Getting more value from trailers with smart technology – fleet management

Image courtesy of Sensata INSIGHTS

Trailers have traditionally been a blind spot in fleet management, leaving operators with no visibility into critical issues such as trailer location, maintenance needs and available load capacity. That means there’s been less oversight of the fleet’s moneymakers — the refrigerated trucks, trucks and semis that haul the cargo that pays the bills — than the tractors, which don’t generate revenue on their own.

Technological advances have closed the information gap. Solutions such as trailer-specific asset trackers, door sensors, load capacity monitors, tire pressure monitoring systems and both interior and exterior cameras can shed light on almost every aspect of trailer operation.

Deployed individually, each component can contribute to more efficient trailer resource management. Deployed together, these products create an intelligent ecosystem that is greater than the sum of its parts—helping fleets control trailer costs, increase uptime, maximize revenue per trip, and more.

However, by some estimates, only 33% of trailers in North America are equipped with telematics, and only 5% have added other components that make them smart trailers. The result is that the majority of fleets are missing out on opportunities to optimize trailer utilization and related revenue streams.

The linked trailer

Adoption of trailer-related technology lagged in part because early telematics products could not identify the location of parked trailers that were not connected to a power source. This problem has been solved with the development of battery-powered, rechargeable and most recently solar-powered asset tracking products, giving fleet managers visibility into their entire trailer inventory, including empty units, ready and waiting loads to be towed .

Other trailer monitoring products offer critical maintenance and safety information that can help reduce total cost of ownership as well as prevent trailer downtime and associated supply chain disruptions.

Advanced tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS), for example, can save hundreds or thousands of dollars in fuel each month by ensuring proper tire pressure (a tire inflated to less than 10 psi reduces fuel consumption by about 1%) , as well as minimizes the risk of blowouts on the road, alert drivers in real time of trailer tire problems occurring 40 or 50 feet behind them, and even integrate with Automatic Tire Inflation Systems (ATIS) to centralize information , related to tires in one place for smarter management.

On the operational side, load monitoring systems add the ability to maximize revenue by ensuring that every load is filled to capacity.

Unlike ultrasonic load detectors, which can only indicate whether a trailer is loaded or empty, newer volumetric solutions such as Sensata INSIGHTS’ XT3100 use a combination of cameras and machine learning to calculate the amount of empty space inside a given trailer, so fleet managers have the opportunity to generate additional revenue by filling this space with goods of other cargo owners. The added benefit is that the images captured by the camera can provide visual evidence of events that may (or may not) have damaged the load in transit, helping to exonerate drivers in situations where they are not at fault.

Add door sensors that detect door activity, exterior cameras that provide visual documentation of every traffic incident, backup cameras that help avoid rear-end collisions, side cameras to eliminate the driver’s blind spots, and other devices specifically designed for trailer usage, and you have a robust complement of tools that can help fleets both optimize and monetize their trailer operations.

Connecting together

While each component offers useful information on its own, additional value comes from connecting different data points to provide deeper insights for better decision making. For example:

  • Pairing data from the door sensor with cameras installed in the trailer makes it possible to determine who is present when the door is opened or closed, potentially including the ability to identify the culprit in the event of cargo theft.
  • You can access both the location of assets and the load status of individual trailers allows fleet managers to search for partially filled units within a certain radius of a pickup location, determine how much extra capacity they have, and fill the space with additional customer loads for peak usage.
  • Comparing mpg information from tractor telematics systems with tire pressure data from trailer tires can help determine if fuel efficiency is affected by low trailer tire pressure.
  • Combining a refrigerated trailer door sensor with location tracking and temperature monitoring can show if the temperature rise is caused by leaving the rear doors open for too long, allowing fleets to flag the problem to their drivers as well as third-party contractors.

Given the evergreen concerns about profit margins and the need for supply chains to run smoothly, insights like these can be critical to helping fleets operate at the top of their game. Today, carriers that embrace these technologies will be ahead of the curve. In the not-too-distant future, this evolving suite of solutions will be a major bet in efforts to contain costs and gain a competitive edge in the crowded freight market.

Michael Bloom is Head of Marketing for Sensata INSIGHTS, a global business unit of Sensata Technologies that provides end-to-end IoT solutions spanning the entire supply chain, including logistics, telematics and workplace monitoring and management.

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