Take your OEM for a ride?

GE Equipment Services (www.trailerservices.com) announced that its trailer tracking system for dry vans, GE VeriWise Asset Intelligence, now also is available for use with refrigerated trailers. VeriWise has been configured to work with Thermo King-equipped reefers and will be expanded to other lines shortly, the company says.

Terion (www.terion.com) said that its FleetView 2 and FleetView 3 systems have been certified by the Naval Ordnance Safety and Security Activity for use in van-type trailers carrying HERO (Hazards of Electromagnetic Radiation to Ordnance) cargo.

AirIQ (www.airiq.com) announced an agreement with Directed Electronics Inc., a supplier of consumer-branded vehicle security and convenience systems. AirIQ will supply its consumer telematics solution for four of Directed Electronic’s brands: Viper, Clifford, Python and Automate.

McLeod Software (www.mcleodsoftware.com) added Squarerigger Software, a developer of fleet maintenance software, to its list of vehicle maintenance options interfacing with its LoadMaster enterprise software.

PCS Software (www.pcssoft.com) released updates to its Express 15.0 fleet management software. Users now can forward dispatch messages to Nextel phones from XpressTrax.com – a Web module for the Express system. Other updates include direct deposit via Comdata and EFS and a redesign of Express Reporter Version 15 using Crystal Reports.

In the latest versions of Microsoft Windows, when an application freezes or commits an otherwise “fatal” error, a pop-up screen gives you the option to send an error report to Microsoft through the Internet. It’s a reassuring gesture, although you have no way of knowing whether Microsoft actually uses these reports to improve Windows.

Imagine that your vehicle had the same capability to send performance data to the manufacturer for use in product development and engineering processes. Or better yet, imagine that a manufacturer sent you an e-mail saying a problem was detected in one of your trucks and informed you that the repair is covered by warranty.

Through the use of advanced telematics – a term that describes the integration of software, hardware and wireless networks to monitor vehicles and drivers remotely – the above scenarios may be closer to reality than you think.

Several vendors offer telematics applications for the transportation industry that tie into the vehicle’s “brains” – the electronic control module – to monitor vehicle and driver performance remotely. These applications allow fleet owners to monitor speed, fuel economy, rpm, engine fault codes and other data.

Current solutions that collect and report this data do so exclusively for fleet management purposes. But IBM, the world’s largest information technology company, believes truck manufacturers could leverage telematics to reduce warranty exposure and improve their products.

IBM already has developed systems for manufacturers of both consumer and commercial vehicles to embed performance data from the field into their product development and warranty processes. Some automotive manufacturers already are beginning to use data from telematics to observe patterns in fleet data and to identify performance issues, says Scott Weller, a lead partner in the warranty practice of IBM’s newly formed service management organization.

IBM already is the lead developer of telematics solutions offered to customers by several OEMs, such as OnStar from General Motors; FleetBoard by DaimlerChrysler, which is available for commercial vehicles in Europe; and Aware, an initiative launched by International Truck and Engine in 2003 as International Telematics.

These telematics solutions were developed specifically for the vehicle driver and fleet manager, but they are only the beginning of IBM’s overall telematics strategy.

“We don’t see this as an isolated solution,” says Erich Nickel, director of global telematics for IBM, speaking about DaimlerChrysler’s FleetBoard application. “We are fully integrated in our vision with dealer collaboration, diagnostics and engineering data management systems at OEMs.”

Approximately 50 percent of warranty costs are traced back to vehicle electronics, Nickel says. Currently, statistics on performance problems show up in the form of warranty claims and repairs done at dealers. By the time the bills and reports come back to the OEM’s engineering department, they are too fragmented and late to be used for product development, he says.

Through telematics, engineers could see problems immediately when failure codes were routed directly to the OEM for analysis and reaction. If a manufacturer determines that the problem exists with only a few hundred cars, it can avoid issuing a recall for thousands of vehicles and shorten its reaction time to fix the problem, Nickel says.

“I personally believe that telematics will bring a 10 to 20 percent reduction of warranty cost,” he says.

International developed Aware with IBM solely as a fleet management tool for tracking vehicles and scheduling maintenance through real-time reporting of engine hours, odometer readings and fault code diagnostics.

Currently, an International advanced electronics team is analyzing how data from the truck could predict failures stemming from symptoms such as low tire pressure, brake problems and poor fuel mileage. But all data captured by Aware belongs to and is used by the fleet exclusively and not the OEM, says Courtney Guzlas, International’s manager of strategic planning.

That privacy issue is a main barrier for the use of telematics data by an OEM. But assuming those worries can be quieted, many fleet managers gladly would “hit the send button” if their reports to manufacturers would mean lower repair costs and better trucks in the future.

In-cab fax machine
SkyMira LLC, a global wireless communication solution provider, announced the launch of Sky-Fax, a digital fax service within its Sky-Cell wireless service package for trucking that also includes e-mail, short messaging, Adobe PDF forms and GPS fleet tracking. Sky-Fax enables the sending and receiving of faxes through any Internet connection – including satellite, cellular and Wi-Fi – from a truck cab.

Sky-Fax contains built-in “store and forward” capability to store faxes for later sending if the truck is out of wireless coverage range. Once the cellular signal improves to a functional level, Sky-Fax then will connect automatically to the network and send the waiting fax, the company says.

E-mail-to-fax services like eFax and MyFax require document scanning and e-mail attachments. From the sender’s perspective, the Sky-Fax digital fax service works just like normal faxing – dial the phone number and hit the send button. Prices range from as little as 10 cents per page as compared to traditional truckstop services that cost $1 or more per faxed page, the company says. For more information, visit this site.

GeoLogic adds GPRS network
GeoLogic Solutions (www.gogeologic.com), a provider of multi-mode communications and tracking systems for the transportation industry, has signed an agreement to add Cingular’s GPRS network to its offering, beginning this fall. Cingular’s GPRS network will be available as a terrestrial network option for the MobileMax Multi-Mode satellite and terrestrial mobile communications and fleet management system. The new Cingular offering not only will be a network alternative for new customers, but also will be offered as an upgrade to existing MobileMax units.