Eye on the prize

When linked to a wireless trailer monitoring system, the Hoc-loc system from J.P. Holt Corp. allows a fleet manager to unlock trailer doors remotely.

Cargo integrity has always been a top priority for Don Olsen, president of Fortune Transportation, and events since 9/11 have created a “heightened awareness” of vulnerabilities in his customers’ supply chains. The company will begin using security seals to assure customers that its trailer doors remain closed from pickup to delivery.

“We’re also looking really hard at a trailer-tracking product to do the temperature monitoring,” Olsen says. Drivers at the 85-truck refrigerated carrier based in Windom, Minn., can now print out time-stamped temperature reports from the reefers’ data loggers to show interested receivers. The data loggers, however, do not alert drivers and dispatchers of critical changes in temperature and other events, such as a door opening.

Although most customers probably do not need or want to know the condition of freight in real-time, increasingly, they want to know that you know the condition of the load at all times. For many types of cargo – temperature-sensitive freight, hazardous materials and high-value goods, for example – information about the load’s integrity is practically as important as the freight itself.

And increasingly, communication is a two-way street. Not only can your equipment tell you what it’s doing, but also you can tell it what to do.

Where’s the trailer?
The most basic function in monitoring cargo is tracking the location of your trailers. In operations where a trailer is usually mated to a power unit, trailer tracking may be unnecessary. But even some of these carriers still need to monitor load condition or trailer status, such as whether the trailer is loaded or empty or whether the door is open or closed. For them, trailer monitoring while the tractor and trailer are united – tethered trailer tracking – may be the right approach.

The value proposition for untethered trailer tracking – monitoring of equipment when separated from the tractor – has generally focused on two factors: utilization and theft prevention and recovery.

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Theft has always been a big worry, but several recent trends make the recovery aspect even more compelling. First, cargo insurance policies are increasingly riddled with exclusions that deny coverage for certain types of goods and operations in certain parts of the country or when the trailer is left unattended.

Homeland security is the other new wrinkle. After Sept. 11, hazardous materials went from an environmental worry to a terrorist’s potential tool, and even food haulers must consider the possibility of bioterrorism. Extra precaution isn’t just the smart thing to do. Federal regulations now being developed could mandate certain actions, including installation and use of trailer/cargo monitoring systems.

Cam-Scott Trucking decided to buy a trailer-monitoring solution in 1999 after thieves drove off with two trailers from the yard, resulting in a $180,000 cargo claim.

“All of our trailers were backed up tight to a cement wall and pin locked – they had been for years – but the thieves got wise to that,” says Glenn Weddel, general manager and part owner of the 100-truck carrier based near Toronto in Pickering, Ontario, Canada.

When Cam-Scott renewed its cargo insurance for 2000, its insurance company strongly suggested that the carrier hire a security guard to patrol the premises at night. But a security guard is expensive and prone to human error, Weddel says. Instead, Cam-Scott equipped its trailers with an Internet-based untethered trailer monitoring system marketed by AirIQ.

Triggering events
Experienced thieves act quickly. By the time the tracking system routinely registers a new location, the trailer is probably empty and abandoned. That’s why leading monitoring systems offer exception reports to alert managers immediately when something suspicious occurs.

Cam-Scott’s trailer monitoring system is programmed to send a text message to Weddel’s pager when exceptions – such as a trailer moving, a tractor hooking up or a trailer door opening – occur during the nights and weekends.

Using a system feature called geofencing, Weddel says the AirIQ system automatically alerts him when trailers cross an imaginary boundary around the perimeter of the company’s yard. Geofencing can also be used to automate business processes. PeopleNet Communications, an Internet-based fleet management system, for example, uses geofencing with its in-cab system to trigger automated messages sent from drivers, such as “arrived at shipper,” to dispatchers and other interested parties.

Once you determine that there is a probable theft in progress, you face a new challenge:
Getting law enforcement authorities to respond. That’s the constant frustration of cargo theft victims. Your chances of getting attention are much greater, however, if you can report a theft in progress than if you try to get police to investigate a theft on the basis of an empty trailer discovered hours later.

Remote security
Unfortunately, drivers are often involved to some degree in cargo theft. Trailer locks provide some measure of protection and may soon be required by the Transportation Security Administration. But if the driver has control over the lock, you still bear some risk. Sometimes you may want to deny your drivers access to the contents of a trailer and even lock and unlock trailer doors remotely.

