Companies surviving in trucking today are all about efficiency. What will drive down costs, increase productivity and speed up cash flow?
Technologies that can do that and at the same time improve customer service have a tremendous value. Handheld computers are one such technology. They can be used as the front end for back-office systems in operations and the shop, speeding the flow and accuracy of data that kick-starts the billing process or speeds diagnostics and repair.

The benefits of these type of handheld devices are well understood by the package carriers, who have had their own systems and hardware in place for as much as two decades. Major LTLs like Old Dominion and Con-way Express have discovered the efficiencies and transparency of gathering data at the pick-up point so freight is consolidated and linehaul trucks scheduled before the freight ever turns up at the distribution terminal.

Today, however, technology has advanced to allow smaller carriers to take advantage of these benefits.

Today's hand-held computers cover a broad spectrum of capabilities, from the simple Palm-based information manager and the enabled Nextel phone to fully featured versatile handhelds from companies such as Intermec, Symbol Technologies and Motorola.

These latter are key-based, rugged computers, typically running various version of Windows or Palm operating systems, that can handle a number of operations, read barcodes or radio frequency identification (RFID) and even capture a signature.

The data is uploaded via wide or local area networks, often cellular networks.

We've written about handhelds before (November 2008 and March of this year), but here we offer an update on new hardware and software that add functionality to handhelds.

In the Cab

PeopleNet, Summary team up: PeopleNet, a provider of Internet-based and integrated onboard computing and mobile communications management, has partnered with Summary Systems to integrate Summary's Point of Delivery Mobile Suite software with PeopleNet's onboard computing system.

"The incorporation of point-of-delivery software into PeopleNet gives fleets the opportunity to automate delivery routes, streamline dispatch and driver operations, eliminate paperwork, and save communications costs by taking advantage of the onboard wireless network and lower-cost handheld hardware-critical issues for improving operational efficiency," says Randy Boyles, PeopleNet vice president of tailored solutions. "Customers will also have the flexibility of having us tailor the point-of-delivery software to meet their particular needs."

The software can be implemented in virtually any lower-cost handheld device's Windows mobile or Windows CE platform. Point of Delivery Mobile Suite captures real-time delivery data, and uses the powerful PeopleNet wireless network to transport the critical data to the corporate office.

Both PeopleNet and Summary Systems integrate with key dispatch software to streamline the seamless transfer of data from the vehicle's PeopleNet onboard computer to the point-of-delivery solution to the back office without having to key in delivery data. This integration also automates delivery routes and dispatch, and expedites invoicing. In addition, the real-time information helps fleet managers manage by exception and on the fly to improve driver efficiency in and out of the cab, as well as to expedite invoicing.

DriverTech turns iPhone into driver handheld: DriverTech, designers of the DT4000 TruckPC, teamed up with iCooper, the developers of Simply Intelligent Mobile Applications for iPhone and other handheld mobile devices.

ICooper will design and develop enterprise management solutions for DriverTech customers. The partnership will extend the capabilities of the DriverTech onboard system by creating a handheld interface and integrated, untethered applications for fleets with 500 or more trucks.

"Our agreement with iCooper will bring new leading edge solutions to our customers that extend the benefits of the TruckPC beyond current tethered platforms," said Scott Lemon, vice president of sales for DriverTech.

The baseline iCooper application that will be used for development efforts in partnership with DriverTech is called iOTR. The solution utilizes the iPhone as a data collection tool to support the activities of mobile professionals. The planned integrated offerings will enable the creation of an untethered mobile LAN (local Area Network) to capture and automatically synchronize delivery, truck, driver and customer data wirelessly or through an in-cab docking device.

In the Shop

Heavy-duty diagnostics: Noregon's JPro Fleet Products division recently launched a family of heavy-duty vehicle-to-PC handheld communication adapters as the DLA+, DLA+ PLC, and DLA+ Wireless. They have been developed with input from leading fleets and over a decade of experience of Noregon's providing heavy-duty vehicle adapters to the industry.

"We are very excited about our new family of adapters and what they will mean to the end users in the heavy-duty industry in terms of ease of use and the compatibility with OEM and aftermarket software," said Michael Kinney, director of sales and marketing.

The DLA+ kit comes with everything to connect a heavy-duty vehicle to a PC via its USB port for diagnostics, reprogramming or parameter adjustment. The unit is designed to work with all OEM software applications and comes complete with a 6- and 9-pin Y-cable to connect to the truck, and a USB cable to connect to the PC.

A tool for trailer use is the DLA+ PLC Adapter. Again, it is a USB interface unit and comes with everything needed to connect a vehicle or trailer to a PC in order to run diagnostics. Noregon says it works with any OEM software application and allows users to communicate with and diagnose ABS and other PLC and J1939/J1708/J1587 devices.

A third unit is the DLA+ PLC. This trailer brake kit will connect the PC and the vehicle to perform J1708/J1587 diagnostics. It also comes complete with a 6- and 9-Pin Y-cable to connect to the truck, a PLC J560 cable with "T" connector to connect to the trailer, and a USB cable to connect to the PC.

Integrated inspection and maintenance: Asset management software and automated fuel systems supplier Maximus is collaborating with Zonar Systems to offer an integrated inspection and maintenance package. It will enable fleet operators to maintain accurate and electronically verified pre- and post-trip inspections, streamlining their maintenance processes.

The integrated solution provides a two-way data exchange that automates the pre- and post-trip vehicle inspection process required by federal and state laws.

The Zonar inspection system uses RFID tags placed in critical inspection "zones" around the vehicle. A driver uses a handheld scanning tool to document the inspection observations. Once complete, the inspection is wirelessly transmitted to secure servers and the resulting information is delivered to fleet managers in real time.

When a defect is noted by a driver, it will instantly be communicated to Maximus maintenance software to automatically create a "flag" while capturing odometer reading and inspection information. The shop will be immediately alerted of the needed repairs through one of several notification options.

As repairs are performed and closed out, FleetFocus closes the loop by communicating updated defect status to Zonar's inspection database. This collaborative workflow eliminates paper records, as well as ensures the reliability of reporting.

Terminal Operations

Wireless branch offices: Motorola's 802.11n Wireless Enterprise Branch Office Solution allows customers to quickly deploy secure and voice-enabled branch office wireless LANs. You can wirelessly connect remote locations and eliminate recurring leased line costs, or emp