Trailers “get smart” with new tracking technology

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VANCOUVER, B.C. – The trailer has always been referred to as a “dumb asset” – but it’s getting an education thanks largely to GE Trailer Fleet Services.

The company (formerly known as TIPS) has continued developing its VeriWise asset intelligence system, providing more options and allowing customers to track their trailers the same way many fleets now track power units. The company says the asset-tracking industry is evolving and trailer tracking is the next big step. GE Trailer Fleet Service’s mobile solutions center made its Canadian debut in Vancouver recently, allowing customers and the media to experience the technology first-hand.

“Our VeriWise system helps manage critical issues important to both trucking companies and to every driver in Vancouver and around the province,” announced Thomas Konditi, general manager of asset intelligence with GE Trailer Fleet Services. “Drivers in the province are naturally concerned about security so new technologies that can improve security across Canada are of interest. Trucking companies in B.C. want better security and safety for their trailer fleets too, but they are also keenly interested in how to increase freight transport productivity without increasing the size of their current trailer fleets.”

The VeriWise system was first introduced in 2003 but at the time it offered only location tracking capabilities. Since then, the company has added options including: door and cargo sensors; geofencing; hook/drop notification; and low battery notification.

It has also extended the life of its lead acid battery to 120 days untethered, with the ability to recharge in only four to six hours when connected to a tractor.

“The only reason you’d need it to last 120 days is if it’s not hooked up to a tractor,” points out Patrick Brennan, media relations manager with GE Trailer Fleet Services. “If you have a trailer sitting that long, then you have an asset management problem.”

GE’s VeriWise uses a dual satellite system comprised of 36 low-orbiting GPS satellites. This network provides complete coverage, even in the mountains or major cities, preventing the “urban canyon” blackouts that were the traditional knock against GPS tracking systems.

The company says the maximum time that will elapse before a location request is answered is 15 minutes, with 96 per cent of requests responded to within 10 minutes. Customers told GE a 30 minute window was acceptable, but the company reduced that in half with its latest edition of VeriWise.

One of the new additions to the VeriWise system is Hook/Drop Status capabilities.

Brennan says the feature is especially useful now, as there are more hook/drop applications today thanks to the driver shortage and new Hours-of-Service rules. Some users have identified other benefits of the feature as well, including one fleet that found a customer was using its trailer for its own deliveries.

“The carrier thought the retailer was taking a week to unload the trailer, but they were doing local deliveries with it and they got free use of that trailer for a week!” recalls Brennan.

Needless to say, the retailer was at a loss for words when presented with data obtained through the system’s hook/drop status and cargo sensor functions.

Another feature that helped this customer realize what was going on was the optional door sensor, which detects and records every seven-inch door opening.

The VeriWise cargo sensor is another new option, which detects whether or not the trailer contains freight at any given time. The company is working on an infrared optical cargo sensor which will be available soon, but at a steeper price.

Geofencing is another option now offered on the VeriWise system, allowing fleet managers to ensure their trailers are where they should be at all times. If a trailer leaves a predetermined area, an exception report will immediately be sent to the fleet manager, allowing him to determine why that trailer’s not where it’s supposed to be.

GE officials say the new enhancements are just the tip of the iceberg, and further features are already in the works. The company is currently working on a system that will work within reefer units and it also plans to integrate its technology with existing RFID systems so customers know exactly what’s inside each trailer.

Brennan says he’s optimistic trailer tracking systems will be widely embraced by the industry.

“We feel this will become a standard option on all trailers, much like air ride suspensions,” he predicts. “It’s just a matter of timing and market acceptance.”

The components:

The VeriWise system is comprised of several standard components including an antenna, transceiver, battery pack and user interface.

The dual frequency antenna mounts onto the front face of a trailer. A covert option is in the works, which looks like a vent and is placed where one would expect to find a trailer vent. The prototype is heavier than the standard antenna, but it’s still just a prototype. The transceiver processes GPS and Orbcomm signals and transmits the data to the user interface. It’s mounted inside the trailer, but is compact enough that it doesn’t interfere much with the van interior space. In fact, it can be mounted inside the trailer wall so it’s flush with the interior. The battery pack provides 120 days of power while untethered and charges within four to six hours when connected to a trailer.

And the user interface is a Web application that allows customers to access all the information provided by the system. It is easy-to-use and fully-customizable with countless tracking options, the company says.

The published price for the standard components listed above is $660 and installation is about $200 per unit, however GE will train customers to do their own installations.

The cargo and door sensor options cost extra.

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