Image Courtesy of Sensata Insights

Image Courtesy of Sensata Insights

Trailers have traditionally been a blind spot in fleet management, leaving operators without visibility into critical issues such as trailer location, maintenance needs and open cargo capacity. That means there has been less oversight of the moneymakers of the fleet – the reefers, box trucks and semi-trailers that carry the cargo that pays the bills – than of the tractors that generate no revenue on their own.

Technology advances have closed the information gap. Solutions such as trailer-specific asset tracking devices, door sensors, cargo capacity monitors, tire pressure monitoring systems, and both internal and external cameras can shed light on virtually every aspect of trailer operation.

Deployed individually, each component can make a contribution to more efficient management of trailer resources. Implemented together, these products create an intelligent ecosystem that is greater than the sum of its parts – helping fleets control trailer costs, increase uptime, maximize revenue from every trip, and more.

Yet by some estimates, only 33% of the trailers in North America are equipped with telematics, and just 5% have added other components that transform them into smart trailers. The upshot is that the vast majority of fleets are missing opportunities to optimize trailer utilization and associated revenue streams.

The Connected Trailer

Trailer-related technology adoption has lagged in part because early telematics products could not identify the location of parked trailers that weren’t hooked up to a power source. That problem was solved with the development of battery-operated, rechargeable and most recently solar-powered asset tracking products, giving fleet managers visibility into their entire trailer inventory including empty units ready and waiting for loads to haul.

Other trailer monitoring products offer critical maintenance and safety information that can help reduce the total cost of ownership as well as prevent trailer downtime and associated supply chain disruptions.

Advanced tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS), for example, can save hundreds or thousands of dollars in fuel every month by ensuring proper tire pressure (a tire underinflated by as little as 10 psi reduces fuel economy by about 1%) as well as minimize the risk of blowouts on the road, alert drivers in real time to trailer tire problems taking place 40 or 50 feet behind them, and even integrate with automatic tire inflation systems (ATIS) to centralize tire-related information in one place for smarter management.

On the operational side, cargo sensing systems add the ability to maximize revenues by ensuring that each load is filled to capacity.

Unlike ultrasonic cargo detectors that can only indicate whether a trailer is loaded or empty, newer volumetric solutions like Sensata INSIGHTS’ XT3100 utilize a combination of cameras and machine learning to calculate the amount of empty space inside a given trailer so that fleet managers have the opportunity to generate incremental revenues by filling that space with other cargo owners’ goods. The fringe benefit is that the images captured by the camera can provide visual evidence of events that may have (or have not) damaged the cargo in transport, helping exonerate drivers of liability in situations where they are not at fault.

Add door sensors that capture door activity, external cameras that provide visual documentation of any traffic incident, backup cameras that help avoid rear-end collisions, side cameras to remove a driver’s blind spots, and other devices specifically designed for trailer use, and you have a robust complement of tools that can help fleets both optimize and monetize trailer operations.

Tying It Together

While each component offers useful information in its own right, additional value comes in linking disparate data points to provide deeper insights for better decision making. For example:

  • Pairing door sensor data with cameras installed in the trailer makes it possible to determine who is present whenever the door opens or closes, potentially including the ability to identify the culprit in the event of a cargo theft.
  • Having access to both asset location and the cargo status of individual trailers enables fleet managers to search for partially filled units within a certain radius of a pickup location, determine how much extra capacity they have, and fill the space with additional customer loads for peak utilization.
  • Comparing miles-per-gallon information from tractor telematics systems with tire pressure insights from trailer tires can help establish whether fuel efficiency is being affected by low trailer tire pressure.
  • Combining a door sensor on a refrigerated trailer with location tracking and temperature monitoring can show whether a temperature increase was caused by leaving the back doors open too long, allowing fleets to flag the problem with their drivers as well as with third-party contractors.

Given evergreen concerns about profit margins and the need to keep supply chains running without hiccups, insights like these can be instrumental in helping fleets operate at the top of their game. Today, carriers that adopt these technologies will be ahead of the curve. In the not too distant future, this evolving suite of solutions will be table stakes in the effort to contain costs and gain a competitive edge in a crowded freight market.

Michael Bloom is Head of Marketing for Sensata INSIGHTS, a global business unit of Sensata Technologies that provides end-to-end IoT solutions spanning the entire supply chain including logistics, telematics, and worksite monitoring and management.

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