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Asset tracking: High-tech ways to protect cargo

There's a lot more to keeping goods safe from thieves than just locking them up in the trailer.

Getting stuff from here to there. Sounds simple, right? And it is. At least conceptually. The reality is different for trucking fleets, whose businesses depend on making sure nothing goes haywire during the process of trucking goods 24/7 all across America. With so much competition and profitability dependent on so many factors, asset tracking is a key element in ensuring positive outcomes for every rig on the road.

American Trucker spoke with a variety of people connected with asset-tracking products and technologies about how things have changed dramatically over the last few years.

Asset tracking today

“Our customers define asset tracking and how they apply it in their operations as knowing where vehicles or equipment are at any given time,” said Marco Encinas, product manager of global platforms for Teletrac Navman. “But from our perspective, asset tracking is much more than that. Those using telematics or GPS tracking in their fleet have access to a wealth of knowledge beyond simply tracking the physical location of assets. For example, vehicle location data provides a strong base for fleets to optimize routing, making it more efficient and dynamic, with the ability to locate a driver, monitor road conditions and communicate changes with the customer and driver at any second. From a customer service standpoint, real-time location data means fleets can quickly and efficiently communicate with shippers, tracking and monitoring for customer load ETAs, and reporting any delays in advance. This can improve delivery time and allow for more precise planning and forecasting into delivery windows, on-time delivery percentages or missed delivery windows.”

Ben Wiesen, president of Carrier Logistics, explained that the precision of asset-tracking devices can have a major daily impact of fleets determining every aspect of their trucks on the road.

“Specifically, we use asset-tracking data to show internal personnel current and historical positions of their equipment and freight, and to provide freight customers with accurate ETAs for deliveries and pickups,” he said. “Fleet managers are better able to schedule equipment maintenance and balance equipment polls, and loss prevention specialists can monitor high-value shipments and determine cargo theft situations in near real time.”

Elise Fournet, Dupre Logistics project manager, said asset tracking can be used in a number of different instances.

“All of our tractors have ELD devices that provide near real time positioning of equipment and activity,” she said. “This enables us to see what equipment is active, in route, and the location of each. We also use tracking technology to manage fleets of trailers, including some with the ability to indicate full/empty status and independent power sources. This enables us to better manage inventory and capacity for our customers who have dedicated trailers.”

Command Alkon utilizes supply chain technology for construction’s heavy work, among other things. It employs asset tracking in a different way.

“The heavy building materials ecosystem considers the tracking of assets to be a key component to their business,” said Matt Brinker, product manager. “The location of any piece of equipment is interesting, but the ability to use that data to analyze business performance is the real key to them. By integrating the location of assets into the systems that run their day-to-day operations, companies are continually finding ways to improve their business and provide better customer service.”

Improvement overview

Everyone American Trucker spoke with agreed that asset tracking technology has come a long way in a short time, getting both better and cheaper.

 “We have observed an increase in the sources of data that exist, and the ELD mandate in the has created an increase in truck asset tracking data,” said Cindi Perdue Hane, vice president of product management at Elemica. “But we are also working with shippers who are implementing smart pallets and want to track these assets as well. This puts more work on the carriers in our network since they need to install mobile gateway devices in their trucks to capture smart pallet signals. But it also offers them a new way to differentiate their services.”

The win-win continues with more for less.

“Technology continues to advance, and costs decrease, so the ability to provide basic tracking continues to improve,” noted Eric Witty, vice president of product for Trimble Transportation. “With the improvements in technology, the other way to view it is that vendors are able to provide greater functionality at the same price as historical basic asset tracking. From a feature perspective, the advancement has gone from simply tracking an asset to, in the case of a trailer, providing visibility into the freight. Now the freight visibility data is able to answer questions like: Is the trailer loaded or empty? And, how much room is available in the trailer? And devices can be added to the cargo to track the actual freight versus an asset.”

Lower costs for asset tracking means major fleets save money, but can be even more important for small businesses.

“Asset tracking used to be on the fringe, but it has now hit the mainstream,” said Nathan George, director of business development for The Floow North America. “This has been made possible by insurance companies offering usage-based insurance (UBI) policies, as well as the advent of using a smartphone as a telematics sensor. Today, fleet asset tracking not only includes heavy vehicles, but light-duty vehicles as well. So companies from large corporations down to your mom-and-pop pizza shops and landscaping companies can track their assets.”

