On the right track: Tracking tech and analytics are transforming supply chain management

A Chicago company’s supply chain management platform reduces shipment delays, optimizes routes, and pinpoints places to reduce carbon emissions.

The global pandemic has brought to light the fragility of many supply chains. Product shortages in grocery stores, food processing slowdowns, and e-commerce businesses scrambling to meet surging demand all illustrate supply chain choke points. This week, I’m highlighting Midwest tech businesses that are helping to solve these problems. 

The innovation: Chicago-based FourKites is a predictive supply chain management platform founded in 2014. A proprietary algorithm calculates shipment arrival times and allows real-time tracking based on GPS or trucks’ electronic logging devices. FourKites just launched a free sustainability dashboard so customers can visualize the impact of their supply chain and how emissions change over time.

The problem: A lack of transparency and visibility about product movement is a common complaint across supply chains. “Visibility is always the one thing that makes or breaks projects. If you don’t know where trucks are, it’s hard to plan,” said Susie Bodnar, director of operations and client strategy at FourKites. Shipment “track and trace” activities traditionally have been carried out by employees using paper or simple computer databases, phone calls, and emails rather than more efficient, advanced, digitized and data-driven processes. Shipment delays can equate to millions of dollars in obsolete or spoiled products and lost business, additional labor costs, and additional greenhouse gas emissions.

The impact: Continuous shipment data tracking and predictive analytics is “a very fast growing, very valuable sector,” Bodnar said. By improving supply chain transparency, the platform lessens delays, improves vehicle capacity utilization, reduces vehicle “dwell time” at destinations, and lowers costs. It reduces silos and makes shipments more collaborative among the different players in the supply chain, from shippers to warehouse managers.

Collaboration can, for example, help businesses identify vehicles that are empty because they only had a one-way trip, and then contract that vehicle for another shipment to ensure the truck runs full for an entire circular trip. The new sustainability platform lets businesses see the places along their supply chain where improvements could be made to reduce emissions and environmental impact. “There are so many inefficiencies in the over-the-road transportation network. 40% of trucks at any time are empty and wasting miles,” Bodnar said.

What’s next: In addition to the new sustainability platform, FourKites just launched a free, live network congestion map that visually tracks freight movements across borders in North America and Europe and identifies delays. The tool was created to help customers during the pandemic. FourKites has experienced more demand during the pandemic because “in a time of chaos you really want to know where your shipments are even more than before,” Bodnar said. “We are optimistic for the future… This is an essential part of the economy.”

Do you know other Midwest tech businesses transforming supply chains? Let me know so I can highlight them in a future newsletter. Email katie@centered.tech or connect on Twitter @centereddottech to share ideas.

Today’s tech headlines:

  • A new crystalline material, perovskite, is getting attention for its potential to make solar technologies more efficient and reasonably priced. Perovskite reportedly is excellent at absorbing light and converting it to electrical energy. (Grist)
  • Michigan and Ohio are among the states hardest hit by clean energy/cleantech job losses since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly 600,000 clean energy workers nationwide have lost their jobs during the pandemic, according to an analysis of unemployment data by BW Research. (E2)
  • Cincinnati-based GoSun has released what is touted as the world’s first portable, solar powered water purification and sanitation system. It filters 99% of pathogens from water and can be used as a portable handwashing station, shower, or source of clean drinking water. (news release)

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s