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Telematics Delivers Wide-Ranging Safety Benefits for Intermodal

Telematics technology continues to deliver a wide range of safety-related benefits for intermodal providers, including maintenance, equipment performance and product integrity.

Delivered through a variety of technology, such as sensors, GPS, mobile devices, generators and cameras, telematics also provide key management information and valuable return on their investment according to experts interviewed by Intermodal Insights.

"Full telematics packages are now readily available on trailers and chassis and provide tremendous benefits when it comes to safety," said Trevor Ash, executive vice president at CIE Manufacturing. "We have seen the intermodal industry increase its focus on safety, and telematics most certainly will contribute to that goal of safer roads for all."

Chris MacDonald, senior vice president at ORBCOMM, concurred in praising telematics’ benefits.

"In addition to optimizing fleet health, a comprehensive telematics solution delivers real-time GPS-based asset location and status data … to customers, BCOs and shippers," MacDonald said. "That data facilitates handling and distribution of goods upon arrival, thus improving customer service."

MacDonald and Elizabeth Elkins, chief product officer at PowerFleet, described a wide range of telematics advances related to safety and security of cargo.

Door, cargo, temperature and humidity sensors deliver data that can be analyzed, MacDonald said, to monitor trip start and end, loading and unloading events, cargo condition, and unauthorized door openings.

"Data from telematics systems and integrated sensors enhances safety best practices," Elkins explained. "Telematics have enabled real-time insight to maintenance issues and faster response and resolution than relying on driver reporting or scheduled maintenance alone, helping to avoid over-the-road breakdowns which can put driver safety at risk."

American Trucking Associations’ Director of Technology and Engineering Policy Ross Froat added that telematics provide safety-related benefits such as detecting brake stroke or ABS issues, tire pressure, wheel-end heat and general trailer health monitoring.

Prechecks using telematics are vital, Phillips Connect Technology’s Cliff Creech noted.

"Telematics have to tell us where that box is, how fast it is moving, when it will be arriving, when it will become available, and tell us everything is working properly. Is it running the right temperatures? Are the doors open? How long has it been sitting in one place"
Ted Prince
Tiger Cool Express

"Precheck capability lets fleets remotely check their trailers to verify the health of the lights, brakes, and tires, and to verify the cargo state," said Creech, who is director of sales engineering. "That allows the trailer’s owner to dispatch a driver to the trailer with confidence that the trailer is healthy and ready for pickup."

Other benefits include the ability to do virtual yard checks of load/empty or mounted/bare equipment status instead of physical equipment inspection, Elkins said.

Ted Prince, chief strategy officer at Tiger Cool Express, addressed telematics from the standpoint of carriers and customers.

"Telematics have to tell us where that box is, how fast it is moving, when it will be arriving, when it will become available, and tell us everything is working properly. Is it running the right temperatures? Are the doors open? How long has it been sitting in one place?" Prince said.

All of that information is monitored from a desktop computer, where changes such as temperature can be made, and individual customers’ information needs can be met. Prince also noted progress in affordability and adoption.

Telematics costs have declined 60% to 70% in the past five years, stimulated by the Cloud as well as additional easier-to-use features such as GPS and other technology, he said. Greater affordability has removed the excuse that telematics are too expensive. As a result, most drayage carriers how have GPS, and owner-operators have increased their use as well.

Telematics’ Affordability, ROI

As telematics have evolved, how they are used by fleets has become a multi-faceted, complex issue.

"Many systems are affordable, and the industry needs to grasp the realization that investments need to be made in this technology. There is not always a clear ROI model to follow. Predictive and preventative maintenance will pay for themselves. Additionally, it is difficult to put a price on safety, avoiding accidents and saving lives," said Brett Hugo, OEM & Fleet Sales Manager at STEMCO.

"Telematics solutions providers have many options and services that can fit every motor carrier’s budget," Froat said. "Any cost to a fleet is a hurdle of some size. Planning for costs in a fleet operation is a tender subject and considers safety, efficiency and ROI impacts."

For example, he explained that motor carriers have to decide what piece of equipment – like a trailer or tractor – should receive telematics. Decisions largely are based on what type of operation and freight profile a carrier has, he added.

