS technology.

The IoT is the vast network of objects connected by embedded electronics. In the logistics corner of this expanding universe, TMS solutions are connecting with modes of transportation via sensors fitted to freight vehicles, cargo, and even drivers. The potential for using this connectivity to increase network efficiency, lower costs, and improve safety is staggering. So far we have only scratched the surface, but here are some examples to whet your appetite.

TMC clients shipping perishable food items are feeding temperature data generated by sensors on their trailers directly into our TMS. We store and make these readings available to our clients as shipment data. When temperatures stray outside of desirable ranges, we have the ability to automatically create notifications that can be sent to any relevant party.

As we accumulate more data, it will be possible to analyze trends and identify opportunities to avoid temperature-related glitches. For example, which routes are more susceptible to this type of problem, and are there specific activities, such as loading/unloading operations, that are especially prone to temperature issues?

Another application area that offers huge potential is the use of GPS location data to better manage freight transportation. Some shippers are transmitting location data from truck-mounted sensors to our TMS. We have built logic into the TMS that uses this data to monitor the location of vehicles. If a truck is running behind schedule, the system can automatically create an alert and notify relevant parties of the potential delay.

Automating the check call process in this way means that shippers don’t have to employ a person to track multiple carriers and call drivers when vehicles are behind schedule. Moreover, the automated process eliminates human errors such as the keying in of inaccurate address information.

Accurate location data is especially important when delivering to construction sites and just-in-time manufacturing locations where delays can quickly increase costs. One TMC client that delivers to construction sites is using these location notifications to keep up to date on deliveries and avoid paying for specialist installers to wait at job sites.

We’ve expanded the GPS service internationally, too. The automatic check call facility has been introduced in Brazil, where sensors installed on trucks ping a GPS satellite which relays the location data to our TMS. The added advantage is that drivers in these countries can find it difficult to make manual calls in locales where cell phone coverage is unreliable or even non-existent.

Again, as we amass more GPS data it will be possible to carry out deep-dive analyses on truck movements. Consider, for example, the value of being able to overlay data on traffic congestion patterns over GPS location data to determine the optimum routes for minimizing delays in a given geographic area.

One reason for the increasing interest in tying networks of sensors on trucks to TMS solutions is that more shippers are becoming aware of the possibilities. The ability to use a single TMS as an information hub, rather than having to log in to multiple sites to access a widening array of information options is one of the technology’s major benefits. In addition, the cost of sensors has come down and the systems have become more accessible to logistics industry users.

These trends, coupled with the explosive growth of the IoT, are opening up new TMS applications that up until now we could only imagine.

- IT Project Manager