Stay in touch, stay in control

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The transfer of data, including two-way communications and automated data collection from vehicle systems – referred to by some as telematics – sets the stage for fleets to operate more efficiently and safely, reduce vehicle maintenance and serve their clients better. Customer billing and driver timesheets can be automated, messaging to drivers can be displayed on on-board touch screens, dispatchers can track an entire fleet in real time with GPS and deploy the truck nearest to a new assignment, and reams of engine data and on-truck sensor information can be collected, sent home and boiled down into reports for easy analysis by fleet managers.

Although the needs of for-hire and private fleets overlap considerably, vendors of telematics solutions observe that private fleets are less concerned with back-office accounting and billing help, and more with reducing out-of-route miles, changing driver behaviour to reduce costs and improving safety. Some observations:

“The most important component of location-based solutions is having an understanding of where you vehicle is throughout the day. This knowledge allows fleet owners to make informed business decisions, thereby reducing operating costs while increasing revenue and customer satisfaction,” says Anne Taylor, the vice president for commercial fleets with AirIQ Inc. of Pickering, Ont. AirIQ’s core product, called AirIQ OnBoard, resides in the vehicles and keeps track of vehicles’ location, speed and direction, and records and reports additional information, including delivery arrive, leave and destination tracking information. The monthly fee can be as low as $20-$40 for messaging, depending on the messaging frequency.

Taylor continues: “We see an increased demand for telematics in the fleet space. You put a vehicle out there and you want to make sure that the asset is working to its full potential.”

Pyramid Corporation, headquartered in Nisku, Alta., provides electrical and instrumentation services and construction to industries such as oil and mining. It installed AirIQ systems on its pick-up trucks in 2002, and upgraded to AirIQ’s digital system in its 600-truck fleet this spring. Monitoring vehicle speed inspires drivers to slow down and GPS records of trucks’ location histories have helped solve several thefts. Time-stamped GPS location data can be used to double check on-site billing time, according to Tim Kohlsmith, who is in charge of Pyramid’s corporate security.

Reduced speed and fewer accidents have impressed Pyramid’s insurance company, says Kohlsmith. “After we had AirIQ for three years our insurance dropped 25%. After the fourth it dropped another 10%. It has paid for itself and has made us money.”

The Rogers Wireless mFleet solution has telematics and engine diagnostic reporting capabilities for gas-powered commercial vehicles, diesel trucks and trailer tracking. “Some service fleet customers want to monitor the odometer, idling and hard use of the vehicle. The gas vehicle boxes let you tell how hard someone is braking,” says Mansell Nelson, vice president of business development with Rogers Wireless. Private fleets also want to know mileage, and have software trigger reminders to bring in vehicles for preventative maintenance. “A lot of our customers see a 10-15% reduction in maintenance costs after mfleet is installed,” Mansell notes.

Some fleets want real-time knowledge about specific parts of their vehicles, which mfleet can monitor. Examples include door, hood and boom bucket sensors and hooks for tow trucks. Rogers can also manage drive scheduling and payments, produce idling reports and exception reporting outside of pre-determined boundaries.

Calgary-based Pronghorn Controls, which supplies instrumentation and electrical services and products to the oilpatch, started taking delivery of the Rogers Wireless Webtech 5000 Locator vehicle tracking and communication platform last summer for its 140-truck fleet. The reason: to satisfy Alberta’s Lone Worker legislation, which requires that companies always know where their remote workers are and that they have working communications devices.

“The locators enable us to do the check ins. The MDT annunciates and reminds workers that they have to refresh the timer. The truck horn starts honking at them in the last two minutes before the time expires. If they don’t press the button, the MDT Webtech locator will automatically e-mail the manager and send a message to his cell phone,” says Pronghorn safety manager Bob Lewis. “Ninety percent of the reason for having it is safety, but we know we will also be benefiting from reduced speed and better care.”

Productivity is the draw with telematics in the experience of Dan Baker, the vice-president of sales and marketing with National Wireless, the Oakville, Ont.-based company that distributes LoadTrak, which provides vehicle tracking and messaging. Baker defines telematics as, “The collecting of data that applies to performance and operations for fleet vehicles.”

