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Technology In Focus: Trailer tracking

Trailer tracking is one of the fastest-growing technologies in the trucking industry today. Earlier this year, a study by ABI Research – a New York-based technology research firm – found that fleet installations of trailer tracking have doubled in the past two years. About 8 percent of fleet owners in North America use trailer tracking today, and more than 400,000 units are deployed. By 2012, ABI forecasts that 40 percent of fleets will be using it.

Fleet owners adopt trailer tracking because they want more information, but USA Logistics Carriers recently switched providers because, in a sense, it wanted less information about its 1,500 trailers. Rather, the new trailer-tracking solution provided more accurate and useful information, says Robert Long, vice president of financial development.

USA Logistics Carriers now uses Smart Sensor Tracking in its SkyBitz trailer-tracking solution that automatically filters out nonessential starts and stops – such as traffic lights and fuel stops – in its reports. By using Smart Sensor Tracking, the only time the company gets a trailer location update is 15 minutes after a trailer starts moving and 60 minutes after it stops.

“That gives a more accurate picture where [the trailer] is at,” Long says. “We only get a signal when it moves.” When a trailer is moving away from the fleet’s headquarters in McAllen, Texas, managers know its route after 15 minutes. If the driver stops anywhere for more than one hour before the trailer reaches its destination, management knows that as well.

And once a trailer stops for more than one hour, they begin to monitor its downtime. Long says it costs the fleet $12 to $15 per day if a trailer is not running. The fleet average for downtime is 1.2 days per week.

“Our goal is to optimize trailer usage and reduce downtime,” Long says. “All the information we get has been pertinent.”

Besides using this technology to reduce equipment costs, a key driver for the interest in trailer tracking is to provide customers with better visibility of their freight to reduce theft and spoilage – or even the appearance of spoilage, such as a broken seal. Often, a careless mistake by the carrier can result in its customer rejecting an entire load.

Also, in order to control inventory levels tightly, many shippers want better freight visibility to establish performance-based contracts with carriers. Some contracts specify that loads can’t arrive before or after a certain time, says Mike Hammons, chief executive officer of Argo Tracker, which provides configurable tracking systems for trucks, trailers and other assets.

Texas Freight, a Houston-based truckload carrier, specializes in dedicated carriage of sporting goods and men’s apparel. Every five minutes, the company receives position updates on its tractors in its dispatch system. With real-time location data, the company can provide customers with precise ETAs on its trucks. The company also has set up geofences at certain delivery points to be notified when loads arrive.

Currently, Texas Freight uses Argo Tracker in its trucks, but for more visibility and security for customers, the company eventually plans to put Argo Tracker in its trailers, says Frank Ngu, dispatch supervisor for the 63-truck fleet.

With many supply chains stretched across multiple continents, multiple transportation modes and multiple transportation providers, trailer-tracking solutions are becoming easier – and more necessary – to deploy across a range of assets.

Last year, TransCore announced the availability of a new, satellite-based GlobalWave product with an uninterrupted power supply that lasts up to seven years. The low-cost system can be mounted quickly on the roof of a trailer to meet the majority of a fleet’s information needs – mainly, a daily location and status report, says Dave Roscoe, TransCore’s vice president of hardware engineering and research and development.

As trailer tracking continues to grow and systems become more competitive, vendors will continue to make new innovations to buck the trend toward commoditization.

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Aaron Huff is the Senior Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. Huff’s career in the transportation industry began at a family-owned trucking company and expanded to CCJ, where for the past 14 years he has specialized in covering business and technology for online and print readers and speaking at industry events. A recipient of numerous regional and national awards, Huff holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Brigham Young University and a Masters Degree from the University of Alabama.