DeKalb Transportation, a 35-truck carrier based in Ider, Ala., uses a system called Hoc-loc to secure its loads of carpet, produce and other non-hazardous freight. Drivers punch in a code on a keypad to release an interior trailer door lock and to mobilize the trailer by releasing the brakes. The Hoc-loc system, developed by Fresno, Calif.-based J.P. Holt Corp., can also be linked to one of several satellite or cellular-based systems, such as Terion’s FleetView, to control the system remotely, says J.P. Holt President John Holt.

David Hammonds, president of DeKalb Transportation, says that most of the time drivers use the same code to lock and unlock trailer doors. For expensive loads that require extra security, the company changes the codes in its Hoc-loc system from the office through an Internet-based trailer-monitoring system. “The driver calls us at the delivery point and asks for the code,” Hammonds says.

Trailer status – loaded or unloaded – is another important piece of information for both efficiency and security. Major trailer monitoring vendors, such as Aether, Qualcomm, Terion and Vistar Datacom, have developed ultrasonic cargo sensors that detect the presence or absence of cargo. This function of cargo sensors, as with door sensors, can help identify possible tampering and theft with cargo. But the main use of cargo sensors – at the present stage of development – is to notify fleet managers when trailers are loaded and ready for pickup or unloaded and ready for assignment. Cargo sensors detect the presence or absence of cargo, not the number of pallets.

In the fourth quarter of this year, Rock Hill, S.C.-based Vehicle Enhancement Systems (VES) plans to introduce a cargo sensor that lets fleet managers see all the cargo inside their trailers from the office, says Allen Lesesky, president of VES. The product is the size of a marker light and takes digital snapshots of the inside of a trailer using infrared LEDs. The images can be transmitted to the office through a satellite or cellular-based system in the cab or through a trailer-mounted terminal. The cost per unit will be about $150, Lesesky says.

Tracking the cargo
Even with exception reporting, thieves often will successfully make off with a load or a pallet or two. That brings us to the frontier of cargo monitoring – tracking the cargo itself. For years, a cost-effective solution to that challenge has been the Holy Grail of cargo monitoring.

Major LTL carrier FedEx Freight uses a variety of wireless networks and handheld computers to update the status of individual packages in their mainframe computers, says Randy Gardner, vice president of information technology at FedEx Freight. But these technologies, including

By applying radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to returnable containers or pallets, shippers can track freight using RFID readers at certain checkpoints, such as a loading dock. Shown above: the Intellitag from Intermec.

radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and barcoding, are designed for shipment visibility at discrete points – pickup, transfer at a hub, loading onto a truck, delivery, etc. The system is designed to give customers a good idea of status through a secure website but not to pinpoint exact location at precisely that moment.

“For us, and most others in the industry, there is a continual quest to implement real-time tracking of information,” Gardner says.

FedEx has toyed with the idea of placing RFID tags on individual packages and GPS tracking on its trucks for true real-time tracking of each package, but “it’s not to the point where it’s being generally accepted or being embraced,” Gardner says. “But there is a market for very high-value goods.”

One application that has shown promise for RFID technology is intermodal transportation, which is a particular security concern because so many parties typically have access to containers from origin to destination.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Savi Technology markets SmartSeal, a hardware and software solution that detects tampering with the seal and stores alerts from RFID sensors inside the container. The SmartSeal sends an alert to an RFID reader system set up at strategic checkpoints where you want to know the status of the container – at docks, terminal gates, and distribution facilities, says Mark Nelson, director of corporate communications for Savi Technology.

Real-time tracking of freight at the carton level appears feasible – if the market demands it. Anticipating an expanded use of carton-level tracking technology using RFID tags, some vendors of trailer monitoring systems can incorporate short-range radio transceivers into their wireless terminals to communicate with individual tags on the freight.

“It’s just a matter of putting a Bluetooth transceiver into the terminal,” says Stan Graff, director of transportation market for Vistar Datacom. Bluetooth is a commonly used term to describe a worldwide wireless specification that ensures compatibility between different hardware devices. The cost of sending real-time data collected by RFID technology through cellular and satellite networks has restricted its use to high-value freight, Graff says.

Other providers are pursuing cellular-based technologies for tracking cargo. Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Wherify Wireless, for example, has developed a reusable tracking device that could be disguised as a product, such as a pack of cigarettes, and planted in a load.

Cold enough for you?
With hazardous materials and many high-value goods, your principal cargo-monitoring concern is location. But in some freight segments, where the cargo is located is secondary to how the cargo is doing. In temperature-sensitive freight, ensuring that loads are kept within specified temperature and humidity ranges is crucial.

