Today’s transportation industry faces increasingly stringent regulatory standards. The highest-profile example is the looming electronic logging device (ELD) deadline; by December 16, 2019, all carriers subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s ELD mandate must be equipped with self-certified devices registered with the FMCSA. In addition to the sweeping ELD mandate, many fleets are or soon will be subject to a wide range of more specific regulations.
In this environment, one option is to focus on technology solutions that address the bare minimum needed to check off a particular set of regulatory boxes. While perhaps cost-efficient in the short term, this approach is limited to a tactical fix. The second option, meanwhile, is to look at the bigger picture and leverage emerging Internet of Things (IoT) technology to enhance business operations and gain a competitive edge.
A basic ELD solution deploys data-collecting smart sensors to track a vehicle’s location and movement. This addresses the ELD mandate to monitor and document how far a vehicle travels, and how long a driver sits behind the wheel, over a given time period. Beyond that, smart sensors can provide a foundation for gathering, analyzing and acting on a wide range of data. Fleet managers can apply this IoT-enabled foundation to drive significant improvements in a number of functions, including asset tracking.
Temperature and location tracking. One obvious asset-tracking application of smart sensors is temperature monitoring for operators who transport fresh and frozen food (another area facing increasingly strict regulations). In addition to measuring overall temperatures within food storage containers over the course of a journey, sensors can drill down into nuances. For example, what impact does leaving the refrigeration units open for 10 minutes to load new products have? If the temperature goes up, say, five degrees, how long does it take to cool back down?
The low cost of sensors makes tracking temperatures within individual palettes viable. With this level of insight, operators can better ensure food quality and safety, as well as provide individual customers with detailed documentation on the provenance of food product shipments from initial pick-up to final delivery. This can be critical to, for example, an operator transporting fresh fish from a supplier who pledges their product is “never frozen.”
Geo-fencing and location tracking applications can also significantly enhance asset control efficiency and mitigate risk. At a macro level, a geo-fencing solution can track a vehicle’s progress on a prescribed route from, say, Cleveland to Seattle, and send alerts if the vehicle deviates from the route’s defined parameters. By tagging individual assets, operators can monitor the location of goods throughout a journey, as well as track them if stolen. If the truck is carrying expensive electronics equipment or machine parts, such visibility can be critical. In addition to enhancing security, this eagle-eye perspective enhances production planning, streamlines shipment delivery and improves scheduling accuracy.
Getting there. To achieve broader strategic functionality from an ELD solution, one key is to start small and grow. Operators should avoid significant upfront investments, but not at the cost of limiting future possibilities. Interoperability between the sensors deployed on fleets and back-end analytical platforms is also critical. Many platforms require significant levels of customization to accommodate different standards. In this case, simplicity is a virtue.
Easy and flexible access to data is also essential. Many providers charge for access to data their sensors collect and limit the formats in which data is available. This adds significant cost and complexity to initiatives aimed at extending analytics, enabling additional data capture or integrating with other applications.
Finally, the ability to monitor data analytics and take appropriate action is critical. While a smart sensor solution largely automates the data collection and analytics process, the triggers issued by the solution often require human intervention to investigate and resolve. For example, let’s say the truck traveling from Cleveland to Seattle has strayed outside its defined parameters. The sensor sends an alert to the operator, who then needs to determine if the departure from the route is innocuous or indicative of a problem. “Analytics-as-a-service” offerings that apply clearly defined rules and processes to evaluate alerts can address this challenge.
Smart sensor technology offers significant opportunities for fleets of all types and sizes to improve their operations. From large fleets looking to optimize their response to regulatory mandates, to small operations seeking to boost their competitive positioning, IoT-enabled smart sensors can make a significant contribution to the bottom line.
Patrick Verdugo is Manager of Internet of Things and Business Innovation Offerings at Claro Enterprise Solutions, a global IT services provider.