Gaining Flexibility

Handheld computers provide cost savings, versatility


With a fleet of nearly 200 company-owned tanker trucks, Northwest Food Products Transportation hauls millions of pounds of dairy products each day for more than 15 major dairy companies.

During the next year, the Hudson, Wis.-based company plans to quadruple in size by adding between 800 and 900 independent contractors, says Roger Nordtvedt, general manager. As part of this growth strategy, NFPT will be using a new technology to capture trip details from this set of drivers.

To comply with customer requests and a dairy regulation called the Federal Milk Marketing Order, NFPT keeps detailed records of the raw milk it picks up from milk producers (called patrons) and delivers to processing facilities. For each load, drivers record the patron ID, weight, temperature, date and time, receiving location and silo number.

For a number of years, company drivers have captured this information on electronic forms using the Mobius computers from Cadec Global. The Mobius computers are fix-mounted in the cab. Going forward, rather than purchase hundreds of new Mobius computers for its rapidly growing contractor fleet, NFPT will deploy software on handheld computers.

This new application, DeliveryTracker DCS from Cadec, extends the essential delivery-tracking aspects of NFPT’s fleet management software to independent operators through an application that runs on handheld computers made by Honeywell, Intermec and Motorola.

“As our independent operator base expanded, we needed to ensure that those vehicles would be tied in to our overall fleet management system,” Nordtvedt says. “Cadec’s DeliveryTracker DCS enables us to do that easily and relatively inexpensively, without our having to install fixed systems in contract vehicles.”

Choosing hardware is one of the first and most important decisions to make when implementing a mobile computing platform. For many fleets, handhelds present a more cost-effective, flexible and versatile alternative for capturing data.

Combined with GPS, the scanning and imaging technology on handhelds lets users track the exact location, time and other details for the pickup and delivery of individual packages. Handhelds also can be used to capture signatures and take pictures when exceptions occur, such as damaged freight.

Barcode scanning has more uses than tracking cargo. Some fleets are using handhelds to record vehicle pre-inspections electronically, says Mike Maris, senior director of transportation, distribution and logistics for Motorola. Drivers must walk around the vehicle to scan barcodes at critical inspection points and note any deficiencies, he says.

One of the emerging applications for handheld computers is voice recognition technology. Rather than use drop-down menus when doing a walk-around pre-trip inspection, a driver might say “the trailer tire looks low,” improving the precision and speed of data entry, Maris says.

Rather than just use handheld computers to meet a specific niche such as cargo tracking or signature capture, some fleets are using their hardware as a full-scale computing platform. GeoPost, one of the largest postal operations in Europe, is using Intermec handheld devices in its advanced operations system that includes dynamic routing and CoPilot Live turn-by-turn navigation from ALK Technologies.

Desmond Smith, director of network services for GeoPost, says that using the Intermec computers and advanced software has improved visibility of arrival times vastly.
“Information can be shared with customers for when to expect service,” Smith said during a presentation in April at the ALK Technology Summit in Princeton, N.J. “We can give customers a window of time that their shipment will show up in.” This improvement in customer service has led to an average improvement in first-time deliveries by 16 percent, he says.

Increasingly, technology companies are offering systems for fleets that want the best of both worlds – the mobility of handhelds and the integration with vehicle and engine data of onboard computers.

For $35 per truck per month, Turnpike offers RouteTracker, a Web-based software system that uses a small device onboard the vehicle that combines GPS tracking, engine diagnostic reporting, electronic logbooks and other features. The device in the vehicle uses the Bluetooth wireless network to transmit and receive data from software that runs on cell phones and Windows mobile devices such as Motorola or Intermec computers, says Mark Cunningham, vice president of sales.

Last fall, Panasonic introduced the Toughbook U1, a handheld Windows XP-based PC that integrates technology that includes GPS, a camera, RFID reader, touchscreen, barcode scanner, mobile broadband, fingerprint reader, and USB and other ports to import data from a vehicle’s engine and electrical system.

“For the first time, (the U1) represents a missing link between laptops, mobile computers and handheld technology,” says Bill Pressler, senior business development manager of Panasonic Computer Solutions.


Schneider to deploy Qualcomm MCP200 series
Qualcomm Inc. (www.qualcomm.com), a provider of business-to-business wireless enterprise applications and services, and Schneider National announced that Schneider will deploy Qualcomm’s Mobile Computing Platform 200 Series (MCP200) fleetwide. MCP200 is designed to increase transportation company revenue by enabling drivers to provide better customer service and enhancing in-cab productivity.

Schneider says it chose the MCP200 series because the platform automatically delivers critical information to the driver while in the cab, including critical training, targeted customer information and relevant back-office data. The Green Bay, Wis.-based company expects to convert its entire fleet to MCP200 by October 2010.

The MCP200 is designed to deliver an expanded set of Qualcomm Transportation Services, adding in-cab video training, Internet access and multimode capability. The MCP200 Series enables fleets to effectively transform their cabs into mobile operations centers, Qualcomm says.


IN BRIEF
TMW Systems (www.tmwsystems.com) announced that Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Covenant Transportation selected TMWSuite as its operating platform.

Xora (www.xora.com) and Gearworks, two providers of location-based mobile business applications, joined forces. The combined company will retain the Xora name.

Arsenault Associates’ (www.arsenault.biz) Dossier fleet maintenance management software will integrate with parts distributor NAPA’s Integrated Business Solutions program.

McLeod Software (www.mcleodsoftware.com) released its Responsibility Filtering Module, developed to function with the company’s 9.2 versions of LoadMaster IX and PowerBroker II released in April. The new module enables customers to assign business unit responsibility.

Pegasus TransTech (www.transflo.com) is building a new corporate data center in Tampa, Fla., that also will house its corporate offices by January 2010. The document management software firm also will open a third data center this fall in Minneapolis.

Internet Truckstop (www.truckstop.com) said that ProMiles enhanced its national fuel stop directory found in Internet Truckstop’s FuelDesk Plus and FuelDeskPlus.com, adding more truckstop details and increasing the number of daily fuel pricing updates.

Affiliated Computer Services Inc. (www.acs-inc.com) announced a five-year extension to its agreement with Ambest for TripPak Truck Stop Scanning services and TripPak Express drop boxes.