Temperature-Controlled Intermodal Transportation

By Theodore Prince, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, Tiger Cool Express, LLC

Theodore Prince, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, Tiger Cool Express, LLC

The history of the development of the United States is a study in different transportation modes. The original development was waterborne. Initially, road construction was sporadic, and the move inland saw railroads complement rivers and canals. However, the development of the Interstate Highway System and motor carrier deregulation resulted in a 24/7 supply chain based on plentiful truck capacity—at affordable prices.

This assumption is now under assault because of Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs.) This technology replaced manual log books as the enforcement tool for complying with hours of service. Prior to ELDs, truck drivers could exceed legal driving time by maintaining a series of (falsified) log books. This is no longer possible. The outcome is an economy seeking capacity alternatives to truck. This is intermodal’s opportunity.

"With GPS, real-time traffic applications and historical experience of loading time, it is now possible to maintain oversight from the time the empty is picked up"

Although intermodal transportation dates back almost two centuries, it was not until rail deregulation, simultaneous with trucks in 1979, that intermodal became a growth industry. The development of double stack transportation accelerated this growth by maximizing rail’s line haul advantage. Traditionally, rail intermodal’s competitiveness versus tradition truckload was in long-haul markets where the variable (linehaul) savings could overcome the high (terminal) fixed cost. This advantage is enhanced when fuel prices rose.

In order to compete, intermodal had “to look like truck.” The equipment needed to hold the same payload, and the service needed to be similar. Whereas a truckload shipment was under the control of a single driver from origin to destination, intermodal “requires assembly.” Truckers at origin and destination are combined with a rail move to provide door-to-door transportation. As double stack domestic containerization became the standard, intermodal complexity increased with the need for a chassis to provide the wheels for the container to perform pickup and delivery.

Tiger Cool Express LLC was founded in 2013 to provide intermodal perishable transportation. In addition to the traditional intermodal challenges, we had to also provide temperature control for trans-continental transportation. While we purchased state of the art hardware: containers, refrigeration units and telematics, it was necessary to have an IT framework that enabled us to manage the disparate parts to assemble a seamless customer shipment.

When we deconstructed the intermodal production function, we identified over 50 points where we needed to verify that performance was being achieved according to plan. All of these needed to be performed at high levels of precision and accomplishment. If we achieved 98 percent performance, on these 50 items, that translated to 36 percent achievement for the product. At 95 percent it degrades to 8 percent.

The traditional approach has been to “boil the ocean” by having dispatchers constantly reviewing activity throughout their tour of duty. Unfortunately, this scrutiny, accompanied by their other responsibilities, consumes over 90 percent of their available time. Not only is this model not scalable, but things may go irretrievably wrong between reviews.

In order to maximize our scarce resources, we opted for an exception-based methodology that operates on a multi-tiered approach, whereby we:

1. Identify the problem—hopefully while there is still time to remedy it. There are a plethora of technologies by which to accomplish this. The real key is to make sure that the requirements are rule-based and that the necessary data available timely and accurately.

2. Automatically assign the problem to the appropriate person or group. Without this accountability there cannot be any expectation of success.

3. Prioritize the issue. When everything is a top priority— nothing is. This has been accomplished with a master table that applies a numeric value to rank problems as they arise. When combined with assignment this allows every user to have a queue presented to them listing issues (and priorities) requiring their attention.

4. Escalate as necessary. If an issue is not resolved within a specified timeframe, it is automatically escalated to a management level. If that does not achieve the required outcome, it can be escalated again to an executive.

An important lesson learned was that the implementation of an alert often required more enhancement to ensure that all necessary information was available.

Example #1: Proper Set Temperature

It is essential that proper temperature is maintained throughout the shipment. Our telematics allow us to set the temperature requested by the customer two hours before loading. Unfortunately, two problems can frequently arise.

1. Ideally, an inbound load, once emptied, is immediately reloaded. However, if the westbound load is frozen food (at -10) and the outbound load is oranges (38) it is essential that the box is reset properly – after unloading but before reloading. Any deviation will cause cargo damage. Our system keeps track of all these moving parts to ensure proper temperature. Beyond advising location, our GPS application advises when the doors are open, so we are alerted when the box is “between loads.” This automatically alerts the dispatcher to reset the temperature.

2. Although the shipper’s tender specifies a set temperature, it usually includes the disclaimer “Bill of lading setting prevails.” In this case it is essential that the information on the dock receipt is verified against the set temperature. And, if there are multiple commodities, that there are no conflicts. Our system allows for real-time capture and submission of these documents, so they can be reviewed as soon as they are received electronically.

Example #2: Get me to the Train On-time

Railroad schedules are usually daily. If a load doesn’t arrive in time for its scheduled train, it will sit—and burn fuel—for 24 hours. The traditional way is to ensure that the load arrived prior to the gate cutoff. However, before that occurs, oversight is a vector gradient. There are four necessary activities.

The historical method was to have the trucker report the completion of each activity; however, reporting is not always timely—so manually intensive methods (e.g., phone and email) were relied upon. Furthermore, oversight was usually limited to the last segment (only.) Oversight was further complicated because expected drive time—as opposed to just mileage—was not readily known. The result was usually reactive—what to do with a load that missed service.

With GPS, real-time traffic applications and historical experience of loading time, it is now possible to maintain oversight from the time the empty is picked up. More importantly oversight becomes pro-active instead of reactive. Early awareness allows steps to be taken (most likely at the shipper) so that the driver makes service in the first place.

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