Tracking trailers improves productivity
May 1, 2004 12:00 PM
The hours of service regulations, shipper demand, and security issues all point truckload carriers to a future that requires better fleet utilization for more efficient operation. Fifteen years ago the industry took some of the first steps toward management solutions that supervise vehicles in transit as well as at terminals when remote communication and tractor tracking began. The next step in this evolution toward constant, real-time fleet management is untethered trailer tracking.
Executives from two suppliers of trailer tracking systems presented a look at current and projected technology to a session of the popular “Trucking in the Round” roundtables during the Truckload Carriers Association annual meeting. Ken Cranston, president and CEO of Terion Inc, Plano, Texas, and Craig Boddy, vice-president mobile asset tracking, Teletouch Trailer Tracking, Tyler, Texas, made presentations and guided the roundtable discussion. The TCA convention was held on the Kona Coast of Hawaii, March 14 to 17, 2004.
Terion says it is the market leader in trailer tracking and fleet management with more than 75,000 units in service. The product was introduced in January 2000. First implemented by a number of large truckload carriers of dry freight, trailer tracking is gaining acceptance from shippers and receivers, many of whom are requesting that their motor carrier partners adopt the technology as a way to streamline logistics systems, Ken Cranston said. Trailer tracking, unlike tractor tracking, gives carriers and their customers a constant picture of freight location. The system lets carriers know when a trailer leaves the loading dock and when it arrives at the receiving dock. Rather than follow the tractor and assume it always has a trailer in tow, trailer tracking can be used in drop and hook operations where the trailer may be loaded but not moving for a portion of the time after leaving the dock.
Fewer trailers per tractor
Carriers and their partners should look at trailer tracking as a productivity tool instead of simply as a device to follow their trailers. The first major payback from trailer tracking should be a reduction in the trailer to tractor ratio, allowing a smaller trailer fleet to handle the same or greater freight volume, Cranston said. Knowing where trailers are located and whether or not they are loaded gives carriers the information necessary to increase trailer turns and keep tractors running productively.
Although no carrier really wants to become involved in discussions about detention, accurate trailer tracking can provide the information necessary to document waiting time between arrival and actual unloading. Charging for detention has always been a contentious issue, because carriers have not had verifiable proof of trailer arrival time, Cranston said. With GPS location technology and cargo sensors, the data to support detention can be determined without any input from the driver, who once was the sole source for information about arrival time, or from the receiver, who once had the only say about when unloading ended. Tracking systems can alert carriers to arrival time at the receiver, movement of the trailer to a receiving dock, completion of unloading, and movement of an empty trailer away from the dock, he said.
Having the data necessary to back up detention charges may not actually result in detention being paid, Cranston said. However, receivers knowing that carriers have access to such data could result in a change of behavior throughout the industry.
No misplaced trailers
Another benefit of tracking technology is the ability to eliminate misplaced or misused trailers. Relying on information from drivers leaves the possibility, even probability, that trailers can get lost on drop yards, Cranston said. A worse scenario — one that happens more often than most care to admit — involves receivers who load excess inventory into empty trailers and use them for free storage when the warehouse is overstocked.
Terion does not actively sell its tracking system as a theft-recovery device; although, it performs that function exceptionally well, Cranston said. The best use of trailer tracking is fleet management, but the systems do allow the recovery of stolen freight and equipment. “We do that all the time, usually finding an average of two stolen trailers every month,” he said.
The security benefits of trailer tracking allow carriers to take a proactive approach to asset protection. For instance, carriers can set alarm parameters that result in immediate notification by cell phone, pager, or email if something unplanned happens to a trailer, Cranston said. Sensors allow carriers to know when a trailer is making an unauthorized move, when doors are opened, and if freight is being removed from the van. One especially useful alert involves recording the last known authorized trailer location and sending an alert if the trailer moves outside a preset radius from that location.
Another useful technology allows the trailer-tracking device to communicate with the tractor communication system. This technology sends off an alert when a trailer is hitched to an unauthorized tractor, Cranston said.
Tracking stolen equipment
Sometimes, the proactive approach does not work; a trailer gets stolen in spite of the carrier's best efforts. When that happens, the tracking device can be put into an emergency mode, Cranston. This system operates continuously, providing an updated location every five minutes. Constant tracking not only shows where a trailer is, it also provides an indication of where it is going so that authorities can take action to intercept the thieves.
Although Teletouch is new to the trailer tracking business, starting in August 2003, the company has been involved with mobile communications for 42 years with paging systems, Craig Boddy said. Before embarking on a new product introduction, Teletouch held 16 focus groups with motor carrier and others in the transportation and logistics community. The company wanted to find out what the industry really needed from a tracking solution provider.
“We got one answer loud and clear,” he said. “Carriers want to know where their trailers are. We also discovered that carriers want to work with communications companies that actually stay in business.”
Simple, low-cost system
Carriers also want a simple, low cost trailer tracking system, and that is what Teletouch provides, Boddy said. It is not a satellite-based tractor tracking system adapted to trailers, nor is it a cell phone product. The Teletouch device is tough, self-contained, and easy to install; the only tools needed are a ladder and some tape. It uses the Globalstar low-earth-orbiting satellite system, can detect trailers anywhere, and is low cost. The Teletouch tracking system is priced at $295 for a one-way device, $345 for two-way communication, and requires an additional $100 for communicating with a refrigeration unit. Once installed, Teletouch charges $30 to activate the system plus $2.50 a month to keep it active along with a 12-cent per minute charge for messages, he said.
The Teletouch system is completely independent of tractor or trailer electrical systems, Boddy said. If the system is set for one message a day, the battery should last for nine years. Batter life drops to seven years if the device sends two messages a day. The system also has some hard-wired geographical boundaries. For instance, it knows when a trailer crosses the border into Mexico. When that border crossing takes place, the system automatically changes its operational profile to locate the trailer six times a day instead of the twice-daily location frequency used in the US, he said.
Teletouch sends messages when the trailer moves, Boddy said. In effect, this places value on messages, sending them only when needed rather than sending a message at preprogrammed times just because the system is designed to send messages. “We know where the trailer stopped, because it told us,” he said. “We don't need another message until it moves again.”
After introducing their systems, Cranston and Boddy walked through some of the differences in those systems. For instance, the Terion communication device is wired into the trailer electrical system so that the battery recharges when the trailer is hooked to a tractor with a running engine. The rechargeable Terion battery can power the system for 30 to 60 days when the trailer is untethered, depending on message traffic. Teletouch uses a lithium chloride battery that does not recharge. Terion is a cellular telephone or satellite based system. This dual mode operation provides 100% coverage at the lowest possible cost, because the system uses the cellular except for remote areas where cell service is not available. Terion's cellular partner is Verizon Wireless. Teletouch is a satellite-only system.
Both tracking service providers say that security is the high profile reason for adopting tracking technology, but the strongest reason, the one with the best return on investment is fleet productivity. Knowing where trailers are and knowing which trailers need to be loaded provides managers with a tool for reducing costs throughout the logistics chain.
© 2013 Penton Media Inc.