Load Planning Visibility: What You (Don’t) See Is What You Get

“Freight recession.” These are dreaded words for any truckload carrier, and it appears the challenging conditions of 2023—soft pricing, high inventories, ample capacity, and a consumer spending reduction—are here to stay in 2024, according to the CNBC Supply Chain Survey. Indeed, it’s not great news to kick off a new year. 

Even in good times, maintaining a solid margin in trucking is tough. Every mile, minute, and metric matters even more in a down market.

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) reports the 2023 operational costs of trucking now exceed a record high of $2 per mile, and total average expenses grew more than 23%, year over year. Prioritizing cost management and financial stability is key to surviving the rough roads ahead.

Luckily, sitting on your operations floor is a solution for staying in the black. Your planners and dispatchers assigning trucks and loads are your cost control and profitability MVPs.

Yet without technology-enabled visibility for data-driven planning, these teammates cannot achieve peak performance, nor can the fleet. Pen-and-paper plans, ETA guestimates, and wait-and-see assignments cause mistakes to ripple through a business, wasting time and money and causing frustrations for drivers and customers. 

This article highlights four essential areas where you can eliminate blind spots and better protect your operating margins in an unclear economy.

Blind Spot #1: Empty Miles

According to research from Uber Freight, an estimated 35% of all miles driven by trucking companies are empty. Using an average of 2,700 weekly miles per truck equates to $1,890 in empty costs each week, or nearly $100,000 yearly! Now multiply that across an entire fleet. 

Manual planning makes spotting the real-time impacts of deadheads and empty miles challenging. Many carriers track the metric after the fact. When the priority is to “cover every load,” planners understandably err on the side of service. But with better network visibility from dynamic maps, balance projections, and accurate driver ETAs, planners gain accurate and timely information to proactively resolve problems that otherwise create costly deadheads and compromise service. 

Blind Spot #2: Multiple Transportation Modes

Increasingly, carriers are going multi-modal. Leveraging truck, rail, and brokerage produces margin-making opportunities, protects service, and creates capacity for additional revenue. Yet without the assistance of load planning technology, managing multiple modes efficiently is nearly impossible. 

Rail often offers superior margins, but that quickly goes away when demurrage or detention kicks in. The key is picking up and dropping off equipment within the allotted time. Forcing planning teams to track the data manually to meet rail deadlines is a recipe for hefty fines. 

Brokerage is another release valve for overbooked networks. Yet the shorter the time a broker has to cover the load, the higher the price tag. If load planners can spot network imbalances three to five days in advance, they can put the brokerage team to work sooner to move loads on third-party assets.

With this same foresight, teams can find loads for company assets to keep every driver moving. Running additional loads to solve imbalances versus incurring empty miles to shift trucks transforms empty costs into productive revenue. 

Blind Spot #3: Effectively Using Downtime

No fleet uses all 11 hours of a driver’s clock daily. Research from trucking giant J.B. Hunt estimates that 40% of available driver hours get wasted. The reasons vary, including shipper delays, bad appointment times, insufficient load volumes, and poor traffic conditions.

Soft freight markets compound utilization issues. Without complete visibility of network needs, planners often leave drivers waiting for a load. Yet downtime, or available drive time without a load, does not need to be unproductive for drivers or fleets.

With planning optimization software, load planners can put those hours to better use. Instead of just sitting, planners can have drivers proactively reposition equipment for upcoming loads to avoid service failures.

Preventative maintenance routings can also avert the estimated $760 daily cost of a truck going down for unexpected repairs. Load planners can even work with drivers to stage loads for improved weekend utilization across the fleet. 

Planning software also can help reduce driver downtime altogether. By having a complete view of the network several days in advance, planners can partner with teams to keep the wheels turning. Planners become network architects when looking holistically at data like driver ETAs, load locations, available equipment, and service performance. They and the rest of the ops team have data to solicit additional freight, modify appointments, and monitor customer commitments to keep trucks on revenue-generating freight.

Instead of responding to problems, planners proactively gain the visibility and know-how to solve them in advance. 

Blind Spot #4: Driver Turnover

Work Hound conducted a turnover study with 45,000 professional truck drivers. The top five reasons drivers leave a fleet are: 

  • Total compensation
  • Time away from home
  • Lack of communication
  • Paycheck unpredictability
  • Issues resolving problems

Load planners have a dotted line to each of these issues. Every minute a driver sits is time they might spend looking for job opportunities elsewhere. A conservative cost estimate for turnover is $6,000 per driver, and with annual burn rate north of 70% for small fleets and 90% for large ones, the impact on the bottom line is more than substantial. 

Load planning technology can significantly improve driver utilization. Planners can simultaneously look at all essential data to optimize load assignments that benefit drivers and customers. The software recommends the best plans, recalculating with each updated ETA or newly booked load. What would take a planner hours to create manually can be done — and redone — in seconds. 

Improved visibility also allows planners to stack assignments, enabling drivers to plan their weeks out days ahead of each departure. They gain transparency to the loads, can predict earnings, and develop trust that the carrier is working to their benefit. Efficient planning improves paychecks and communication to help retain drivers. 

See More with Magnus

Is your fleet reacting or responding to its network? Reacting is a knee-jerk instinct for solving problems at hand. To be proactive, planners must have information to see the broader situation, weigh the options, and make the best decisions based on what matters most.

Manually reacting is a pricey approach to load planning. The better approach is to use technology that aggregates and analyzes data to help planners make better decisions for drivers, customers, and the business.

With Magnus Technologies leveling up your load planning, you can manage your networks with an AI-powered system that accurately forecasts network imbalances five days in advance. Responding to capacity demands sooner and with better data allows fleets to focus on decisions that benefit top-line growth and cost management. 

Are you ready to transform your load planners into network architects and expert problem-solvers? Magnus makes it easy. Contact us to experience how Magnus TMS is transforming the possibilities of load planning.

Posted in: Magnus TMS

About Magnus Technologies