Shrinking trailer costs

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Updated Jan 13, 2010

Tracking, monitoring systems can help in tough times

The payback of most information systems is direct cost savings from using information to operate more efficiently. In the case of trailer-monitoring systems, the paybacks can include lower trailer-to-tractor ratios, fewer empty miles, fuel savings, fast recovery of lost or stolen equipment, and assessment of trailer detention charges.
But in a lean economy, fleet managers have a major problem with trailer utilization, with or without technology. With soft freight volumes and depressed equipment values, fleets do not have much incentive to sell off their underutilized trailers.

Instead, some fleets are using trailer-tracking systems to minimize costs by identifying excess trailer capacity and keeping it parked until business picks up again, says Norm Ellis, vice president and general manager of transportation and logistics sales and services for Qualcomm Enterprise Solutions (QES).

Eliminating empty miles
Last year, trailer-tracking provider SkyBitz commissioned CSMG, a strategic advisory firm, to study the value of its remote asset management applications. SkyBitz says that based on interviews of 25 for-hire fleets, the study concluded that customers reduced their trailer-to-tractor ratios by an average of 15 percent (from 2.5 to 2.1) over a period of four years; initial equipment efficiency results were noted within six to 12 months.

In addition to reducing equipment costs, the CSMG report noted that SkyBitz customers are using trailer-tracking technology to improve the efficiency of dispatch and routing by sending drivers to pick up trailers at the exact location.

Also helpful are cargo sensors that can provide management with advance notice when a trailer is empty or loaded and ready to be picked up. As the economy has softened, interest in the sensors has increased, says Darryl Miller, chief operating officer of GE Asset Intelligence, which offers the GE VeriWise trailer management platform.

David Sward, GlobalWave general manager for TransCore, has seen the same trend. The satellite-based GlobalWave trailer-tracking system comes in two versions: Slap & Track, a sealed tracking unit designed for fast installation; and a more versatile Sense & Track system that has multiple inputs designed to report cargo, door, tire pressure, temperature and other sensory information.

“If you have Sense & Track, you can determine if a trailer is empty and ready to be picked up,” Sward says. “That is good efficiency. We see a lot more of that kind of use.”
In March, Qualcomm plans to release Work Flow, a new way for fleets to communicate with drivers through the OmniVision in-cab computing platform. Customers that use the intuitive application can improve efficiency when dispatching drivers to pick up a trailer by having OmniVision navigate drivers to trailers and verify the match to the tractor, Ellis says.

Fuel savings
In this economy, trailer-tracking vendors say they are seeing the most interest from refrigerated carriers. Besides hauling high-value loads, refrigerated carriers have the most potential for saving fuel associated with managing trailers. Without being able to monitor temperature remotely, fleets typically set reefers at a colder temperature than what is necessary, GE’s Miller says.

The lower setting is used as a buffer against unexpected events, such as somebody opening the door or stopping while the load is in transit. By setting up exception alerts for temperature, fleets can reduce reefer use by setting the temperature at the right amount and using VeriWise to send an alarm or notice if the temperature falls out of range, he says.

Cargo security
Cargo security needs also are drawing more attention. Because of the heightened awareness, more companies are using geofencing to receive immediate departure and arrival notices for trailers parked at any location, Sward says. Geofencing allows fleet managers to draw an imaginary perimeter around a geographical area or trailer and to be notified immediately when a trailer crosses that boundary.

Employee abuse and use of trailers after hours and on weekends also is becoming a problem in the industry. Many SkyBitz customers are using the “motion with Sky Fencing” and lockdown features, providing trucking companies with immediate notification of nonscheduled events with trailers, says Dr. Homaira Akbari, the company’s chief executive officer.

During times of growth, fleets can use trailer-tracking systems to “grow” their cargo capacity without purchasing additional trailers. Until conditions change, staying competitive will require more visibility and control of trailer assets to trim unnecessary costs.

In Brief
TruckWeight ( introduced TruckWeight FleetLink, a telematics device designed to provide fleet managers with the ability to electronically capture and communicate axle-weight data generated by the company’s Smart Scale wireless scale for commercial vehicles.

GE Asset Intelligence ( said Mondovi, Wis.-based Marten Transport will equip its refrigerated trailer fleet with GE’s VeriWise technology.

EBE Technologies (, said Little Rock, Ark.-based Maverick Transportation has licensed EBE’s Ships Driver Recruiting software to streamline hiring.

Xata Corp. ( reported a 91 percent year-over-year increase in sales for the Xatanet fleet management system for its first quarter 2009 fiscal year, which ended Dec. 31. Earnings increased by 35 percent during the same period, the company said.

Melton Technologies Inc. ( announced that Spartanburg, S.C.-based Tindall Corp. is implementing MTI’s Horizon trucking software for its private fleet subsidiary.

Cadec Global ( said that Publix Super Markets is implementing Cadec’s Mobius TTS onboard computers and on-premise software on all 600-plus trucks in its private fleet.

Innovative Computing Corp. will hold its annual Innovative Conference and Exhibition (ICE) on April 6-9 in downtown Nashville, Tenn. The company announced that ICE 2009 attendance is open for the first time to all trucking companies.