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Tracking trailers: The latest in trailer telematics

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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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Telematics talks usually center on tractors, but there’s a wide digital world of trailer telematics offerings that offer a deep well of data and robust analytical options to keep your trailers in check.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” said Scott Sutarik, OEM and business development manager for Geotab, which offers IOX-BT, a Bluetooth low energy IOX Add-On for tracking movable assets. Working in tandem with ruggedized Bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacons with a public MAC address, fleets are able to track unpowered assets like containers, tools and equipment. “Fleets that aren’t using data to improve operations and benefit their bottom line are at risk of falling behind.”

“We believe that having real-time trailer location and status information served up as exception-based reporting and alerts is critical to fleets’ success,” said Roni Taylor, vice president of industry relations for Spireon, which offers a series of Rich Data Trailer Management including specialty reports for dry van, flatbed, reefer and bulk trailers. “Alert and tracking capabilities offered include supplier begin/end moves, breadcrumb trailer status every ten minutes while moving, trailer mileage, load status changes, tractor power on/off notification, moving without power alerts, real time landmark/geofences arrival and departure notifications, detention reporting and driver mobile view mapping applications.”

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In addition to the location tracking capabilities that immediately spring to mind when thinking of trailer telematics, today’s offerings take advantage of the latest technology to provide deeper trailer analytics.

“In order to make informed decisions about a trailer fleet, fleet managers need access to regular and up-to-date information about the total situational and environmental status of their trailers,” added Steve West, senior director of business development for BlackBerry IoT. “This means near-real-time location, cargo status, door status, temperature, and more. This goes beyond tracking the location of a trailer several times per day, as provided by most legacy systems.”

BlackBerry Radar is a secure, end-to-end asset tracking platform that comprises a device and a cloud-based software platform that hosts applications. The system provides support for theft detection, cold chain compliance, yard management, mileage and maintenance, load analysis, door events, geofence control and tools for the analysis of trailer, fleet and corporate performance over time and geography using multiple years of data.

“When looking to implement a trailer tracking system, fleet managers should look for systems that can solve challenges and inform in the areas of asset utilization, preventative maintenance, asset classification, yard location and stop verification,” said Ryan Driscoll, marketing director at GPS Insight.

“Asset Utilization is important because trailers and chassis need to be measured for utilization to move them around an organization as needed or identify areas that need more assets, etc.,” Driscoll explained. “A good trailer tracking system should have features for preventative maintenance. Fleet managers need an easy way to electronically track annual DOT inspections, typical wear and tear like brakes, tires, etc.

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“Yard Location is a very basic use case for trailer tracking. Many fleets do this with RFID,” he continued, “but RFID only tells you if it’s in the yard, not where it is in the yard. This saves drivers time by letting them know where they can find it.”

As for stop verification, that will vouch for drops and pickups to ensure there are no unauthorized stops along the way, which would help identify possible theft situations. It can also help determine how long trailers dwell at customer locations or ports.

Mark Alsbrook, senior product manager at Omnitracs, said fleet managers should expect good network coverage, reliability, great customer service and ruggedized equipment that is commercial vehicle specific when shopping around for a trailer telematics solution. Omnitracs integrates its TT210 with its MCP and IVG hardware solutions on its ES platform. This allows the driver to see both their tractor and trailer assets in one portal and also recharge the battery from the seven-way PLC.

“A fleet manager could also incorporate cargo sensors, door sensors and reefer monitoring to provide business intelligence,” Alsbrook said. “For example, cargo sensors would allow a fleet manager to know when their trailer has been emptied at a customer’s location and can be picked up and delivered back for more usage. Door sensors would allow them visibility to ensure secure cargo is not being tampered with or stolen, thus decreasing costs. Reefer Monitoring would allow them the ability to determine the temperature and fuel level of their reefer unit, allowing them to ensure their refrigerated container does not spoil the merchandise.”

Refrigerated requirements

Telematics for reefer trailers present several additional data layers of opportunities. Additionally, trailer data tracking solutions are becoming more important for reefer carriers with the coming of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) released last April. The intent of the act is to establish greater accountability in maintaining food safety throughout the distribution process.

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“While the rules do not specify use of particular technologies, Carrier Transicold expects that more data recording and tracking will be requested to support the cold chain,” explained David Brondum, director of product management and sustainability for Carrier Transicold’s Truck, Trailer, Rail Division. “This may mean greater reliance on data recording features that are built into systems such as Carrier Transicold’s APX control. Likewise, the anticipated rules are driving greater customer interest in use of telematics to aid with record-keeping requirements as well as independent temperature monitoring devices, such as Carrier Transicold’s new DataLink 2 recorder.”

Brondum went on to say that fleets should expect their refrigeration unit telematics to provide temperature and set point verification, immediate out-of-range temperature detection and alarm notification, plus GPS and geo-fence information.

“Fleets may also want the ability to track fuel consumption data to monitor asset efficiency and be aware of rapid loss situations, which could signal damage or theft,” Brondum said. “More advanced two-way features provide the ability to control temperature set points and unit operating modes, as well as the ability to reset alarms. Features that enable significant convenience are the ability to automatically and remotely download software updates to the refrigeration unit.”

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With so many telematics options, Gayatri Abbott, telematics product manager for Thermo King North America, said that the true value of telematics solutions is realized when separate management systems are integrated into business operations and all stakeholders have access to actionable data to make sound business decisions.

“By monitoring data provided by solutions like TracKing, real-time engine hours and reefer alarms data can be utilized to assess unit health and make informed decisions specific to the fleet to better manage maintenance schedules and costs,” Abbott explained. “When this data is further integrated into fleet maintenance systems, it helps with maintenance planning and scheduling and is a good example of how to fully optimize telematics data. The ability to remotely download the refrigeration unit datalogger to get a more in-depth view of refrigeration unit health further enhances maintenance efficiencies and asset uptime.”

When deciding if and how fleets should integrate their refrigerated telematics data into their business operations systems, Abbott said that fleet managers should consider the following:

  • What are your data gaps and what level of visibility do you need?
  • Do you want to manage trailer and refrigeration equipment usage like you do with your tractors and drivers?
  • Do your dispatchers need to know what’s happening over the road?
  • Do your customers expect them to prove on-time delivery and that cargo was maintained at their specified temperature throughout the journey?

For more questions to ask trailer telematics providers, read the full list here.

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