Ask any trucker what they like least about their job, and “deadhead miles” is probably one of the items at the top of the list. Also known as “empty miles” or “non-revenue miles,” the term is the logistics industry’s jargon for the distance between a driver’s delivery location and their next pick-up location.
Those deadhead miles are not only a drag on a trucker’s time but they also are bad for the environment, a carrier’s bottom line, other road users, and the trucker’s family. That is because U.S. trucks burn through billions of gallons of expensive diesel per year on freightless trips, emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere unnecessarily. And when truckers have to be on the road, away from their loved ones, they would much prefer to be hauling a full trailer.
But Koch Industries is reducing the dreaded deadhead hours, which avoids the unnecessary, greenhouse-gas emitting burning of hundreds of thousands of gallons of diesel, and ultimately brings a better work-life balance to thousands of truckers. You can see this in action at Georgia-Pacific’s corrugated box plant in Albany, Georgia, which has more than 170 trucks pass through its docks each week.
Over the last year, centralized software that gathers and analyzes reams of data to find a better route from point A to point B has helped KBX Logistics, which oversees the transport of the Albany plant’s boxes, cut the fuel consumption of carriers across multiple facilities by 615,000 gallons of fuel. Not only is that enough to fuel a diesel-fueled long-haul truck for around 415 years, but it also saves nearly 6,250 metric tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions.
“Improving our operating efficiencies is a full-time focus for us,” said Ken Weber, senior manager of KBX’s dedicated fleet, “because it’s not just good for business, it’s good for the environment.” He is proud that Georgia-Pacific and KBX won a SmartWay Excellence Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for exceptional freight performance. “These awards are validation that the changes we’ve implemented, and continue to refine, are making a difference.”
The extra operating efficiency has also had a tangible, positive impact on real people’s lives. Christine Potter, a driver for Paper Transport Inc. — a carrier that transports packaging goods out of Albany to various destinations — estimates that slicker logistics, such as the preloading of freight prior to driver arrival, has halved her load pickup times. “You’re not wasting time,” she says. “You know what you’re going in for, and you’re getting in and going.”
Software can eliminate millions of deadhead miles because it squeezes insights from the growing mountains of data at large in the modern world. KBX is leading the way in gathering information about shippers, carriers, tenders, routes, fees, loads, distances or drivers, and then analyzing those datasets to solve problems.
Here’s how: Whatever is in the trailer, both shipper and carrier can use their own systems to enter data about jobs into KBX’s centralized software, which serves as a kind of high-functioning nerve center. The software will automatically calculate the total number of miles traveled while also generating another number from a deep analysis of data: ton-miles, or jobs where the trucks are laden with freight. The software calculates the difference between the two numbers as deadhead miles. It then digs deeper by analyzing and plotting routes that minimize those empty-trailer travelling times. All the while, it is using data capacity and processing power to generate insights — such as the potential for freight preloading — that would be invisible to even the most highly organized teams of humans.
Those kind of insights allowed Georgia-Pacific and KBX to cut 4 million unnecessary non-revenue miles for its 2,300 contracted drivers – saving those 615,000 gallons of diesel. Another initiative to eliminate engine idling at Georgia-Pacific facilities also saved an extra 418,000 gallons of fuel between 2018 and 2019. That has prevented an additional more than 4,200 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
“These awardees are the top 2% of environmental performers among all of our SmartWay Partners,” says Sarah Dunham, the EPA’s director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality. “They are redefining best practices for freight transport by reducing fuel costs and improving the public health of the communities they serve.”
Hyper-efficient logistics have also brought stability to the day-to-day lives of truckers like Christine, who says the enhancement has been a “blessing.” That is no exaggeration: Christine is constantly striving for consistency and visibility in her working life as she works to raise her niece and put her through college.
One man who understands the importance of efficiency and stability is Wallace Nelson, the shipping lead at the GP Albany facility, who interacts with dozens of truck drivers a day. “Here at Albany, we’re like a big family,” says Wallace. “Over the years, I’ve gotten to know a lot of the people here, as well as the truckers that come in. We know that they have a very big job ahead of them on a daily basis, so we want to make things as pleasant as we can for them.”
And well-oiled logistics — in the form of completed orders, efficient equipment, smart route-planning, minimal overtime, and fewer deadhead hours — are a trucker’s best hope of getting home on time to be with their family.
See more about Koch's 2019 EPA SmartWay Excellence Awards here and the 2020 Awards here.