Going wireless...with a net

Going wireless. . . with a net

Thanks to networked wireless communications, you’ll always be able to know where the trucks are

In transportation, the use of wireless communication to increase productivity and reliability grows each day. The biggest benefits are knowing where trucks and shipments are at every moment; instant communication with drivers while monitoring their movements and tractor conditions; and paperless back office reporting, including hours of service and fuel tax information.

For Joanna Wancus, chief financial officer of Hartt Transportation Systems Inc., replacing an out-of-date communications system with a multi-mode wireless tracking system from Aether Systems Inc. has made a huge difference, particularly in terms of time spent on the telephone speaking to drivers.

Hartt concentrates on regional trucking in New England and the mid-Atlantic states, with an average haul of 560 miles. For Hartt, Aether has transmission centers using global positioning system (GPS) data to update the carrier every half-hour with a visual map display of where the trucks are.

When Wancus joined the Maine-based carrier seven years ago, the communications system in use required many telephone conversations with drivers to get delivery jobs completed. As Wancus sees it, installation of the wireless system has helped Hartt achieve double-digit growth without incurring a lot of overhead costs in the dispatch area.

“Previously, we would do a check call in the morning and another at night with the driver,” she says. “Now most of that is completely eliminated. There is still conversation with drivers, but all shipment and load data go back and forth over the system.”

Thanks to wireless tracking, dispatchers can now anticipate if a shipment has the potential to be late. Hartt boasts 98.7% on-time delivery and is looking to get even better. At Hartt, each dispatcher is responsible for 40 trucks. If the system indicates the potential for late delivery, the dispatcher will alert the customer.
The carrier also uses its GPS readings for paying fuel taxes. “We’ve had three state audits on this system — from New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey — and in each case they ended up owing us money,” Wancus points out.

Hartt uses Aether’s MobileMax system to regulate truck speed through governing and data accumulation. In addition, driver instructions and directions are given automatically by the computer system. When a driver indicates shipment delivery, the next load and re-load information is sent. Drivers can also use the system to access the Internet.

The wireless system Hartt uses relies on an in-cab computer made up of a keyboard connected via cable to the dome where all of the intelligence is located.

A different wireless model is used by Sodrel Truck Lines Inc. that relies on cellular phone communications.

Sodrel has been hauling mail for more than 50 years. The carrier moves freight in truckload to its warehouses in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville and St. Louis, where it does break bulk and delivery to final customers.

According to Jeff Canada, Sodrel’s director of information services, the company identified problems with its mail delivery in keeping track of vehicles and driver time spent, miles driven and the tracking of the vehicle fleet — knowing where trucks were at any given moment and maintaining schedules.

“In the mail business,” notes Canada, “we run 24/7 and keeping track of the schedules of our vehicles is important so we can pull them in for preventive maintenance. Hours of service is another thing that forced us to make changes, because we knew new requirements were going to make us streamline our business and optimize driver time.”

Although implementation of the wireless system began in June 2003, research on the project began a year earlier. The cost of a traditional mobile communication system was difficult to justify.

“We just couldn’t see the ROI on them,” Canada explains. “We have a somewhat simple business. We’re doing the same type of movements every day. It could be the same driver in the same truck, making the same trip five or six days a week. So when we looked at the traditional systems, they had a lot of features that weren’t necessary for our business and they were lacking in some other areas we felt were important to us.”

Working with wireless provider Enterprise Information Solutions Inc. (EIS), Sodrel designed a system around cell phone technology, then built the back end around that.

The use of cellular phones allows Sodrel to tap into a broad market. The number of mobile communication units in trucks pales in comparison with the number of people carrying cell phones, Canada points out.

“We’re able to spread the cost of operation over tens of millions of customers, which lowers our cost,” he explains. “Our ROI was cut by two-thirds in terms of time when compared to typical mobile communications systems.”

Time is critical to Sodrel’s continued success with mail delivery. The carrier has a 10-minute delivery window it needs to hit with the U.S. Postal Service — its standard is to hold to a five-minute window. The cell phone will prompt drivers if they are late. When drivers pull up to stops and are past deadline, the phone asks for a late reason. This enables Sodrel to monitor performance and be proactive in meeting problems. Rather than waiting for the Post Office to complain, the carrier either adjusts its routes or driver habits to make sure it adheres to its delivery requirements.

