Building smarter trucks

Ryder System, Inc. added a new Carrier Portal to RyderTrac, a Web-based solution used to provide visibility of shipment tracking information. Through the Carrier Portal, Ryder’s carriers, operations staff and management can access real-time information to follow the detailed progress of customer shipments.

EMS Technologies acquired a suite of fleet tracking software from GEOCOMtms Inc. EMS’s PDT-100 packet data terminal, combined with the tracking solution from GEOCOMtms, has already been deployed on both small and large fleets, the company says.

Terion has added a feature called Tractor ID to its FleetView Trailer Fleet Management System. Using power line communications (PLC) technology, Tractor ID reports the identification code and fleet code – or the absence of such codes – for a tractor hooked to any FleetView-equipped trailer. The feature can alert a dispatcher if the wrong tractor or an unidentified tractor hooks to a trailer.

Maddocks Systems said Portland, Ore.-based Kool Pak LLC selected the Maddocks TruckMate for Windows (TM4Win) as its software solution. Kool Pak, a 70-truck LTL refrigerated transportation and warehousing company, cited visual LTL crossdocking, EDI integration and Web-enabled online interface as top reasons for its choice.

PCS Software released Express 14.5, the latest version of its operations management software. Express 14.5 integrates with PCS Software’s Webhauler.com, a load and truck posting board, and XpressTrax.com, a Web-based system for shippers to retrieve load information and load documents from carriers.

Siricomm will install Wi-Fi hot spots at Pilot Travel Center’s 255 locations nationwide. Siricomm plans to install more than 400 hot spots this year and is considering travel centers, shipping facilities, rest areas, weigh stations and trucking terminals as potential locations.

HHP Inc. announced availability of the Dolphin 9500 GSM/GPRS mobile computers, which provide real-time data and voice communications of mission-critical data and information.

You probably think of integration in terms of your office – linking operations, safety and maintenance with back-office systems such as accounting, billing and payroll. But consider your trucks. A heavy-duty truck teems with systems that can and should be monitored and controlled electronically – or even controlled remotely through wireless communications.

In the early days of truck electronics, truck original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) were concerned primarily with ensuring that the various electronic components were compatible with one another and that they could be used for diagnostics. Today, truck OEMs are becoming IT integrators. Think of it as continuing the transformation of the truck maker’s role. Truck OEMs have matured from assemblers of various third-party components specified by the customer to value-added integrators of optimized systems. Despite the resistance of some customers, most truck OEMs are trying to exercise more control over the final product by limiting choice to proprietary or preferred components and establishing or buying their own capability to build major components, such as engines and transmissions.

This approach helps truck makers by making engineering and production more efficient. But the customer benefits too, OEMs say. Truck makers argue that it’s better to focus resources on optimizing performance for fewer component options than to spread resources to accommodate more options. At some truck makers, this way of thinking is already extending beyond “heavy iron” components to electronics and telematics.

The heart of most telematics solutions is the engine’s electronic control module. Virtually all the major players in wireless fleet management offer applications that tap into the ECM and report key metrics such as speed, fuel economy, rpm and fault codes on a real-time basis. Wireless communications systems may even allow two-way communication with the ECM, allowing a dispatcher to govern a truck’s speed remotely, for example.

Aftermarket suppliers of telematics and wireless communications have effectively capitalized on the data generated by today’s trucks. But at least two truck OEMs believe their ongoing service and repair relationships with customers, and their expertise in integrating telematics into their vehicles’ hardware and electrical systems, give them an edge in vehicle monitoring.

More than two years ago, Volvo Trucks of North America introduced a telematics solution called VolvoLink. Integrated installation is one of VolvoLink’s principal attributes. The Global Positioning System antenna is hidden, and the wireless modem is placed inside the dashboard for no visible evidence of the VolvoLink feature. A driver message center is incorporated into the dashboard, and drivers receive and send pre-formatted text messages by using the windshield-wiper control arm on the steering column.

Volvo believes its truck expertise and service network also gives it an edge in the field of prognostics – using telematics to identify and solve problems before they develop, says Skip Yeakel, principal engineer of advanced engineering, Volvo Trucks of North America.

A vehicle with a tire air pressure monitoring system, for example, could send a signal to the vehicle’s ECM if a tire picks up a nail and begins to flatten. VolvoLink could be programmed to upload the signal through its two-way satellite communications network to a Volvo call center, which in turn would forward the service information to the nearest Volvo dealership or independent repair service. The service center could send the driver a message and instruct him where to come in for a repair, Yeakel says.

“We have the ability to take the information and upload it to anybody, anyway we wish,” Yeakel says. While aftermarket telematics systems presumably could tap into the same systems, they lack the integrated service and information networks of truck OEMs.

International Truck and Engine recently launched International Telematics, a solution that will be available this month. Using hardware designed to meet OEM specs for temperature and vibration, International Telematics integrates with International’s Diamond Logic electrical system, says Jeff Bannister, director of Truck Electronics, International Truck and Engine.

Diamond Logic includes multiplexed wiring, advanced diagnostics, truck-body integration software, and auxiliary power sources. With Diamond Logic, fleets can customize vehicle controls. A utility company, for example, may want to disable the driver from engaging the PTO or boom unless the out riggers are down, or prevent him from putting the transmission in gear if the boom is not in stow position. Diamond Logic uses proprietary messaging, making it extremely difficult for third-party systems to tie into the system, Bannister says.

International Telematics lets truck owners tap into Diamond Logic to monitor events, such as how often the boom is used or the PTO is engaged, and the amount of fuel consumed during PTO use. “[Fleets] could do it discretely by running wires, but International is doing it directly with body builders using a multiplexed signal,” Bannister says. International Telematics also interfaces with Fleet ISIS, International’s enterprise system for service information. When the ECM sends a fault code, International Telematics reports not only the fault code but also what the code means, in plain English, and how to fix it, Bannister says.

As Volvo, International and others continue their drive toward IT integration, it remains to be seen whether their efforts will be successful in the marketplace and, if so, whether third-party developers of wireless fleet management systems will play a role. Truck OEMs may have a leg up when it comes to integrating technology into the truck and into truck service and support networks. But third-party developers have the expertise in wireless networks, application development and integration with back-office systems. Ultimately, truck makers may find it smarter to work with wireless system developers rather than compete with them.


What is it?
Bluetooth
A short-range, wireless protocol for transferring data and information between two devices. Most Bluetooth wireless devices are designed to search automatically for other similarly equipped devices. While implementations may differ, baseline Bluetooth-equipped products normally support up to a 10-meter range. (From www.bluetooth.com).