New productivity tools on the market allow carriers to run more efficient, profitable operations. The merging of office and in-cab technology has automated routine tasks and allowed drivers and their managers to focus on more critical matters.
Many drivers once used to input their trip details into handheld computers, and each night, they would connect the computers to a phone line to transmit data to the office. Other drivers may have had to transfer data to the office with a key-size storage device. Invariably, these processes led to drivers not transmitting their data for two or more days – or sometimes never.
Meanwhile, the workflow in the back office was far from automated: Processing data collected from the truck’s computers required significant time and resources. The fleet might have needed a full-time staff to audit trip data for accurate invoicing and payroll.
Many fleets now are using the latest real-time wireless links to automate these and other business processes. Managers now have instant visibility for estimated times of arrival, deliveries, detention and departures.
Each day, all stops in drivers’ routes can be preloaded onto a transportation management software system. A computer recognizes when drivers arrive and depart from each preplanned stop. The only data drivers need to enter is to change status – from driving to nondriving – and to note any exceptions, such as for over, short or damaged freight.
Automating the decision process of driver-load assignments also has paid big dividends for many fleets, as today’s technology can provide optimal recommendations for routing and fueling. These applications also can monitor drivers’ hours of service and alert fleet managers if drivers have enough time to complete a delivery or if they should break for the evening.
This is Part 2 of CCJ’s Tech Toolbox series, which began last month and will continue throughout 2017. Be sure to visit CCJTechToolbox.com for other installments and multimedia content and to sign up for special Tech Toolbox webinars and newsletters. Next month: Technology’s role in compliance.
Planning truck routes to get the lowest possible fuel costs is no small feat. Pump prices can fluctuate along interstate routes, and that’s only one of many considerations. Sophisticated fuel purchasing considers fuel rebates, surcharges, fuel taxes, miles per gallon, distance, fuel levels, tank size, route schedules, truckstop preferences and other factors.
Fuel optimization systems are designed to resolve these various factors into an optimal recommendation for each trip. Vendors for these systems have seen greater interest in recent years as fuel prices have swung wildly and fleets look for new ways to squeeze more miles from their fuel expenses.
Fuel optimization systems and applications can identify the most efficient path from point A to point B, find the lowest-cost fuel within a given radius of the route and show the low-cost stations on a map. For example, U.S. Bank’s Voyager Mobile App features the company’s Trip Planner routing and price optimization tools for its Voyager fuel network. The app also can filter for various amenities and produce printable reports and maps for fleets that do not issue or allow drivers to use mobile devices.
Some mobile communication providers offer integrations with fuel payment vendors for their payment systems, which provides transparency into how fuel is purchased and consumed at a unit level to catch unauthorized purchases by combining the truck’s telematics with fleet card transaction data. Electronic Funds Source’s SecureFuel works at over 14,000 truckstop locations by validating the attempted EFS card transaction and tank level data against the truck’s GPS location before securely authorizing the fuel transaction.
Customers using Wex Fleet One’s fuel card can take advantage of a real-time interactive interface with McLeod Software’s LoadMaster Enterprise platform. Fleet managers can assign card resets and override card limits.
Spireon’s WatchCard fuel card can combine with its FleetLocate solution to monitor fuel spending, reduce wasteful practices and eliminate fraudulent purchases. “(Spireon) Premier with FleetLocate has given us a distinct advantage in the market,” says Brandon Briscoe, vice president of sales and operations for Louisville, Ky.-based Talon Logistics. “We would not be able to do this without real-time updates from FleetLocate.”
PeopleNet’s Vusion division consolidates data from GPS coordinates, odometer readings and fuel purchase data to manage International Fuel Tax Agreement compliance and create tax returns. With Vusion’s fuel theft detection and PeopleNet’s onboard computing platform, fleets can track pre-and post-transaction fuel tank levels. Vehicle data integrates with fuel purchases for instant verification that the entire purchase was deposited into the correct truck.
“Over the past 12 years, we have taken advantage of PeopleNet’s expanding driver and vehicle data to help us manage fuel economy,” says Mike Kelley, director of information technology for Las Cruces, N.M.-based Mesilla Valley Transportation. “Mpg and safety go hand in hand in that this same information has been helpful in revving up our safety program and steadily lowering our [Compliance Safety Accountability] score.”
