Equipment

Trailer Technology Offers Capabilities Beyond Simple Asset Management

September 2012, TruckingInfo.com - Feature

by Jim Beach, Contributing Editor, Technology Editor - Also by this author

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It's fairly well established that keeping track of untethered trailers improves a fleet's operations.
When fleet managers know the location and status of their equipment, they can become more efficient, reduce trailer-tractor ratios and collect detention charges when customers keep trailers too long.

In recent years, some fleets have moved beyond basic asset management and are taking advantage of other capabilities. As with in-cab telematics solutions, fleets are looking for more and more data, according to Henry Popplewell, senior vice president of sales, SkyBitz.

SkyBitz, for instance, offers a suite of sensors that can track events such as when a door is opened or closed or if there is a change in the cargo status. Sensors also identify which trailer is hooked to which tractor. These sensors then send alerts when there is a change in status. Fleet managers can receive the alerts via email, pager or cellphone.

Popplewell says such data increases efficiencies and offers security benefits. The company is working with some customers to deliver real-time data for container intrusion detection, light sensing and other security data for high-value loads.

Joel Beal, EOBRMax, a transportation consulting firm that is also a reseller of fleet management systems, says the sophistication of a fleet's trailer tracking system depends on the operational characteristics of the fleet. Beal says he advises clients to start with the job requirements and then find technology that fits best.

"Just because it's technically possible does not mean it is a good idea" in all instances, he says. In drop-and-hook or food transport operations, for instance, there might be higher requirements with regard to trailer tracking. In those cases, he says, the technology should also include cargo monitoring or geo-fencing to make sure a trailer stays where it is supposed to.

Trends in asset management

Beal notes that the demand for un-tethered trailer tracking is correlated to the level of just-in-time demanded by shippers and consignees because in many cases, JIT encourages drop and hook. And when the trailer is outside of your control, monitoring when a door is opened or closed or a trailer loaded or empty is an optional capability that may be important.

Trailer-leasing company Xtra Lease installs Qualcomm's trailer tracking platform on all of its rental trailers at no charge to customers and provides the service as a pay-as-you-go option for long-term leases.

"It's not that we are trying to keep an eye on our trailers," says Craig Nolle, product manager for trailer tracking. "But if you are renting a trailer, there is no penalty for turning it in if you don't need it (as opposed to a long-term lease). The tracking helps customers determine how many rental trailers they actually need."

While Xtra Lease doesn't sell cargo or other sensors, Nolle says customers have shown increased interest in monitoring refrigerated trailers, partly because of new cold-chain regulations. He says they have seen an increased interest in reefer temperature monitoring in intermodal operations. "Piggyback has been dead for a number of years, but there seems to be resurgence in refrigerated piggyback," he says.

For instance, Swift Transportation will deploy the VeriWise asset management system from I.D. Systems on its fleet of intermodal containers. According to I.D. Systems, capabilities include motion detection to identify the start and end of each drive segment and a cargo sensor that monitors the full length of a container to determine its load status.

Mark Roberts, chief marketing officer for NexTraq, agrees that fleets want to leverage other capabilities of their trailer tracking systems. Interest in asset management increases when times are difficult, he says, as companies seek greater efficiencies with the assets they have.

Fleets also can monitor load weights via their tracking solutions. Air-Weigh and Blue Tree Systems recently announced a data interface between Blue Tree's R:Com trailer tracking system and Air-Weigh's QuickLoad trailer scale that transmits trailer weight data over a wireless network to the customer's back office. Blue Tree's trailer tracking solution provides location, detailed movement information, geo-fencing and cargo-control alerts.

Integration with back office

Many trailer-tracking companies have developed partnerships with transportation management software providers such as McLeod Software and TMW Systems to integrate trailer-tracking data into their systems. That is a trend that will continue. McLeod's latest version includes integration with nine trailer tracking and monitoring solutions, including GE, Qualcomm, SkyBitz, StarTrak, Transcore, PAR Logistics, CarrierWeb, International Telematics and Blue Tree.

Beal says he still finds some fleets that consider trailer tracking an island, not as an integral part of the company's overall management system. "We try to change that," he says, noting the importance of that data to a fleet's overall efficiency.

SkyBitz's Popplewell says operations managers can sometimes be overwhelmed with the quantity of trailer data available. "What they really need is actionable data that is easily integrated into their systems or business processes."

He notes that the level of integration with back office software is often driven by the size of the fleet. "Many customers simply use our Web application, SkyBitz InSight, to manage their fleets," he says. "Other customers have their own back office systems and prefer to be provided with XML files, and they import our telematics data into their system."

In addition to integrating with the back office, some solutions can be accessed via smartphone or other mobile devices.

Popplewell says he hasn't seen as much demand for that. "Unlike the in-cab technology industry, which currently has a strong demand for handheld device integration, the trailer technology market is in the earlier stages, and the widespread adoption has yet to occur," he says. But there has been an increase in interest, and he says he expects his company to include more integration with handheld devices.

Other providers have already made the leap. Blue Tree offers its R:Com product on any Windows CE and Windows Mobile device. Other vendors, such as NexTraq, use software that is web-based and can be accessed by any device with an Internet connection, including smartphones and tablets.

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