Baker points to fuel savings, labour efficiencies, reduced inventory loss, monitoring of tool storage and proper billing for tool use and analytical reports as the big producers of ROI. “Take an example of measuring the volume for sanders and salters by road maintenance vehicles. A lot of operators want to know how often the blade is down, how fast the truck is moving … They want to know what vehicles are exceeding pre-determined performance standards for spreading materials. With LoadTrak they can measure what is coming out of the hopper in real time and measure it against truck by truck performance.”

Telematics also makes benchmarking easy. “You can benchmark data on a truck by truck or driver by driver basis; for example, daily start times, fuel consumption or highest yield in material or product distribution can all be determined through the use of exception reporting,” says Baker.

Telematics can also solve tool billing problems, he says. “I know one company that has added $100,000 in revenue by improving billing.” Tools can be barcoded out at the beginning of a job, then barcoded back in to the truck inventory afterward, and the data transmitted back to the office at pre-determined intervals.

High fuel and labour costs has been an incentive to adopting telematics: “The cost of doing business has increased and fleets cannot pass that on,” Baker notes.

Driver performance and managing over speed situations, sudden accelerations, decelerations and unplanned stops are important to private fleets. “When fuel prices go up, demand for our product goes up. One of our fleets paid for our system entirely by increasing MPG,” says Brian McLaughlin, vice president, marketing & product planning with Peoplenet. “Our PerformX product tells you driver by driver who is the best and who is the worst in [variables] such as idling, over-speeding, sudden accelerating, over-revving and others.”

Multi-stop, multi-drop private fleets are buying into telematics more as products prices drop and ROI rises. Handheld units that can capture bill-of-lading forms, cargo bar codes and other information, including signatures, and stream the data back to the on-board computer for transmission to the office are in demand, according to McLaughlin. “Another killer application is bar coding or RFID, from an inventory standpoint. It helps identify shortages in a delivery.

“Internal and external clients of private fleets want access to data: load visibility, on time or late … They want to see documentation such as bills of lading. They want to see digitized images of paperwork.”

Shaw Tracking (formerly Cancom Tracking), the Mississauga, Ont.-based wholly-owned subsidiary of Calgary’s Shaw Communications, supplies services and hardware that help private fleets validate driver productivity and effectiveness. “Private fleets are generating more interest in hours of service and they are very attuned to time stamping delivery times to partners and clients,” says Mike Ham, vice president of business services with Shaw Track

This spring, Shaw Tracking announced its next generation wireless enterprise system, called OmniVision. The difference between it and its venerable OmniTRACS is that OmniVision is an on-board computer with features such as a colour touch screen with text-to-speech capabilities. It supports applications like automated hours of service, navigation and other subscription-based products.

“Based on the all-new OmniVision mobile computing platform, the flexible, scalable system helps fleet operators improve efficiency, better manage fleet logistics, enhance driver safety and productivity and improve driver satisfaction and retention,” says Ham. “The text-to-speech capability improves driver safety and productivity by allowing them to listen to and replay messages without stopping the vehicle. The color touch-screen and a remote control device provides drivers quick access to critical information such as messages read by the text-to-speech feature.”

Hummelstown, Pennsylvania-based TransCore decided years ago to carry its communications systems exclusively by satellite, “mainly for reliability of service and because it provides extremely good coverage,” says Dave Sward, GlobalWave unit (TransCore’s satellite-based tracking products and services) general manager.

TransCore’s services include location on demand, which, says Sward, fleets want to be able to obtain whenever they want via Web portals. “Private fleet also like to have automated arrival and departure locating of their vehicles. We do that with geofencing around departing and destination terminals.”

This June TransCore’s GlobalWave trailer tracking devices were awarded the Underwriters Laboratories 915 Intrinsically Safe Apparatus and Associated Apparatus Certification. According to TransCore, “The Class 1 Division 1 rating (C1D1) is the highest qualification necessary for tracking dangerous shipments over road, rail or barge that have ignitable concentrations of flammable gases, vapors or liquids like those found in the transport of gasoline and ethanol fuel.”

Carroll McCormick is an award-winning writer who has been covering transportation industry issues and technologies for more than a decade. He is based in Quebec.

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