There has been an unstoppable flow of information relating to self-driving trucks coming from the media over the last 4 to 6 months. Now we are hearing news of a European company on the verge of bringing automated truck loading technology to our shores. So what does it all mean? More specifically, what does it mean to flatbed truck drivers and cargo control?
In terms of self-driving trucks, all truck drivers and carriers will be affected in the same way should it become a reality. If self-driving trucks ever become the norm – and there are valid reasons to believe they will not – there is no telling what will happen to America’s truck drivers. However, automated trucks on a national scale are still a long way away. Of greater interest right now is the concept of automated truck loading.
Load and Unload in Mere Minutes
The automatic truck loading concept is one of using mechanized, robotic systems to load and unload trailers without the need for human intervention. According to some news reports, what can now take between 30 and 45 minutes for forklift operator can be completed in about 3 minutes using an automated system. The company behind the technology says its systems are available for both enclosed trailers and flatbeds.
We can see the potential of this technology for dry goods vans being virtually unlimited. Not so much for flatbeds. An automated system could certainly load pallets and even loose cargo on the back of a flatbed, but that cargo still must be secured by the driver. Cargo control is something that simply cannot be automated at this point. Whether it ever will be, remains to be seen.
Cargo control on a flatbed trailer involves a lot of different components that could make automation impossible:
- Weight Distribution – Unlike dry goods vans, cargo carried on flatbed trailers is not necessarily uniform in size or weight. Therefore, freight should be loaded with weight balancing and overall size of the load in mind.
- Cargo Movement – Cargo movement is a big concern on flatbed trailers for obvious reasons. When a trucker is hauling materials such as steel coil, those coils can move during travel if not properly secured. So truckers would be required to use wood blocks and chains to keep things in place.
- Cargo Cover – Flatbed truck drivers are in the unique position of having to protect their cargo with the use of truck tarps. There are different kinds of tarps used for various types of loads, and each one is secured in a different way. How tarping could be automated is difficult to imagine.
- Cargo Protection – Underneath a truck’s tarps are things such as corner protectors deployed to protect both cargo and the tarps that cover it. All the cargo protection components have to be deployed by hand for maximum protection.
One last thing to consider is that flatbed truck drivers are required to check the security of their cargo within the first 50 miles of departure. They are then expected to carry out routine checks whenever they stop for fuel, inspections, or to rest for the night. Even if cargo control were eventually automated, someone would still have to keep an eye on cargo in transit to make sure it remains secure.
The Human Touch
It is intriguing to think that both trucks and loading systems will be automated in the near future. But that is probably not reality. Humans are still necessary – at least for cargo control – and likely will be for the foreseeable future. Cargo control could probably be too complex for automation.