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The evolution of fleet tracking systems

While connected trucks have been a part of the landscape for the past decade or so, connected trailers are now stepping into the spotlight. Trailers equipped with an array of sensors and cellular connections to the Internet of Things empower fleets to improve operational efficiencies, safety, and customer service.

To some extent, these developments are being driven by safety regulations and technology as fleets incorporate electronic logging devices and fleet telematics functionality. Smart trucks and trailers will communicate as an integrated system, providing information to drivers, fleet managers and maintenance teams as well as supporting enhanced customer service communications.

Phillips Connect Technologies (PCT) was launched with the goal of taking this integration to the next level with a single open-platform interface for all trailer information. Drivers and fleets want one source of information from all the systems such as trailer location, cargo detection, door sensors and light detection, as well as brake and tire pressure status.

The open-source strategy allows users to build systems that meet their needs, from upgrading existing assets to investing in new trailers equipped with OEM technology. The plug-and-play architecture aggregates, correlates and transmits the data to the cloud, where users can customize it for their individual needs.

Fleets don’t have to spec different systems from different providers and monitor different systems in order to obtain and analyze the data they need. With PCT’s TrailerNet, the data is available from one system using a single cellular data plan. The idea is to create a network around the trailer.

Connected trailers offer a range of fleet telematics benefits, providing data-driven solutions across a wide range of operational challenges including

1. Reducing driver down time

For a truck driver, dispatcher, or a customer, there are few things more frustrating than when a trailer breaks down on the road. Even though drivers conduct pre-trip inspections and fleets perform regular maintenance, components fail, leading to unplanned downtime.

With the ability to pre-check vital systems such as brakes, lights and tires, smart trailers enable fleets to ensure that critical maintenance areas are ready to go before dispatch. As the systems evolve, fleets will develop advanced prognostic abilities to extend maintenance cycles and get more time and miles from components. Dispatchers will be able to select from trailers that are approved for use and reduce the chance of loading a trailer that could break down on the road.

2. Curbing CSA violations

PCT’s TrailerNet and ChassisNet products help fleets reduce FMCSA Compliance, Safety, Accountability violations by notifying maintenance personnel as faults occur. The telemetry solutions allow drivers to view the latest health report on their asset before they spend the time and fuel to drive to it. The pre-trip inspection is more accurate and the driver can avoid pulling a trailer that has a potential safety violation. If a failure occurs on the road, the system will send an alert so the driver and maintenance staff so can address the issue before it could be flagged in a DOT inspection.

3. Eliminating operational inefficiencies

With a connected trailer, fleet managers have visibility into the utilization cycle from arrival at the customer, parking, tractor disconnect, doors opening, movement to a loading bay, cargo loading or unloading, moving from the loading bay, doors closing, moving to a parking area, tractor connection, and departure from the customer.

With this visibility, fleets can improve utilization rates for a higher return on investment. Trailers won’t get buried in a busy yard or forgotten behind a customer’s warehouse. Managers are able to more quickly dispatch assets and identify low-performing units that could be rationalized from the fleet.

4. Retaining drivers

Drivers want to drive and not be burdened with maintenance issues or dispatching problems. Fleets that can help drivers maximize their time behind the wheel will have a higher retention rate than those fleets that don’t use technology to their advantage.

Drivers will be able to locate trucks in the yard so they’re not wasting time searching for the right one. Dispatchers will have the ability to ensure the right truck is hooked the right trailer so the load is routed accurately. Once the trailer is en route, dispatchers don’t have to call drivers for an update.

Pre-trip inspections will go faster with data from the trailer sensors, and will be more accurate. Drivers will appreciate knowing that the trailer they’re pulling doesn’t have low tire pressure or a burned out light bulb. That improves the driver’s efficiency and saves them money.

5. Solving for cargo theft

It’s more likely the trailer will be broken into than stolen. Parked trailers represent targets of opportunity for thieves. For instance, CargoNet’s analysis of theft data of the week around Thanksgiving showed that the highest number of thefts occurred on Wednesday. Experts speculate that’s when drivers parked their trucks for the holiday. Most of the thefts occurred in areas that were less busy during the holiday such as warehouses, business parking lots, and truck stops. Organized thieves will also target loaded trailers using forged paperwork and fake truck paint jobs.

PCT’s security solutions can help stop theft in its tracks. Door sensors can report opening and closing, and can report doors that were opened outside of an authorized area. The Trailer Lock-Down system is a smart lock that locks the trailer by cutting airflow to the trailer brakes, making it impossible to steal a trailer or take accidentally. To release the lock the driver must enter an unlock code assigned to that specific trailer. This product is controlled through the nosebox keypad, a mobile device, or dashboard via a web portal.

The most critical data points for a tracking system are GPS-based location status, container loaded status, door status and, in some cases, alerts for temperature and humidity controlled shipments.

As telematics capabilities evolve, look for new monitoring and management functions, such as dynamic cargo information, cargo weights and axle load distribution, brake wear, anti-lock brake faults and tire pressures. Telematics systems are available for intermodal container fleets as well. The containers and chassis are outfitted with separate but complementary systems that work independently or together.

These systems provide a new level of customer service in the age of Amazon and Uber. If an e-commerce or ride-sharing company can provide near-real-time location data and estimated time of arrival, why can’t a trucking fleet? Managers are able to pinpoint the location of a trailer in real time and monitor its progress to the destination. In the event of delays customers can be notified immediately. With geofencing, the trailer can send an alert when it enters or leaves designated waypoints such as the customer’s warehouse or a drayage yard. The days of customers phoning dispatchers for updates are a thing of the past.

As smart trailer technology comes to market, one of the barriers to widespread adoption was the proprietary nature of the products. Each component would require a separate data plan and communication network. PCT saw this situation as overwhelming for most fleets and developed TrailerNet. The open platform strategy consolidates all of the possible sensors together on a trailer to get an accurate, real-time look at how a trailer is performing. Each fleet can build a system that meets its needs.

To start your smart trailer project, contact Phillips Connect Technologies today.

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