Going the Extra Mile with Innovation

Innovative Transportation Services
Written by Samita Sarkar

Innovative Transportation Services (ITS) is an asset-based transportation provider based in Buffalo, New York. ITS is a subsidiary of Sonwil Logistics, which has been serving western New York State and the surrounding area for over 35 years. Taking pride in its core value of innovation, ITS doesn’t shy away from new technology, even if it means being among the first users.
“We want to a leading edge transportation provider, and that’s why we are willing to take the risk of being an early adopter when it comes to CNG power, or specialized equipment such as heavy permitted trailers and electric trucks. We want customers to feel like they are working with a forward-thinking, progressive company and not just another diesel truck out there on the road,” says Bill Loupée, Vice President.

ITS also differentiates itself in the marketplace with its focus on accountability. The company cultivates a healthy working relationship with its drivers, one of trust and open communication, where drivers are encouraged to take ownership of any problems or issues. No matter what, a driver’s safety is always paramount in the windy region of the northeast United States, where powerful gusts can cause issues on the road.

“Drivers don’t have to call in to us every time minor situations come up. They are empowered by the opportunity to make decisions on their own, depending on the situation,” James Hotnich, Asset Operations Manager, tells us.

There are two crucial elements that ITS looks for in candidates: a positive attitude and a clean driving record. “We prefer two years of driving experience, but we understand more and more drivers are changing careers, so they might be coming from an office and may want to learn how to drive a truck. We are developing a mentorship program for those less experienced drivers,” Hotnich adds.

Innovative Transportation Services is the transportation arm of Sonwil Distribution Center, Inc. Sonwil is an award-winning, family-owned third-party logistics (3PL) provider, warehousing solutions, and related services. Both the parent and affiliate company strive for efficiency and change for the better at every opportunity. This is why ITS uses CNG (compressed natural gas) vehicles, electric vehicles and heavy permitted loads (HPL), and has been partnered with SmartWay since April 11, 2012.

SmartWay is a voluntary, private-public program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It helps companies advance supply chain sustainability by measuring, benchmarking, and improving freight transportation efficiency.

“The biggest thing that we do for sustainability is running heavy permitted loads,” Loupée explains. “Your normal trailer can scale 45,000 lbs. of gross product weight per trailer; ours can handle up to 68,000 lbs. of gross product weight. So using round numbers, for every three loads that a customer ships, that third load is basically riding for free if you were to look at it from a rate perspective. If we put 33 percent more product on each truckload, there are fewer truckloads required, and we emit less carbon into the environment. That is the biggest impact that we have as a SmartWay partner.”

ITS also conducts monthly monitoring of the miles travelled and fuel consumed to maximize miles per gallon. SmartWay requires companies to monitor the amount of idle engine time spent, so ITS runs its heavy haul program as efficiently as possible. Approximately a third of its fleet is CNG powered.

“Since the majority of our fleet is regional, our focus is a little different; we are focused on how to put as much product on the truck as physically possible and make it safe to travel a short distance. For us that is within a 300-mile radius of Buffalo – including Ontario, Canada,” adds Loupée.

ITS’s expansion into Canada is actually a recent endeavor that occurred over the last year and a half. ITS is C-TPAT (Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism)-certified between the U.S. and Canada, and also holds PIP (Partners in Protection) certification.

Moreover, last year, ITS was among the first purchasers of a pure electric terminal truck from the industry-leading startup Orange EV. Orange EV specializes in yard trucks to move trailers within company facilities.

“We’ve employed the truck at a 300,000 square foot warehouse owned by our parent company to do trailer swapping. It is 100 percent electric, plugged into the wall, with zero fuel required at all, and has been a great investment so far,” Loupée remarks.

Because ITS uses heavy haul and electric yard trucks, customers experience less labor hours attributed to loading and unloading on their dock, a lower carbon footprint, and less wear and tear from the roads – an added comfort during the region’s short and unforgiving seasons. “With the electric yard truck, we were early adopters. We were skeptical at first, but once our drivers get into one, they don’t want to get back into a diesel,” says Hotnich.

ITS also uses drop trailers whenever possible instead of live loads/unloads. This is a win-win for both drivers and the planet, because it leads to less idle times and less wasted fuel.

“You can tell from where we invest our money that we are interested in sustainability. A lot of the time, we do plant-to-warehouse shuttle work for customers who have sustainability goals internally. If those customers can say that they are partnering with a carrier who is taking all of these additional steps and investments to use CNG, electric trucks, and heavy haul permits with reduced carbon emissions in mind, then that partnership is something they can use to meet their own sustainability goals,” Loupée describes.

ITS is now making investments in its equipment, including adding power-packer hydraulic landing gear to its trailers. Whereas traditionally, drivers would have to manually crank the dolly legs up and down, the power-packers are powered by compressed air, improving speed and driver safety. One of ITS’s customers who used swing doors and manual dolly legs on their trailers was extremely satisfied after ITS implemented roll doors with power-packers. At every turn, the client shaved 15 to 20 minutes off their driving time without having to worry about the roll up doors and the legs.

Additionally, in response to the increasingly data-driven nature of the industry, ITS is investing in IT to integrate with customer systems and develop internal software programs that allow the company to track drivers to the minute in terms of their location and status, whether through a data stream from the electronic logging device (ELD) unit or the GPS on the driver’s phone. Many customers have come to expect the trucking industry to be as accurate as the parcel shipping industry with its ability to provide up-to-date tracking. On top of that, in its refrigerated units, ITS has remote temperature monitoring to make sure the temperature is in line with the customer’s specifications. “We’re putting multiple tools in place to allow customers 100 percent visibility into what is happening with their freight at any given moment,” says Loupée.

Utilizing GPS technology to its full potential also means that the business is able to pinpoint slow route areas and limit wasted emissions.

For its largest customer, ITS is implementing a GPS tracker on a trailer and the ELD unit on the tractor so the electronic data interchange (EDI) tracks the shipper. As ITS does plant-to-warehouse shuttle work, when the customer loads an ITS trailer at its plant, ITS receives an inbound EDI that says the trailer has been loaded. Then, ITS looks at when the GPS unit on the trailer and the ELD unit on the tractor leave the shipper geofence and subsequently enter the consignee geofence, to precisely mark the departed time and the time it reaches the warehouse operation to relay that information back to the customer.

At the moment, ITS is in talks with a couple of different companies to look at electric Class 8 tractors over the next couple of years. One unique challenge that ITS faces is that such vehicles aren’t designed for a heavy haul program, so choosing the best vendor is an important decision. Once the right vendor presents themselves, the company will have to choose wisely to ensure that any impact on customers is a positive one – but this is a question of when and not if. “We see a bunch of Class 8 electric tractors in our fleet in the future, without question, when are they available for actual purchase,” says Loupée.

Indeed, Innovative Transportation Services is always looking to the future. By the end of this year, its goal is to develop the business further so that its main terminal in Buffalo has an onsite garage for mechanics to perform light duty repairs, such that more aspects of the business can be kept in-house and the company can focus its efforts on expansion.

“We’re looking to become more of a northeast regional player. When we incorporate more sleeper cab trucks, we can branch out to those 600-mile radius destinations that we aren’t hitting now,” Loupée predicts.

To keep up-to-date with this innovative business, visit www.sonwillogistics.com.



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