Article

Covering Your Assets

Technology allows fleets to watch over their equipment from a distance.

July 2006, TruckingInfo.com - Feature

by Jim Beach, Technology Editor

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What started out as a high-tech way for fleets to keep track of their rolling stock has evolved into something much more important than mere "nose counting."

Technology companies introduced GPS-based tracking systems to the industry years ago as asset management tools – intended as a means to make carriers more efficient in managing their equipment.

In recent years, however, these systems have become security tools as well, enabling carriers to maintain constant contact with their vehicles. Some newer products even allow fleets to control who has access to their vehicles while they are on the road.

For instance, Qualcomm recently introduced its Vehicle Command & Control system, which when integrated with an onboard security device from Magtec Products, gives fleet managers the ability to disable a vehicle using Qualcomm's OmniTracs mobile communications system.

Qualcomm says the new product allows carriers with high-risk or high-value cargoes to limit access to the vehicle to authorized drivers. Dispatchers can change access codes over the air and can send a command that disables and gradually slows a moving vehicle if they suspect theft or other unauthorized access.

Qualcomm also announced that its T2 Untethered TrailerTracs asset management system would be available this year in configurations for flatbed trailers and containers. New features of the advanced T2 Untethered TrailerTracs system include a low-profile antenna that can be mounted externally on van trailers and flatbed trailers, a self-contained solar-powered battery option for containers and enhanced mobile coverage throughout North America.

The TrailerTracs asset management system is a stand-alone terrestrial platform that also can work in conjunction with the OmniTracs and OmniExpress mobile communications systems. Optional door and cargo sensors help prevent theft by sending alerts to dispatchers when a trailer or container's doors are opened or closed. Sensors also record whether a trailer is loaded or empty. If a theft does occur, GPS tracking will pinpoint the location of the equipment.

Networkfleet is a wireless vehicle management system from Networkcar that fleet managers use to access up-to-the-minute productivity and efficiency information via the Internet. Networkfleet's in-vehicle device collects and wirelessly transmits detailed information directly from a vehicle's engine computer and from GPS. Fleet managers can log on and view specific vehicle data – current location, fuel consumption, mileage, speed and idle-time – at any time through a secure, easy-to-use web application.

Networkfleet merges GPS technology with wireless coverage to provide information on a vehicle's location, stops, idling and mileage. It also transmits performance data from the truck's on-board computer that allows fleet managers to monitor idle times, speeds and miles per gallon.

KEEPING TRACK

While keeping a close eye on trucks and trailers has always made business sense, new security-related regulations require hazmat and food product carriers to keep even closer tabs on their trucks and trailers.

New record-keeping rules, part of the Bioterrorism Act, require "persons who manufacture, process, pack, transport, distribute, receive, hold or import food to establish and maintain records" that "identify the immediate previous source of all food received, as well as the immediate subsequent recipient of all food released."

For Jamie Janke, transportation logistics director for First Food Inc. of Dallas, the new rules mean "tracking the products coming in, the products going out," and every stop his trucks make as they deliver the company's products. First Food produces and distributes dry food goods to warehouses throughout the South, Midwest and along the East Coast. From there, its products are sold to hospitals, schools, restaurants and other institutional food buyers.

First Food has been using Terion's FleetView trailer tracking system on the company's nine leased trailers since 2000. "The main thing we wanted was a way to keep track of what our drivers were doing," Janke says. During peak times, the company leases additional trucks and uses drivers supplied by staffing agencies to deliver product. Sometimes, these drivers do not work out. "The system has saved our bacon on more than one occasion," he says, referring to a few times when drivers quit on the road or otherwise did not complete their routes.

In the years since, the system has become more important as a security device. "It's definitely big to the security issue," Janke says. "Since 9/11, (keeping track of the trailers) is a big issue."

The Terion system lets Janke know where his trailers are, if they are loaded or unloaded, tethered or not, when the doors have been opened and other information.

"Our customers are happy to see the things we do to ensure their products are tamper-proof. It just gives us a lot more peace of mind."

Janke says First Food was one of the first fleets to begin using a trailer tracking system. "At that time, everyone had tracking systems on the truck, but the money, all the valuable stuff, is in the trailer. Being able to keep track of the trailer, I think it's the neatest thing since sliced bread."

Last month, Terion released a new FleetView trailer management web site. Built around the FleetView trailer tracking system, the site offers users more tools, easier navigation and improved mapping and landmarking features. The Dashboard tool shows charts, graphs and summary reports that link to more detailed information. Customers can log in to the web site and immediately see the status of their fleet.

Other providers offer similar products. For instance, Argo Tracker offers a GPS-based system that can include cargo sensors that measure such things as temperature and shocks. The Argo Tracker is a compact unit that can be installed inside or outside the trailer, or on a cargo pallet to track a specific piece of freight, covertly so thieves are less likely to find and disable it.

SkyBitz uses a Global Locating System (GLS) platform to give its customers the ability to track un-powered assets, such as trailers. SkyBitz says the GLS platform uses a wireless satellite technology and centralized position calculations to pinpoint trailer location. The system provides the exact location of a fleet's trailers as well as information that protects against load tampering during transit. It records when the door was opened and closed and when the trailer was tethered or untethered. Users can configure the system to send alerts if the trailer doors are opened or the trailer is untethered. Alerts can be sent via e-mail, cell phone, pager or PDA.

Aeris.net provides machine-to-machine network services that include trailer tracking using the company's AerFrame M2M platform. Aeris has partnered with more than 30 wireless carriers to provide wireless tracking services for carriers and other customers.

The VLink-1 system from VTrac Systems Inc. is a GPS-based one-way communication device programmed to send regular location and status reports. If an unauthorized tractor attempts to hook up a trailer with this system, an alarm sequence begins. The alarm cannot be shut down from the vehicle. Attempts to circumvent the system by cutting the 12-V wiring or any of the alarm triggering leads causes the system to send an alarm message, regardless of whether or not an authorized tractor is attached. The system is programmed to know the difference between yard movements and over-the-road movement.

Many service providers offering one-way satellite communications devices use the Axonn AXTracker as the central part of their products, according to Jon Shapiro, director of marketing and business development for Axonn. The AXTracker, a battery-operated telemetry device, communicates with the GlobalStar satellite constellation and provides a basic fleet-tracking option.

The Axonn product was developed to monitor fixed assets in remote places, Shapiro says. It was then introduced into the maritime industry to monitor the movement of cargo containers. "I can use this system to follow a container all the way from China to Tennessee and everywhere it goes in between," he says. The AXTracker is a self-contained unit with a satellite transmitter and long-life battery. It can be installed anywhere in or on a trailer. Shapiro notes that the system is not a two-way communication device and it does not track constantly. "The majority of fleets don't need to track their trailers all day long. What they need are regularly scheduled reports, letting them know where the trailer is." The system can send updates hourly, daily or at any other interval the customer desires.

While Axonn concentrates on building the hardware, the company works with a number of value-added retailers (such as VTrac and Aeris) who add sensors and other features that meet the needs of their customers.

"The end users are driving the development of sensors that record when the door is open or closed, temperature and other things," Shapiro says. He says the newest model – the AXTracker MMT (mini-mobile tracker) – is due out later this year and will be about half the size of the current unit.

"The market is changing," Shapiro says. "Carriers are wanting to know where their assets are in terms of security as much as they are from an asset tracking standpoint." Shapiro estimates that no more than 10 percent of all transportation assets are being monitored now, but interest in such devices has been growing. "The interest is not just in terms of security, but also being able to use this in your supply chain so you can better manage your assets."

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