About a year and a half ago, Kraft Foods' private fleet was experiencing considerable trailer detention and needed to get more control of its trailers.
The Slap & Track device from TransCore (shown) provides integrated, two-way satellite communications to monitor location, speed, heading and temperature of trailers.
The Slap & Track device from TransCore (shown) provides integrated, two-way satellite communications to monitor location, speed, heading and temperature of trailers.
"As a private fleet, we thought we knew pretty well where our equipment was and how many trailers that we needed to serve our business," says Scott Willert, senior manager for private and dedicated fleets at Kraft. But then Kraft installed SkyBitz's Global Locating System technology for positional trailer tracking.

"Once we started using SkyBitz, we were able to start telling our locations that were asking for more trailers, how many trailers they had and how long they had been there," Willert says.

In less than 12 months, Kraft reduced its trailer pool by 25 percent. "The increased visibility and communication opened people's eyes and helped change behaviors almost immediately," he says. "At the same time, we've been able to serve more of our companies' loads because we know more about the availability of our assets."

One of TeleNav's customers won a new dedicated route using trailer tracking. With TeleNav's Asset Tracker product, the fleet was able to demonstrate its performance against on-time arrival service level agreements for one of its clients using GPS data and a geofence capability.

"For companies competing in the transportation industry, providing this level of service and reporting can mean the difference between success and failure," says Keith Halasy, senior marketing manager for TeleNav Enterprise Mobility products.

Trailer tracking devices have evolved into smaller, smarter and more cost-effective products than ever before. Advances in the technology allows fleets to simply slap the device on the trailer and leave it alone, with little maintenance or need to change the battery.

Fleets are starting to reap the benefits of these advances, including increased visibility, security and better asset utilization.

Hardware options

Previously, trailer tracking devices had to be tied to the tractor for battery power and communication, says Susan Roca, marketing manager for Intergis. Now, these devices provide for real-time tracking of trailer assets, without having to be tethered to the truck itself.

"In the early days, tracking solutions were cumbersome and typically required customized mounting and cabling to an external battery," says Brad Aitken, business development director of satellite communications at TransCore. "Capital costs have decreased significantly over the past five years, and battery life has doubled, offering a quicker return on investment."

According to a white paper by Qualcomm Enterprise Solutions, the number of installed untethered trailer management systems has grown from 100,000 in 2003 to 600,000 units expected by the end of 2009.

Here is a rundown on some of the trailer tracking solutions out there:

* Complete Innovations: As part of its Fleet Complete platform, Ontario-based Complete Innovations offers its Asset Tracker solution, a battery-powered device designed for assets without a power source. The batteries are recharged when the trailer is tethered to a tractor, and the device can track for about a week or more without being recharged, according to Tony Lourakis, CEO. The asset tag, which is a bit larger than a pack of cigarettes, has the ability to track a trailer at intervals set by the user. Using the Fleet Complete software, users can view all of their trailer assets on a map and customize their own rules, notifications and reports. For example, users can create a geofence, or virtual boundary, so that if the trailer goes outside the parameters, the fleet manager is notified.

* I.D. Systems: Asset Intelligence, an I.D. Systems company, offers its VeriWise product suite, including VeriWise Satellite, which installs inside the front trailer wall, and VeriWise Track and Trace, designed for quick, flexible installation on different types of assets.

VeriWise Satellite is connected to the 7-way to recharge the battery when the trailer is connected to the tractor. It also includes a solar panel to charge the battery when the trailer is not connected to the tractor.

The information is accessed via the VeriWise Internet Portal (VIP), a website that creates a set of reports and data that can be viewed in tabular format or displayed in a Google map interface.

Both products collect location information using GPS, have patented power management logic to manage battery life, and resident intelligence to manage the operation of the unit on the trailer. VeriWise Satellite transmits the information collected via a ubiquitous GEO satellite system, while VeriWise Track and Trace communicates on the cellular GSM (Global System for Mobile communication) network.

* Intergis: The Kuva Asset Tracking Solution offered by Intergis uses GPS to acquire location, time/date and motion data points. It then transmits that data to a remote server via the GSM/GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) wireless network. The server processes the data, converting location information into a street address and posts it to a Web- or PC-based application that includes mapping and satellite imagery.

This compact, weather-proof unit is easy to conceal on a trailer and boasts a battery life as long as two and a half years, according to Intergis' Roca. It's designed so fleets can mount it and basically forget about it. If the device is removed or tampered with, a signal is sent to Intergis' Vericom MRM fleet tracking software. With this software, fleets can see all its trailers on one map and receive alerts and other data. The device also sends battery-level status with every report.

* PeopleNet: PeopleNet is in the midst of enhancing its comprehensive trailer tracking platform, which covers reefer monitoring, dry van tracking, and tanker fleets. The integrated trailer management platform gives fleets full visibility to their trailer's movements, current locations, and utilization over time.

* Qualcomm Enterprise Solutions: QES offers its Trailer Tracks 200, an untethered device, and Trailer Tracks 100, its tethered device. Both systems provide the ability to detect tractor to trailer connect and disconnect and visibility into which tractor dropped which trailer where. Trailer Tracks 200 also has the ability to monitor and report reefer alarms and temperatures. It detects the beginning and end of trip and also provides notification of door openings and closings and changes of trailer loaded and empty status. With Trailer Tracks 100, fleets can monitor the status and location of trailers and containers, says Jeff Griswold, product marketing.

The company just announced its new Trailer Tracks 210, the successor to its Trailer Tracks 200, will be available in the first quarter of 2011. It features more memory and processing power, embedded solar power, a more compact design and Bluetooth capability.

* SkyBitz: Three types of solutions are offered by SkyBitz as part of its tracking platform. The core of this platform is SkyBitz's GLS system, a two-way communication, satellite-based technology, that can run for three to five years on eight AA lithium batteries, says Craig Montgomery, senior vice president of marketing and business development. The device doesn't use a GPS chip, which often makes devices power hungry.

The GLS, packaged in a low-profile, weatherproof polycarbonate housing, sends pieces of information from a satellite infrastructure to SkyBitz's servers. The calculations are made on these servers, and the data are then sent to the customer via SkyBitz's Web service, SkyBitz InSight, where users have access to up to 50 reports and maps.

The company has also been working on a GSM terrestrial-based device through a partnership with U.K.-based QinetiQ, a defense technology and security company. This device is designed for flatbeds and high-value cargo where fleets need a high level of reporting.

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