Some cardless systems also are set up to manage transactions as they happen. These RFID-based systems provide a direct fuel connection between truckstop point-of-sale and motor carrier enterprise systems. Omnitracs’ Exact Fuel captures fuel level information to allow fleet managers to identify discrepancies in fuel levels for potential theft or loss and improve fuel stop planning to help minimize costs.
QuikQ integrates with Fiscal Systems, a provider of POS systems to independent and national truckstop chains, to reduce the risk of fuel fraud and errors in processing fuel transactions. It does so by managing the entire transaction process and providing real-time reporting and improved security and control over purchases at both attended and unattended systems.
Other vendors offer cardless integrations with the major truckstop chains that allow drivers to expedite the fueling process at the company’s travel centers. Pegasus TransTech integrates with Pilot Flying J’s myPilot mobile app to let drivers choose a fuel lane based on real-time estimates of remaining wait time, receive a secure mobile pin code for cardless fueling and activate the fuel pump with the code.
Pilot Flying J’s MyPilot mobile app also enables cardless fuel transactions, and the company says that more than 36,000 fuel cards now are registered within the app that drivers use to conduct more than 3,000 daily fuel transactions. Travel Centers of America’s TruckSmart mobile app also provides prices for bulk diesel exhaust fluid and liquefied natural gas.
Of the many technologies that can help improve vehicle and driver productivity, mapping and mileage software receives relatively little fanfare. Fleets often use this software solely to feed routes to drivers and mileages to dispatch systems. But some may not appreciate the treasure trove of content and attributes that developers are adding to these systems to improve routing efficiency.
Many mapping vendors offer more than just a simple visualization of cities, highways and streets. Today, users can control all aspects of map visualization: change the look and feel of a map, overlay satellite imagery and layer their own customized data to estimate travel times.
Real-time fleet and map data can integrate with fleet telematics systems to help companies evaluate capacity enhancements, improve fuel efficiency, optimize routes and share interactive maps online. Fleets can use the integration to track real-time vehicle location and diagnostic data on a map visualization containing company facility and asset locations, customer delivery points, preferred fuel stops and maintenance and service locations.
Mapping is a critical component of systems that track equipment and shipments. Blue Tree Systems, a provider of truck and trailer telematics, recently deployed FleetManager.com, its latest analytics platform and information management engine. Features include advanced mapping, customizable workspaces for different users, multiple ways to categorize drivers and vehicles, dynamic searches and administrative configuration options for multiple users.
Alan Heyl, president of Akron, Iowa-based Heyl Truck Lines, says his company chose Blue Tree Systems for its refrigerated trailers and tractors based on the needs the solution addressed, including a reefer management system to address customer requirements for information verifying their loads meet food safety regulations and a tracking and communications system to prevent cargo theft, improve productivity and efficiency and enhance customer satisfaction.
Driver safety also is an important factor in fleet mapping and routing decisions. ALK Technologies now offers a Weather Alerts module for ALK Maps and PC Miler Web Services. Fleet managers can quickly and easily identify weather alert information that is overlaid on the existing ALK Maps route visualization platform and color-coded by severity to assess any impacts on route planning. Users can see if their assets are currently within or scheduled to be routed through alert zones, and drivers can be notified of potential danger or routed around harm’s way.
Fleets also can use mapping services to monitor driver compliance by providing an instant overview of the entire fleet to track units, ensure drivers are following approved routes and manage their fuel spend. Traffic data mileage and time calculators can leverage historical commercial travel time estimates and real-time traffic data to ensure drivers are where they’re supposed to be at the right time.
Today’s mapping solutions aren’t necessarily tethered to on-premise software. Smart device technology can be combined with Software-As-A-Service cloud computing to offer low-cost mapping capabilities and proof of delivery, saving paper and labor costs. Web-based access to real-time map-based vehicle locations helps eliminate check calls to drivers, reduce service costs and improve efficiency when adjusting routes for unscheduled pickups and deliveries.
For example, JumpTech combines smart device technology with cloud computing to offer mapping capability within its JumpTrack automated proof-of-delivery system. The Office City, a supplier of office products and supplies, deployed JumpTrack’s smartphone-based tracking system on low-cost Android devices assigned to each route driver across its entire fleet.
“Our company mantra is ‘whatever it takes,’ and we deliver on this promise to our customers through a combination of the best people in the industry and the most professional, reliable and efficient technologies available,” says Jerry Carroll, The Office City’s chief financial officer and vice president of operations. “The cost per truck with JumpTrack is 80 percent less than traditional terminal solutions, and the turn-up time for new trucks is reduced from two weeks to just a few hours.”