Still another factor to consider in the application of telematics is how well multiple types of telematics on a trailer, container or chassis work together, said Siamak Azmoudeh, vice president and product line manager for Skybitz. That is important, he said, because "customers don’t want 15 types of telematics. Customers want the ability to have one single source of information."

MacDonald emphasized affordability and the resulting payoff from telematics.

"The integration of advanced wireless technologies and analytics, access to rich, actionable data and its positive impact on business planning and profitability has solidified the ROI for this technology," he said.

Creech agreed. "Customers define what is important, and equipment owners have to see a return on their investment," he said. "Fortunately, fleets are in a win-win situation with adding sensors to monitor the health of their trailers and chassis, as those sensors provide a healthy ROI for most fleets.

Complex Installation Decisions

In addition to customer preference and acquisition decisions, another question is where to install the equipment. Creech said FMCSA statistics continue to show that trailers have a higher out-of-service rate than chassis, which makes them a priority for deployment of health sensors.

Elkins noted that trailers and chassis rolling equipment will have more safety challenges than containers, maximizing the value of monitoring tires, lights and wheel-end temperature to provide fleets real-time alerts of issues to drivers who may not know there’s an issue.

MacDonald noted that because trailers cost more than boxes and chassis, they often are prioritized for telematics installation. Telematics are even more necessary on refrigerated trailers hauling temperature-sensitive goods to protect loads and lower insurance costs.

Ownership of the trailer, container and chassis also is a consideration, said Azmoudeh.

Chassis generally are owned by pools and lessors, while trailing equipment mostly is carrier-owned, he explained. That creates different investment priorities for each equipment group.

The use of telematics on chassis can be overlooked because those pools and lessors that own the equipment have different needs than the carriers that actually run the equipment over the road.

"People are realizing that they need the same level of telematics on all types of equipment to maximize benefits and smooth operations," Azmoudeh said.

Creech also said it’s important to have telematics on chassis, even though they are less costly than trailing equipment, and travel fewer miles.

Preparing for the Future

Still another matter for intermodal service providers is how to stay current with fast-developing telematics that is installed on equipment that lasts a decade, or much longer.

"Providing fleets flexible purchase options such as subscription or financing allows fleets to match the cost of the technology to the benefit derived over time, versus an up-front or capital purchase," Elkins said. "Well-designed products allow fleets to add capabilities rather than replace older technology, allowing them, for example, to add functionality such as tire pressure monitoring to track and trace cargo integrity tools."

"We’ve been focused on the telematics that can grow with you, and pave the way for the future," Azmoudeh emphasized. "People don’t need to keep replacing their telematics. It has been our job to provide them with telematics with foresight into the future."

What else is ahead for telematics?

"Further documentation of the efficiencies and safety that this technology brings should provide the impetus to get owners on board with its use," Ash said. "We are also looking forward to additional data integrations that will allow for better connectivity and interface capabilities with all key equipment stakeholders."

Prince cited specific advancements that would be welcome, including more reliable information on fuel levels in refrigerated units and battery life. Solar power is one option that is being evaluated.

Generally, Azmoudeh said, an important future focus will be further enhancing communications between telematics technologies that provide different types of information, such as tire pressure and load status.

In-Cab Telematics Interface

Part of that enhancement process will be how data flows between in-cab telematics and trailing equipment technology.

MacDonald said in-cab telematics currently are well suited to provide inspection, repair and maintenance information using electronic driver vehicle inspection reporting functionality.

"With in-cab telematics displays, real-time cargo temperature monitoring can give early warnings of any issues to drivers," he believes. "'Out-of-range' temperature conditions or even reefer failure can give visibility to the driver who can stop, change the reefer settings and potentially save the load."

Elkins stressed how in-cab telematics enhance safety by measuring HOS and maintenance information as well as using front-facing and side cameras that encourage improved driver behavior.

Maximizing the value of those in-cab benefits can be complicated. The value of those benefits can be more difficult to capture, others said.

Azmoudeh pointed out that complications arise when trailing equipment is being hauled by multiple equipment types in an intermodal setting because different carriers, and drivers, may have not have the same type or level of telematics installed.

In-cab telematics work well with captive fleets that own tractors and trailers because of their vested interest in the equipment investment, Hugo said.

"For chassis fleets or companies that only own trailers, they need their own methods of collecting and managing data," he said.

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