Security concerns

With so much data being generating in so many new ways, security is a bigger concern than ever.

“Data security concerns have always existed, but it is more prominent today,” said Chris Burruss, vice president of transportation relationships at dexFreight. “Rich data is moving around in the cloud and over centralized systems that are vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Criminals are getting more sophisticated, meaning the susceptibility to security risks increases every day. Companies like ours are using the benefits of blockchain technology to create an environment where data can’t be hacked. Blockchain solves the data security concerns.”

Fleets are fighting back via impressive new security measures, pointed out Reza Hemmati, vice president of product management for Spireon.

“Cargo theft has become a much bigger issue in the transportation segment,” he said. “The advantages of adding telematics to a fleet’s operation are wide-reaching, including asset location tracking, immediate alerts to cargo threats via door sensors, and unauthorized movement reports. Our telematics devices detect tampering and provide real-time alerts when any attempt is made to remove or disconnect the GPS device, ensuring assets are protected.”

In the same vein, Andrew Hicks, lead product manager for Omnitracs, said that “the use of technology to gather information on high value loads and impersonate legitimate carriers is on the rise. Fortunately, the ability to track the location of stolen trailers and tie trailer positions with authorized tractors continues to provide a means to proactively detect and recover stolen freight.”

Envisioning the future

This is an exciting time for fleets regarding emerging asset-tracking products and technologies. Here’s what our experts had to say regarding the future.

Teletrac Navman’s Marco Encinas: “As companies look to improve overall efficiency and safety, it’s the data from fleet management software or asset tracking solutions like telematics that will help gain a competitive advantage. Data is the key to digital transformation, and using it to optimize routes or decrease fuel intake allows companies to explore different ways to operate their fleet in ways that might not have been available without telematics.”

Elemica’s Cindy Perdue Hane: “We expect that there will be more convergence between tracking devices and shipments and a trend away from tracking at the shipment level to tracking at the delivery or pallet or even item level.”

Trimble Transportation’s Eric Witty: “As the technology becomes more broadly used, then assets can share information with other assets and even talk to and share information with other parts of infrastructure. All of this creates opportunity to share more and more data to help create new opportunities for safety, efficiency and revenue.”

The Floow North America’s Nathan George: “One thing that’s improving and will continue to improve is customer acceptance of asset tracking. Ten years ago, it would be a “’no’, but social media and smartphones have helped make people more willing to provide some of their personal data for the common good under certain circumstances.”

Carrier Logistics’ Ben Wiesen: “I anticipate more automation on LTL docks. Currently, most companies tracking freight within their facilities do so using barcode scanners, which require an employee to actively scan each piece of freight. Sometimes this requires the dock employee to have to get off their forklift, which adds even more time to freight handling and is also a safety concern. In the future, RFID systems will provide passive location updates, reducing handling time and increasing tracking accuracies.”

DexFreight’s Chris Burruss: “Tracking and tracing will evolve drastically with blockchain. The technology will provide new levels of visibility and the ability to record data that didn’t exist before. Additionally, blockchain is introducing better data security, as all records are immutable. Making data more accessible will allow each party on the transportation and logistics side of things to operate more efficiently, reducing costs, manual work, and hours labored per shipment.”                           

Dupre Logistics’ Elise Fournet: “We will continue to see the visibility requirements increase from customers to carriers of dedicated or transactional fleets. I would like to see the integrations between carrier’s information being more closely tied with customers who are managing orders, inventory and fulfillment requirements in their own systems. This would enable both groups to invest in the technology that best serves them, and benefit from a holistic view of the supply chain.”

Command Alkon’s Matt Brinker: “We look forward to creating an experience that takes collaboration and transparency to the next level in the heavy building materials ecosystem. APIs(application program interface) that enable better and tighter integration across the industry is what we see as the near future.”

Omnitracs’ Andrew Hicks: “We are starting to see advancements in reporting on the condition of cargo, beyond just whether a trailer is loaded or empty, and the introduction of smart trailer integrations to monitor the health of trailer systems like ABS, tire pressure, and lights will provide a major new source of value for coordinating maintenance and preventing equipment failures.”

Spireon’s Reza Hemmati: “Fleets will be able to gather more advanced data points from trailer telematics devices and integrated component sensors. These data points can be interpreted and processed with new machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies and presented to customers using various reporting, dashboarding, or alerting tools that make the right insights available to them around their business operations.”


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