Autonomous vehicles expected to have positive impacts on greening supply chain

Apr 4, 2017

“Supply chain, particularly from a Michigan State perspective, means the end to end movement of product from the raw material from a mine or the ocean, through all the production processes, and to the consumer,” Professor David Closs tells Kirk Heinze on Greening of the Great Lakes. “And increasingly today with the greening of the economy, we also deal with recycling and returning those products.


“So we view it all as a very end to end process and try to manage that to meet the needs of the consumer and at the same time keeping cost and waste down.”

Closs chairs MSU’s renowned Department of Supply Chain Management and is The John H. McConnell Endowed Chair of Business Administration at MSU’s Broad College of Business. He spoke with Heinze after making remarks at the Great Lakes International Trade and Transport Hub (GLITTH) Initiative's March 29 briefing titled Autonomous Vehicles - Where Research and Innovation Hit the Road.

Closs says autonomous vehicles can have some positive impacts on our supply chain. Many of us take for granted how many vehicles are on the road, what they’re hauling, and how much fuel they consume.

“Roughly half of the fuel consumption in our country goes to the movement of freight in North America. The rest of it goes for passenger transportation. So we’re dealing with a huge amount of fuel.”

But we all expect the goods we want to be available whenever we want them. And for the most part, they are.

Another challenge that more and more of us also take for granted, says Closs, “is that more and more of us are buying goods online and having them delivered directly to our homes, not as much at the stores.”

Closs tells Heinze about platooning or convoying. It’s a method of increasing the capacity on our roads. Platoons decrease the distance between cars or trucks using electronic and mechanical coupling. This capability allows many cars or trucks to accelerate or brake simultaneously. This system also allows for a closer headway between vehicles by eliminating reacting distance needed for human reaction.

He says the technology that would allow for more use of autonomous vehicles throughout our supply chain “is probably going to get there before the environment will allow us to get there, for safety and consumer reasons.” But he sees “a lot of opportunities internal to facilities – like inside a warehouse or plant, or inside a yard or port – where we have to move a large volume of product or containers.”

Closs says the sustainability ethos is firmly ensconced and growing throughout American business. Students he teaches today will use sustainability as a criterion in purchasing product when they enter the workforce.

“If your company is not moving in that direction, they’re not going to be as active at purchasing products from you.”

The uniqueness of MSU’s top-ranked Department of Supply Chain Management that he chairs, Closs says, is the aforementioned end to end supply chain perspective.

“So we try to educate our students on the whole integrated supply chain process with suppliers and customers. And we analyze the strategies being employed by companies.”

Greening of the Great Lakes airs inside MSU Today Sunday afternoons at 4:00 on AM 870 and FM 94.5.