In addition to monitoring the movement of trailers, Cam-Scott Trucking uses its trailer monitoring system to follow the performance and condition of its refrigerated units. The system reports fault codes from the reefers’ electronic control modules pointing to problems, such as low oil and fuel or other mechanical and temperature issues, that could put cargo at risk.

“Before, we had to have someone check [the reefers] manually,” Weddel says. Cam-Scott managers checked on reefer conditions every four hours. Integration with the reefers’ ECMs is especially useful for refrigerated loads that sit in the yard over the weekend, he says. The system also logs data to allow a replay of vehicle history when necessary. It takes snapshots, every five minutes, of all stops and starts, temperature and any faults reported from the reefer units.

“It protects us from accusations,” Weddel says.

Alvarez Truck Brokers of Florida, a transportation broker based in Ocala, Fla., dispatches more than 10,000 loads annually and specializes in produce and perishable refrigerated goods. Some of the carriers that haul for the broker use an Internet-based trailer monitoring system called Fresh-Trak that reports both trailer locations and temperature, says company President John Alvarez.

“If a driver leaves California, and there’s a problem with the reefer, I can see that the first day out, not four days later,” Alvarez says. “With the carrier base that I have of over 1,800, most of them are 10 trucks to 300 or more. My goal is to have everybody operating this way in the near future.”

Most of the company’s customers that ship perishable goods require Alvarez Trucking to send tracking sheets every day by 10 a.m. showing the load’s location, temperature and ETA. By monitoring the trailers online, dispatchers at Alvarez Truck Brokers save time and phone costs by contacting drivers only if they are behind schedule or there is a problem with the temperature. When it comes to assigning loads at Alvarez Truck Brokers, carriers that have systems like Fresh-Trak have an advantage over those that don’t.

“We’ve not made it mandatory that all carriers have it,” Alvarez says. “But we certainly encourage them to. In the future, I wouldn’t be surprised if our customers, large or small, begin to demand or at least request it.”

Remote-control reefers
The ability to monitor reefer conditions from a PC may be enough for many carriers, but some truly want the ability to control or adjust reefers. That’s one of the virtues of systems offered by two makers of refrigerated units. Carrier Transicold and Thermo King package data from their microprocessor-controlled refrigeration systems into single portals, namely DataTrak and i-Box, respectively. Such data includes temperature, pressures, alarms, engine hours and run time. Fleet managers in the office could also turn the system on and off, change the set point and precipitate a defrost.

There’s a catch, however. Although the Carrier Transicold and Thermo King systems make it easier for any trailer monitoring system to monitor reefer conditions, the ability to control reefer functions remotely is restricted to two wireless data providers that have arrangements with the companies.

StarTrak, a Morris Plains, N.J.-based provider that specializes in monitoring solutions for mobile refrigerated trailers, is Carrier Transicold’s preferred provider, says Mark Fragnito, electronics product manager at Carrier Transicold. StarTrak currently provides the equipment factory installed and tested at Carrier Transicold’s production facility located in Athens, Ga.

Fleets can also use StarTrak for two-way cellular and satellite communications with Thermo King refrigeration systems. Thermo King also has its own cellular and satellite-based service called Trac-King, says Michael Golden, Thermo King’s business developer for telematics.

TQI Inc., a 20-truck carrier based in Mecosta, Mich., uses the StarTrak system on its Great Dane SuperSeal trailers, which are equipped with Carrier Transicold refrigeration systems. TQI specializes in high-dollar goods such as pharmaceuticals. Most loads are kept at 45 degrees.

“If we see a change in the set point, and if we can’t contact the driver, we change the set point from the office,” says TQI President Terry Fewless. Because of the high value of TQI’s loads, many customers want to see the temperature in real time. By giving them Web access to the StarTrak system, TQI can let customers see the trailer’s location and look at the set point and return temperature at all times, Fewless says.

“We’re into three years now with the product, and we’ve never had one cargo claim incident.”

In a post-9/11 world, shippers are well aware of vulnerabilities in their supply chains from cargo damage, theft, tampering and even terrorism while cargo is en route. Providing customers with an assurance of your cargo integrity, therefore, can be essential for winning new business. Your past record doesn’t always speak for itself. Sometimes the only assurance that will do is in real time.

Aether Systems
J.P.Holt Corporation
Savi Technology
Vistar Datacom
Vehicle Enhancement Systems