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A subsidiary of RCL Foods, Empty Trips, on Tuesday relaunched its open exchange digital platform, which is touted as a game-changer for the smart logistics industry since it aims to address inefficiencies and the high costs associated with the traditional way of managing operations.

The SA logistics industry is still recovering from effects of the Covid-19 lockdown and the social unrest of July 2021 in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. Transporters also face record-breaking energy price increases amid the unfolding Russia-Ukraine crisis.

Backlogs and increased shipping rates on an international level, rail transport problems, vandalism and chaos at border posts continue to hamper the SA logistics sector.

JSE-listed RCL foods acquired the Empty Trips start-up through its Vector Logistics business in 2019, elevating the digital transformation journey of the group. Vector Logistics provides RCL foods and numerous third parties with multi-temperature warehousing and distribution, supply chain intelligence and sales solutions.

Since purchasing it three years ago, MD Andrew Crafford told Business Day that Vector Logistics has invested in enhancing the system to an open exchange digital end-to-end platform with world-class features to meet the demands of the industry.

While logistics platforms are already in use in SA, Empty Trips is Africa’s first fully digital logistics marketplace.

“In line with our long-term growth and sustainability strategy, we wanted to ensure that when we brought Empty Trips’ smart digital logistics platform to market, it would be the game-changer we envisioned for the industry,” Crafford said.

“In traditional logistics, planning and execution remain a largely manual process, with many phones or even radio calls to communicate with the drivers. The administration of the contract also tends to be slower and more complex, being largely reliant on paper-based processes.”

The Empty Trips platform, where shippers and transport carriers can connect, bid for cargo, execute, monitor and administer all transit processes, was designed to address one of the biggest inefficiencies in the traditional logistics space — trucks returning empty from deliveries — by making those trips available to shippers directly via a smart freight-matching platform.

Based on available transport, space and routes at a given time, the platform’s algorithms match available capacity to cargo that needs transporting.

The service targets shippers in the fast-moving consumer goods, retail, clothing and general merchandise sectors who need full loads or primary transport services. The carriers can then bid securely and anonymously, with payment secured through the platform.

“Empty Trips is an innovative partnership between carriers and shippers that has the potential to change the logistics industry for the better, establishing greater transparency and more effective delivery while creating a more sustainable future for business and the environment,” he said.

Besides helping turn wasted road miles into income for hauliers, the platform gives shippers access to deals from a fleet of more than 3,600 trucks on an open exchange, the company said in a statement.

SA’s ports have lagged behind African peers such as Lagos and Dar es Salaam. Cargo ships entering Cape Town now have to wait for up to 14 days to berth, and the 2021 World Bank ranking put that port at 347 out of 351 in terms of global container port performance, lower than any other on the continent.

As the platform relaunched on Tuesday, Crafford said one of the benefits of Empty Trips was that it allows shippers to monitor deliveries in real time and to manage their contract seamlessly and transparently as instant proof of delivery and invoices and payments are consolidated automatically, enabling the administration to be concluded timeously and efficiently.

“The Empty Trips platform will bring efficiencies and greater transparency to the sector, make shipping more cost-effective, increase the availability of reliable haulier options for shippers, and increase supply chain visibility,” Crafford said.

The platform went live in March and is attracting new customers. The retail, temperature-controlled transport, liquor and beverage sectors are among the current platform users, the company said.

gumedemi@businesslive.co.za

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