Frontline logistics: how to cope with fleet disruption

COVID-19 has the world in its grip. Many of us are living in lockdown, borders have been closed, the flow of goods has been interrupted and entire national economies are at a standstill. Yet people continue to shop online for everything from toilet paper to essential medicines. As a result, many fleet operators are realising that they have become a new frontline emergency service.

Coronavirus is disrupting the entire logistics sector. Here in Germany, parcel services currently aim to guarantee all deliveries without restrictions but are changing their procedures to protect both the driver and the recipient. The big players do not require a signature on a hand scanner any more. At DHL, the courier now signs himself, Hermes documents the delivery with a photo and at DPD the personal signature is no longer required. As many parcel shops are integrated into other businesses, parcel delivery is still possible.

The situation is even more complex at UPS, where many collection points are closed due to exit restrictions or contact bans. The company now relies mainly on contactless collection with pre-printed labels, with parcel being left on recipients doorsteps. Parcels that cannot be delivered are returned directly to the sender.

All parcel services rely on user-defined safe spaces as a dry and reliable storage location, as defined via app or website. Known as “Safe Place” (DPD) or “Preferred Location” (DHL), these spaces are intended to avoid direct contact and guarantee a successful initial delivery in the case of tight schedules and high levels of sick leave.

Drivers have an extremely high workload and often operate in fear of contagion. Although good hand hygiene, proper coughing and keeping the minimum distance are strongly recommended by employers, in everyday life many bell buttons have to be pressed and door knobs have to touched. Thorough disinfection before and after each delivery is simply not realistic. On the plus side, significantly reduced traffic in large cities means shorter travel times, especially since it’s now also permitted to deliver on Sundays.

Amazon is registering a massive increase in demand and has already created 350 jobs in logistics centres in Germany alone. Nevertheless, longer delivery times are expected to occur. Ordering and delivery of everything from books, home office equipment, goods for daily use and even medical supplies are seeing sharp spikes. In the US, Amazon plans to create 100,000 new jobs to deal with the massive demand.

Where parcel services are testing new products and strategies, especially in delivery, and Amazon is massively expanding capacities, there are far greater problems with long haul logistics. Many countries in Europe have closed their borders, and hardly any freight is entering the country via airport hubs. Rail and sea freight are alternatives, but here too the system is under pressure. The reason is usually a high level of sick leave in key installations or headquarters.

Food logistics is having an even harder time. If the normal number of stops in the distribution area can no longer be handled due to increased sales in the food trade, recipients are making delivery even more difficult with new controls and the refusal to acknowledge deliveries by signature on delivery notes and/or scanners.

Everyday life is particularly hard for the drivers. Besides often unexpected long waiting times, poor supply situations on the track are causing problems. Sanitary facilities at rest stops and unloading points are no longer cleaned or are simply closed. Handover also remains an issue. Occasionally the recipient is asked to sign on the package or address label instead of signing on the scanner. The driver then takes a photo of the signed label and one of the dropped off shipment.

The German Autolabs platform

Logistics sub-sectors Last Mile and Long Haul are currently facing similar challenges, all of which have newly established answers:

  • Contactless and legally secure transfer
  • Direct communication with recipients regarding handover or storage
  • Better real-time information for drivers
  • Connection to databases (parking spaces, border waiting times, etc)

A voice-controlled assistance system can be a real relief for professional drivers. The system can announce storage locations stored in the cloud to the driver in real time, enable a dialogue with the receiver (who, for example, simply types into an app while the driver responds by voice control), intelligently link traffic data with cloud databases, and allow the driver to dialogue with internal systems or dispatchers.

German Autolabs builds voice assistance solutions for professional drivers. For more information, visit Thanks for reading.

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