How Self-Driving Machinery Could Affect the Supply Chain

Fleet of autonomous hybrid trucks driving on highway.

Much has already been said about the impact autonomous cars will have on the average driver. However, many often forget that increased availability of these vehicles will also have a major effect on supply chain costs, efficiency, staffing, and overall logistics. 

Companies that transport their goods via trucks may save a lot of money if they no longer need to hire human drivers. On top of that, many experts predict that autonomous vehicles will substantially reduce the amount of traffic accidents that occur each year, and in turn, the serious auto accident injuries they result in. This means it is possible that businesses will also reduce costs associated with vehicle maintenance and liability issues.

While it’s hard to predict with absolute accuracy how the rise of driverless cars will impact logistics in the long term, the following information should clarify some of the potential developments.

Understanding the Current State of the Industry
It’s reasonable to assume that businesses will incorporate autonomous vehicles into their shipping and supply chain processes. Many factories already make regular use of autonomous forklifts and similar machines. As driverless trucks become more commonplace, companies will very likely embrace them with open arms. 

Driverless vehicle manufacturers are anticipating this. Mercedes-Benz is currently developing a semi-autonomous truck designed specifically for shipping purposes; it should be available by 2025.

Recognizing Potential Savings
In addition to lowering supply chain expenses by reducing the need for human drivers and the number of accidents involving company vehicles, driverless vehicles will also be more efficient than those operated by humans. They’ll choose quicker routes and conserve fuel, potentially decreasing maintenance costs substantially.

The possibility of saving money is a strong incentive for businesses to adopt autonomous shipping solutions. However, that’s not the only factor contributing to an increased demand for driverless trucks. 

Solving the Driver Shortage Problem
According to a report from the American Trucking Associations, by the end of 2017, the logistics industry suffered from a shortage of nearly 50,000 drivers. Although many worry that self-driving vehicles will take human jobs, statistics indicate there currently aren’t actually enough people to fill those available roles.

In fact, companies that rely on trucks to ship their products throughout the nation and the world are likely to encourage the increased production of these vehicles. A desire to save money combined with a lack of drivers should trigger enthusiastic demand for autonomous trucks in the near future.

Slow Start Leading to Widespread Integration
Obviously, machines won’t replace human drivers overnight; the shift to incorporating autonomous vehicles in logistics processes will be slow. While some businesses are likely to embrace them quickly, others will be cautious, weighing the pros and cons to determine if making the change is right for them.

If experts are right, it will be. Those who have studied the latest developments seem to agree that driverless trucks will be safer and more reliable than human-operated vehicles. 

If this turns out to be the case, we can expect industries worldwide to slowly but surely modify an important element of their supply chains. Fortunately, if this shift does result in savings, it’s likely they’ll be passed along to customers, benefiting everyone.


Rae Steinbach, editor at Rothenberg LLP, is a graduate of Tufts University with a combined International Relations and Chinese degree. After spending time living and working abroad in China, she returned to NYC to pursue her career and continue curating quality content. 

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