Mapping solutions also can target the needs of specific applications. For example, PeopleNet’s Energy Services suite for energy fleets offers mapping and navigation features based on exclusive detailed maps of private and leased oilfield roads to facilitate vehicle navigation to and from well sites, allowing fleets to coordinate disparate workforces to promote efficiency and monitor equipment location to ensure vehicles are on the correct route for least-cost routing.
“[PeopleNet] pulls all available driver and vehicle data together from multiple sources faster and in a way that lets us leverage the most current advanced truck technologies and improve data accuracy,” says Dave Wetzler, dispatch and special projects manager for Mifflintown, Pa.-based Zimmerman Truck Lines.
Theoretically, any size of fleet could benefit from knowing the most economical way to meet their pickup and delivery schedules. However, due to the cost and complexity of routing and scheduling technology, the scale would seem to lean towards large fleets.
That’s not necessarily the case. If a fleet with 10 trucks could use the software to create a set of routes to meet its daily demand with one less vehicle or driver, that’s real savings. Even if the company had to spend several thousand dollars for the software, that’s minimal compared to the cost of equipment, fuel and driver wages. The fleet would get an immediate savings of 10 percent and be able to trim more mileage and fuel costs from the rest of the fleet over time.
Onboard navigation software can relay real-time position data to a back-office software database with a routing engine to deliver turn-by-turn guidance. Fleets can establish consistency in their mileages and routes and monitor for out-of-route miles.
ALK Technologies’ CoPilot Truck onboard navigation software is available with Route-Sync, which can transfer a fleet’s custom route settings from PC Miler in the back office to CoPilot Truck in the cab through wireless communications.
“For years, we sought an integrated solution for cohesive web-based routing tools,” says Saul Cohen, product specialist for Lancaster, Pa.-based Cargas Systems. “Using MapPoint and Bing Maps separately for those functions did not allow for communication or collaboration between the products. We looked at a number of different products over time, but it was obvious that ALK Maps was the best solution fit.”
Routing systems can integrate with transportation management software systems to gather information about a load, such as freight classification, dimensions and equipment type. They also can import details about a specific route – such as practical, shortest and tolls-discouraged – and any custom route settings to avoid or favor certain roads while considering time and fuel cost parameters.
Fleets also can use routing systems to confirm driver compliance. Rand McNally’s IntelliRoute Truck Navigation Device is a truck-specific GPS system that carriers can use as an integral navigation component of their fleet management platforms.
“Rand McNally provided the key measures we were looking for – McLeod [Software] integration, truck-specific navigation for our drivers and e-log capabilities,” said Michael Kadin Craig, vice president of safety, maintenance and compliance for Perrysburg, Ohio-based Craig Transportation. “Training time has been minimal and is easily handled with videos from Rand McNally.”
Some solutions consider the total cost of dispatch in their route optimization design. For example, Manhattan Associates’ Fuel&Route software begins with ALK’s PC Miler truck-legal routes – practical, shortest and tolls-discouraged – between any origin and destination pair. It then lays a fleet’s variable and fixed costs – fuel, miles, hours, tolls and driver pay – to determine the true least-cost route.
Smaller fleets that prefer not to invest in expensive on-premise routing systems can choose cloud-based solutions for route planning, dispatch, tracking and mobile proof of delivery. These Software-as-a-Service platforms can integrate with drivers’ smart devices to optimize daily route plans through integrated GPS tracking and bidirectional mobile communication capabilities. For example, Descartes’ Route Planner cloud-based solution highlights planned vs. actual performance for daily routes to manage driver compliance and record factors to consider for future route planning.
For multi-driver and multi-destination routes, route optimization uses big data, data science and machine learning. Carriers with multi-stop operations can use these systems to match orders to routes and sequence the stops to maximize mileage reductions. Integrations with third-party mobile apps can provide route instructions to drivers, update tracking information and report post-mortem route monitoring.
Some multi-stop routing offerings allow fleet managers to plan delivery locations and automatically organize them into smaller groups by geographic location. Users can move a stop from one position in a sequence to another, which can be useful for larger routes.
Poolsure uses Telogis’ RouteCloud platform to schedule deliveries of chlorine and other water treatment chemicals and services to hotels, waterparks and wastewater treatment plants. WiFi-equipped water-testing devices are installed in its customers’ pools to send alerts when problems with tank levels, pumps, flow rates and chemistry occur.
