When you have some 7,000 trucks on the road at any one time, things like winter storms that close Interstate highways have a ripple effect across the network like cancelled flights at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. And the amount of data available on those trucks via telematics is a gold mine waiting to be tapped.
That’s why the less-than-truckload carrier Old Dominion Freight Line got its IT staff to work with PeopleNet to develop better ways to analyze and use all that data. The centerpiece of their efforts is visible as the “command center” at its Thomasville, North Carolina, headquarters.
At any time of day or night, the five dispatchers in the center can glance up at a wall of TVs and get a birds-eye view of the entire network, including any weather delays, accidents or breakdowns, and hard braking/stop incidents.
“We look at ourselves as the conductor and all 230 service centers out in the field as the orchestra,” says Hugh Morris, vice president of transportation. “Anybody here in the corporate office that is sharing information out in the field can walk by, look inside our big glass bubble, and in 30 seconds know just about anything and everything going on in the entire network.”
The data flows into the system from PeopleNet units on the vehicles, as well as external information such as weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“PeopleNet is an external partner that is working with our internal IT department, and they’re actually working together to help make this reporting more dynamic,” he says.
WIth the two-way flow of communications though the PeopleNet units, Morris says, a dispatcher can use his or her mouse to click on a point in the network and broadcast messages to trucks in a certain geographic area. For example, if a tornado is reported, dispatchers can warn trucks in its path.
In addition to the real-time data displayed on the screen, ODFL uses the data that comes in to analyze and improve other operational efficiencies. For instance, rpm, overspeed and idling time are measured and used to help educate drivers on how to drive for better fuel economy. Fuel mileage per truck is used to determine if some trucks are more fuel efficient in different areas of the country. Real-world data from trucks helps the company develop the most efficient routes based on time of day or night. The amount of shipments and tonnage flowing through service centers determines when a service center may need to be expanded or a new one added.
ODFL had been using PeopleNet for several years, Morris says. “We had access to all of that information; it’s just that we did not have a visual that we could display to the network that was easy for them to see and understand vs. reading it on the paper, and interpreting what was said vs. what was meant.”