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updated: 5/12/2017 9:31 PM

Zebra helps trucking firms pack things up tight

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  • Lincolnshire-based Zebra Technologies new SmartPack system uses numerous technologies to help logistics companies load trailers faster and more efficiently.

    Lincolnshire-based Zebra Technologies new SmartPack system uses numerous technologies to help logistics companies load trailers faster and more efficiently.
    Photos courtesy of Zebra Technologies

  • One of the keys to the SmartPack system is a 3-D camera that provides real-time information on the space available in a trailer.

    One of the keys to the SmartPack system is a 3-D camera that provides real-time information on the space available in a trailer.

  • Lincolnshire-based Zebra Technologies new SmartPack system uses numerous technologies to help logistics companies load trailers faster and more efficiently.

    Lincolnshire-based Zebra Technologies new SmartPack system uses numerous technologies to help logistics companies load trailers faster and more efficiently.

 
 

As any fan of the game Tetris can tell you, there's no better feeling than having all those different shapes packed together so tightly there is no space between them.

That scenario could also be considered the holy grail for the trucking industry, where efficiency comes in the form of trailers packed full of products.

It's an area that Zebra Technologies is applying its multifaceted Enterprise Asset Intelligence system to improve speed and efficiency. The Lincolnshire-based company's new SmartPack Trailer system brings technology to the loading docks, measuring and collecting data and providing real-time information for dock supervisors to make decisions that result in more efficient loading of trailers and facility operations.

The key to SmartPack is a sensor unit that mounts to the loading dock door. The sensor uses three cameras -- one of them a 3-D camera -- that measures and monitors the size of the trailer and how it is being loaded, according to Mike Maris, Zebra's senior director of transportation and logistics. The information coming from the units, along with information scanned from the packages and other data, are fed to a central server that processes the data and provides real-time information to workers through a computer dashboard. The information allows loading dock managers to see how the process is going and manage changes that can be made to improve speed and efficiency.

"We're taking slices of time based on user metrics, pictures of how the product is being loaded and a camera taking pictures of the trailer in 3-D," Maris said. "(The manager is) actually watching the trailer being loaded and will know, based on the data, when the trailer should be released, or if there is a truck at the door, or how many people are working on it.

In addition to making the loading process faster, SmartPack provides a number of additional benefits, such as package monitoring and employee safety. For the former, Zebra's tracking software is used with the system to keep an eye on where packages are, even on the truck. The cameras also monitor if it has been loaded properly, reducing the risk of damage to the package.

As for safety, SmartPack cameras can watch employees as they work, which can then be used as a training tool to help supervisors show employees how to avoid potential injuries.

"Many of these companies spend a lot of time training people how to load properly. The video can provide personalized training," Maris said.

SmartPack is already in operation on more than 5,000 loading docks in North America, according to Maris, being used by a major global logistics company. But while it was developed with the big haulers in mind, Maris said the technology can easily be scaled down to help small and mid-sized logistics and delivery companies manage and improve their operations.

"Having this knowledge for a dock supervisor is very important," he said. "For mid-sized companies, its optimal use could be for certain runs and customers."

While SmartPack may not be able to pack a trailer as tight as the perfect Tetris screen, Maris said that could be a reality be down the road as Zebra incorporates other technologies such as the cloud, internet of things and head-up displays.

"Tetris is a great thing if you can make it work," he said. "With some of the newer technologies we're working on, it could well enable us to do that."