Tracking Trailers Improves Productivity
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 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 made a presentation and took part in guiding the roundtable discussion. The TCA convention was held on the Kona Coast of Hawaii, March 14 to March 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 sensor, 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 onlysay about when unloading ended. Tracking systems can alert carriers to arrival time at the receiver, movement of the trailers 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 systems 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 said. This system operates continuously, providing an update 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.
…After introducing the Terion system, Cranston walked through some of the differences in 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… 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.
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