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The smart trailers cometh (and three other takeaways from TMC’s Fall Meeting)

Jason Morgan is the editor of Fleet Equipment. He has more than 15 years of B2B journalism experience covering the likes of trucking and construction equipment, real estate, movies and craft beer industries.

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It was the “technology” portion of ATA’s Technology and Maintenance Council’s namesake that took center stage at its 2021 Fall Meeting held in Cleveland this week. While that should come as no surprise, the focus of the technology might: trailers. From electrification to service to telematics, trailers saw a huge focus in boosting fleet productivity.

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Several trailer OEMs made telematics-minded announcements, and Great Dane put FleetPulse, the OEM’s smart trailer system that offers GPS location, mileage data, geofences, automated yard checks, tethered status, heading, speed and proprietary trailer specifications and parts information, front-and-center in its booth. The showing highlighted the importance of the FleetPulse system that Great Dane has made standard on all dry van and refrigerated Great Dane trailers.

As Rob Phillips, president and CEO, Phillips Connect passionately pointed out in his press conference, the moniker “smart trailer” goes beyond trailer location. Sensors on trailer components are starting to stream massive amounts of data that can potentially improve trailer management from productivity to service. The question is no longer just, “Where is my trailer?” it’s “Where is it and what is its status?” Everything from lighting checks to wheel end data is becoming available. The biggest question for fleet managers is how do you want to see that data and how can you best use it?

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Data overload is real, but just as fleets have improved tractor productivity and efficiency by focusing on their biggest challenges and the related data points, fleets take that same approach with trailer telematics. Have trouble locating your trailers? There’s data for that. Want to pull more value out of your trailer components? There’s data for that. Want to make sure that pre-trip inspections are being done? There’s data for that too.

There’s plenty of opportunity to leverage trailer telematics data to improve utilization and potentially catch service issues before trailers leave the yard. What fleets have to do is start talking with trailer telematics service providers to find solutions that are fit to overcome their challenges.

If you’re dealing with supply challenges, you’re not alone

Fleets of all sizes and applications commiserated with supply chain challenges–from trucks to parts. Walking booth to booth, one of the themes that came up in talking with OEMs and suppliers was the importance of the relationship. That was echoed by fleets in that hallways. The best way to get in front of the line, be it into the bays for service or at the front of the build orders, is to lean on your relationships.

Sure, supply challenges are frustrating for everyone. OEMs want to deliver equipment, fleets want to run trucks, but the whole chain is strained. Keep your industry friends close. Don’t just hammer on them on equipment and service deliverables. Take the time to take them out to lunch, ask how they’re doing–build the relationship, even in these times during difficult operations.

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Coming out of COVID-shuttered trade shows, the focus on personal relationships was front and center at TMC.

That said…

Service data can save you

TMC has done a great job of bringing together big technology players in the service sector to chart trends and provide insight into what is putting trucks on the side of the road. Be it FleetNet America’s study on roadside breakdowns, Decisiv’s Service Event Benchmark Report or Fullbay’s State of the Heavy-Duty Repair Report, there’s plenty of data available that can show you, at the very least, that you’re not alone in some of the service issues you’re facing.

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More importantly, there are insights you can glean from this deluge of service data. Take the FleetNet America roadside breakdown report–the average miles between unscheduled breakdowns was 29,506 miles across all of the participating fleets in the three verticals–truckload, LTL and tanker fleets. Overall miles between breakdown decreased in Q1 of 2021. That means you’re likely having more service instances as well, and truck downtime at service locations are up considerably. While every fleet is different, keeping a laser focus on your preventative maintenance can help take a bite out of unplanned maintenance.

On top of that, you have to make sure your service data is accurate so that you can build forward-looking service solutions from 2022 and 2023 parts stocking decisions (given how strained supply is) to predictive maintenance solutions. VMRS is one of the strongest tools in your service data quiver, but it’s complicated. Decisiv, for its part, announced VMRS Encoding, which leverages artificial intelligence to automatically code dealer service records with VMRS data when there was none originally recorded by the technician. It’s focused on the system code key right now, but the service is poised for growth.

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The truck service headaches of today can become the fodder for predictive service solutions that let you avoid the headache tomorrow if it’s properly recorded. Now is the time to take a look at your service record process and talk with providers to see how you can squeeze value and uptime out of your operation.

Because…

It’s all connected.

Stop by a trailer telematics provider and the conversation quickly turns to visibility. Again, not just location, but how it could provide other utilization insight like how it could connect to tractor telematics. Talk with ELD providers and they go beyond basic drive time reporting and dovetail into greater visibility with camera-based telematics offerings, providing a greater view of the road around your trucks and inside the cab. Head over to service technology solutions providers and they’re looking at improving trailer service and uptime and connecting that with tractor uptime and streamlining fleet dispatch and operations. Equipment connects to equipment, solutions connect to solutions. Who you tap to be your solutions partner, be it in hardware or software, will have connections to other suppliers and solutions providers you likely work with.

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The point is: Be sure you’re considering a holistic view. No solution works in a silo anymore.

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