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“Paperless dock” a reality for innovative Central Transport

By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor
September 16, 2013

Shippers who find their less-than-truckload (LTL) freight late, misrouted or only partially delivered may find solace in an innovation devised by Central Transport. Through innovative use of technology, the Warrren, Mich.-based LTL carrier is operating “paperless docks” at its 155 terminals.
“It is totally paperless and really slick,” says Satish Jindel, principal of Pittsburgh-based SJ Consulting, which closely tracks the LTL sector. “I was just at Central Transport’s Detroit terminal and it is great technology at work.”
Clinton Sieber, vice president for sales for Central Transport, told LM the multimillion-dollar investment is paying dividends in speed, efficiency, load planning, reduced handling and great equipment utilization.
LTL carriers, which haul anything from flagpoles to Christmas trees to automotive engine components and everything in between, carry by definition inconsistent loads because of the mix of freight. But Central Transport’s newly devised system is creating a new type of LTL carrier that aims to match the efficiencies of some of the best small package or procurement companies in the world.
“Our docks are akin to a large FedEx or Amazon hub,” Sieber said. “Our system technology helps us create a stable process throughout our network that reduces freight variability. Every time you have variability, you have errors. We want to make ours a consistent process.”
Central Transport, a national non-union LTL carrier, ranked No. 16 on LM’s list of the largest LTL carriers with $380 million last year. Privately owned since its inception in early the 1930s, the carrier is expected to top $400 million in revenue this year, officials say.
“We were born and raised on automotive, but Chrysler is only one left among our top ten customers,” Sieber said. “We still do a lot of automotive but a lot of it is aftermarket supplier vendor to DC or DC to customer. The bulk of our top 10 customers are retail, Defense Department, and heavy truck manufacturers such as Volvo and Mack. We are trying to keep our portfolio more balanced.”
In the late 1990s, Central began to outfit is pickup and delivery drivers with handheld scanners. It was originally to help with payroll efficiency. But Central found the tiny handheld scanners captured all types of information about its freight—size, weight, dimensions, origin, destination, among other characteristics. That turned out to be a gold mine.
“What we found when the drivers got back to the terminal, we already had all that information,” Sieber said. “We didn’t need a paper bill of lading. We already had captured that information. When you scan the barcode, we can directly load freight to the correct outbound door, scan the trailer and door number, put freight in, and eliminate the need for paper manifest.”
As that is occurring, customized software tells dock workers exactly which outbound trailer each piece of freight goes. Each pallet has own barcode. If Central picked up four pallets, four pallets are scanned. There are no manifests taped to trailer doors.
“All we do is to move pallet across the floor and the system does the rest—it’s not a stretch to say we are paperless,” Sieber says. “From point of pickup to destination where customer signs handheld device, we maintain a paperless system.”
Central Transport and its customers benefit four ways from the system:
1-Greater driver productivity. On the P&D side, by having drivers with handheld as they capture new pickups and control dispatch, its GPS system allows it to create more efficient routings;
2-Improved line-haul planning. The system captures total weight, ZIP code, an image of bill of lading, so Central Transport can create more direct loads to destination. Central Transport says it has reduced handling by 1.5 times per shipment as a result so velocity is better;
3-Less lost freight. “By scanning each piece, we never get in situation where we never know where that piece of freight is and who touched it,” Sieber said. “If a load of pallets is split, we know where each one is. Split loads are common in LTL. But we can react and recover faster, which is fantastic”;  and
4-Improved long-term planning. It can plan dock management remotely from a central location. “We can see what’s filling at each dock doors at corporate and make changes faster as far as trailer allocation,” Sieber said. “We can take advantage by looking at things from 30,000 feet instead of the local dock level.”

Other LTL carriers such as Saia and FedEx Freight, among others, have outfitted their drivers with handheld scanners. But Central Transport says it is among the first carriers to take the system and create a paperless dock environment.
“If you’re going to be a player in LTL, you want to enable drivers with as much technology as possible,” Sieber says. “An LTL dock has a lot of moving parts. The more you can support your workers with technology, the better. We want to be a technology leader in the LTL space.”
Sieber says Central has improved its on-time delivery long-haul lands by 2 to 3 percentage points. “For us, it’s about being consistent in hitting our transit times,” he said. “For us, it’s all about being consistent.”

About the Author

John D. Schulz
Contributing Editor

John D. Schulz has been a transportation journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in the trucking industry. He is known to own the fattest Rolodex in the business, and is on a first-name basis with scores of top-level trucking executives who are able to give shippers their latest insights on the industry on a regular basis. This wise Washington owl has performed and produced at some of the highest levels of journalism in his 40-year career, mostly as a Washington newsman.

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