Utilisation: Running on empty

Tony English, Isotrak.

Tony English, CEO of Isotrak, looks at the issue of empty loads and how it can be improved.

The challenge of empty loads and low utilisation are as old as the transport and logistics industry itself. The Freight Transport Association tracks the level of empty loads each year as part of its Logistics Report, and the trend is stubbornly consistent, hovering around 30% since 2011.

While the overall health of the economy is a major underlying factor, it’s clear that there remains plenty of scope for improvement, considering that every empty load not only represents a frustrating drain on profits, but the associated hours spent on the road burning fuel also contributes to unnecessary CO2 emissions. Whichever way you look at it, empty loads are bad for business and bad for the environment.

Transparency and co-operation is key

Central to the ability of the industry to improve performance are visibility and co-operation. A fleet operation can’t run at maximum efficiency if it is blind to other major components in the supply chain, and a significant blind spot for many is the empty load overhead created by partners and subcontractors not directly under their control.

Many transport companies adopt an exchange network to combat empty loads and reduce the related ‘dead mileage’, using freight exchange networks to proactively source suitable back loads for a return journey.  

The use of state-of-the-art technology services provides a much greater degree of integration and visibility between primary operators and their partners, which enables transportation businesses to focus not only on empty load issues in isolation.

Full visibility of both private and 3PL fleets is essential if optimum performance is to be achieved, as only a holistic view of all activities will provide effective monitoring, tracking and measured performance.

This emphasis on optimisation is vital. If the level of empty loads was reduced by even a modest margin, the positive effect on profits would be significant and without any additional effort, would contribute to reducing CO2 emissions and enhance the corporate social responsibility agenda.

Telematics as a solution

Of course, even if your core fleet is operating at its maximum efficiency, employing one or a combination of these solutions can help to further reduce empty running. Implementing a suitable telematics strategy that works with routing and scheduling software can help you to determine the most efficient distribution on existing flows.

Optimised driver performance, vehicle utilisation and fuel economy are additional benefits to be gained from telematics solutions. They underpin the expectation from businesses in today’s technology-focused world to make fast, data-driven decisions to become more efficient and eliminate waste.

While no one in the industry is predicting a time when the empty loads challenge will completely disappear, fleet operators should keep their effectiveness under continual review if they want to make a difference, as greater integration across the supply chain is practical, affordable and can help establish a new level of best practice.


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