So I spent some time last week in St. Louis with the good folks of SAF-Holland getting a look at two of their latest products – a new lightweight air ride trailer suspension and fifth wheel locking assistance system.
[As an aside: Jeff Talaga, the company's vice president of sales and strategic development for the Americas, said those two products were part of a group of four rolled out by SAF-Holland in 2016, to be followed by 6 more new items in 2017. Talk about being busy!]
I also got to hear Bill Hicks, SAF-Holland’s director of product planning, expound on an interesting group of axioms passed down to him when he started out in the trucking business many years ago: Bird’s rules of transportation.
Illustrated by a “wise old owl,” Hicks explained that Bird’s rules are comprised of four points, with each of them supporting a simple yet very clear goal: transporting goods from Point A to Point B.
Those four points are:
- Goods must be transported as safely as possible.
- They must be delivered in a timely manner.
- They must be transported as cost-effectively as possible.
- And they must be transported in the most environmentally-considerate manner possible.
Hicks stressed, however, that meeting those four points while moving goods from Point A to Point B is nowhere near as easy as it seems, especially as there’s been a greater focus on the “safety” portion of the rules, which is increasing the complexity and cost of moving goods.
“Look at the trends: we now have ABS [antilock brakes] and stability control on trucks and we’re about to add ELDs [electronic logging devices] and speed limiters,” Hicks pointed out. “Dealing with change is difficult, but in trucking, dealing with change is often more difficult.”
From his perspective as a product planner, then, Hicks believes it’s important to meet as many of Bird’s rules as possible with one solution; that is, any product or service developed for trucking needs to support safety, uptime, cost effectiveness, and environmental considerations in one fell swoop.
And he knows full well how difficult that proposition is.
“Look at the term ‘timely delivery’ for example,” Hicks said. “In some cases today, if goods ordered online don’t arrive within 24 hours, the customer gets really upset. So the expectations are now much, much higher for rule number two than they’ve ever been in the past.”
As a result, he thinks this is why “Big Data” is going to play an ever-more critical role in helping trucking meet Bird’s rules, for data analysis is largely the only tool that can help motor carriers stay in alignment with all three rules at once – especially in terms of cost efficiency.
Think about fuel economy, Hick stressed during his talk; data not only can help fleets plot the most fuel efficient route but help re-route their vehicles around traffic congestion and other potential delays that would result in fuel economy losses.
“Telemetry and Big Data are really the only things that hit on all four rules,” he pointed out.
From a SAF-Holland’s perspective, Hicks believes “Big Data” is going to help him and his team better analyze “future trends” so as to turn those trends into product improvements.
In his case, that effort revolves around what he called the “big three” for trailer design efforts: reducing rolling resistance, reducing trailer weight, and improving aerodynamics.
And those three facets flow right into Bird’s rules, Hicks stressed. For example, reducing trailer weight not only can help improve fuel economy but also provides the opportunity to carry more cargo; two sides of the cost efficiency coin.
And though meeting Bird’s rules continue to pose more complex challenges for engineers like Hicks himself, he relishes the opportunity to face them.
“This is an exciting time to try and driver new product requirements and technologies in order to help fleets improve their bottom lines,” he explained. “And for us to be successful, not only our customer but the end user our customer serves has to be successful.”
Ultimately, that means the wingspan of Bird’s rules is pretty big and casts quite the shadow.