When pools need service, alerts are sent to RouteCloud, which then automatically locates and schedules a Poolsure truck to make a delivery. “By next summer, we hope to have a robust algorithm to predict our frequency needs,” says Alan Falik, president of the Houston-based company. “We can predict (deliveries) weeks in advance.”
An advanced feature in today’s onboard computing and wireless communications systems allows fleets to automate data capture at key locations. Users can establish imaginary perimeters, called geofences, around customer sites and other locations of interest. When a fleet’s truck crosses the perimeter for an arrival or departure, the onboard computer triggers a message to the back office and the customer or brings up a form for drivers to complete.
This lets fleets alert customers when a driver arrives at his destination to reduce detention time and charges and track the total time a driver spends at a customer site for accurate billing. Fleets also can monitor driver behavior, track idling and receive alerts when a maintenance fault code is detected.
Geofencing also can connect fleet owners and managers to data, analytics and asset intelligence to drive higher productivity and turns per trailer and better trailer pool management. Carriers can improve asset utilization by confirming pickup and delivery locations and times and adjusting a trailer’s assignments as its status changes.
Omaha, Neb.-based Werner Enterprises uses Spireon’s FleetLocate system for trailer tracking and asset utilization, powered by the vendor’s cloud-based NSpire machine-to-machine platform, to identify ways the company could better utilize its fleet and streamline processes to improve the bottom line.
“Our mission is to deliver value to our customers, business partners and shareholders by providing leading-edge global supply chain solutions that exceed expectations and promote safety while we remain customer-focused and asset-backed,” says Steve Phillips, Werner’s senior vice president of fleet resources. “Our decision to partner with Spireon for trailer intelligence solutions supports that mission.”
Watkins & Shepard Trucking of Missoula, Mont., hauls many time-sensitive commodities that require full visibility of both assets and shipments. “Spireon’s FleetLocate helps ensure the on-time arrival and security of these loads by providing real-time access to the location and status of trailers,” says Walt Ainsworth, president and chief operating officer.
Omnitracs offers geofencing to fleets equipped with both its Trailer Tracks 210 and Mobile Computing Platform systems. When integrated with a MCP, TT210 automatically transmits trailer identification and connect/disconnect time, date and location directly to the in-cab display, enabling drivers to quickly identify incorrect trailer pickups and enhancing customer service with near-real-time insight into delivery status.
“We’ve already come to rely heavily on the (Omnitracs) TT210’s geofencing capability, location and status tracking, cargo sensor and immediate connect/disconnect information to reduce out-of-route miles, ensure on-time delivery and more efficiently manage trailer inventories,” says Mike Gabbei, chief information officer for Indianapolis-based Celadon Trucking.
Doug Schrier, vice president of continuous improvement and internal audit for Covenant Transportation Group, says the Omnitracs system complements the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based company’s focus on improving the driver experience and easing the frustrations they encounter in their daily tasks.
“It has taken our circle of service communication from an extensive and confusing group of macros to a clear, concise checklist that the driver completes on each load,” Schrier says. “Ease of use has increased for the professional drivers, and our in-house personnel receive the needed information in the correct order and at the right times. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”
Smaller fleets may not require all of the bells and whistles provided by larger systems that integrate geofencing with other fleet management capabilities. Some may require only the knowledge that their loads have arrived safely and uncompromised. Something as simple as a trailer lock or a device that fits in a driver’s pocket may be all they need.
TrakLok’s upgraded GeoLok cargo security system for trailers features a lightweight easy-to-install platform that combines physical security with real-time global monitoring and an onboard alarm system. Geofencing technologies can prohibit the lock from opening if it is outside a prescribed area and timeframe. The system also sends alerts for unauthorized attempts to access cargo.
KeepTruckin added tracking and geofencing to its electronic logbook application for both the Android and Apple platforms. The app is a free download for drivers on their personal devices that allows fleets to view an online dashboard that shows drivers’ current locations on an interactive map. The app collects drivers’ GPS locations at regular intervals for fleets to monitor detention time, capture state miles for International Fuel Tax Agreement reporting, review “breadcrumb” routing trails and plan future loads.
SafeKey’s key fob is designed to provide location, speed and geofencing tracking abilities and to act as a portable real-time safety and security system for both the driver and his cargo assets by providing an accessible and convenient emergency alert in the event of a safety, security or medical emergency or attempted theft.