Not only does the cell phone system monitor positioning through GPS technology, it enables the carrier to track driver pay time and mileage — for hours of service, fuel taxes and preventive maintenance.

According to Marc Mitchell, EIS’ transportation practice director, there are four components to deploying a wireless technology solution, permitting choices in each area:

  • There needs to be a communications device in the truck.
  • There must be a way for that device to communicate wirelessly to the outside world.
  • That communication must get into the back office.
  • There must be a way of putting programs into the cab.

In less-than-truckload (LTL), Mitchell feels carriers can’t afford the hardware outlay for the more expensive units, since they have lower margins and greater requirements for equipment relative to truckload carriers. He sees the industry migrating from radio dispatch to cellular telephone use.

“Initially, a lot of people found that cellular-use minutes were so expensive they cancelled out anticipated savings,” notes Mitchell. “But then Nextel began offering one-touch, direct connect. So instead of having to dial a lot of numbers, users can call dispatch with the push of a button and direct connect is untimed. For one fixed price, you could use it as much as you want. For those able to take advantage of the offering, the more it’s used, the better the ROI.”

Sodrel’s Canada feels that choosing cellular technology was a winning decision. As he sees it, instead of having to make a $1 million investment in hardware, the cost was reduced to less than $100,000. While the money saved was one factor in choosing cellular, Canada also points to the ability to activate applications remotely by phone. “It gives us distinct advantages over some of the problems we’ve had in the past.”

One of the dominant suppliers in the wireless market is Qualcomm Inc. According to Glynn Spangenberg, the company’s general manager and vice president of transport logistics, Qualcomm services both truckload carriers as well as private fleets with customers like Georgia Pacific, Kraft Foods, DaimlerChrysler and Frito Lay.

Typically the long-haul segment uses Qualcomm’s OmniTRACS satellite-based system, while regional LTL operations use the terrestrial-based OmniExpress system, Spangenberg notes.

Last month, the company announced the creation of the Qualcomm Professional Services team, which will provide application installation, systems integration, testing, phased implementation training and complete project management to customers.

Qualcomm’s newest product is Omni-One, a cell phone. “One of the nation’s largest brokers is rolling out OmniOne to their independent driver force so they can send load assignments to the driver via a cell phone and allow the driver to save those assignments on a cell phone,” Spangenberg says. “When drivers arrive at their stop, they can — with the push of a button — acknowledge that they have arrived and have unloaded.”

In one of the first applications of wireless by a port, Virginia International Terminals Inc. (VIT) is using interactive voice response through its web system to communicate wirelessly.

“We want to provide extra services to the trucking community because they are so critical to the port flow,” explains David Seale, director of the information technology department for VIT. “The idea was to provide something in the way of voice recognition for truck drivers with cell phones — most are using cell phones instead of radios these days.”

Since Virginia is a Commonwealth and cannot legally directly work with unions, VIT was created to operate the ports for the Virginia Port Authority, as well as hire the union labor for operations. It oversees four terminals, with three of them being marine terminals — Portsmouth Marine, Norfolk International and Newport News Marine Terminals. It also runs an inland port in Front Royal, Va. Additionally, VIT opened an empty depot this past January.

Thanks to Virginia’s favorable East Coast location, its ports are busy with both import and export freight. Many of the country’s retail giants — including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp. and Home Depot Inc. — have located distribution centers (DCs) in close proximity to the ports. General Electric Co., a shipper of diesel generators, uses Newport News as a port. All of these operations require a great deal of truck traffic to move shipments to and from port facilities.

VIT’s voice recognition system is used for import. “Carriers know a shipment is to arrive,” explains Seale, “but it’s got to have Customs release, ship line release and delivery order information assigning it to a trucker. Then, when it physically arrives, if everything’s been done to it, it will send a fax to the dispatcher indicating that the shipment is ready to be picked up.”

While this allows the dispatcher to order a driver to come to the port for a pickup, there are more examinations that might be conducted that could hold up a shipment. A driver could waste a lot of time waiting for final clearance.

“Our idea is to present another way a driver can call and — through voice recognition — know that the shipment is ready to be picked up at Norfolk International Terminals,” says Seale.

VIT uses a voice recognition system from Angel.com. “You can configure the application on the Angel.com website, and use it to create a web page on your own website,” Seale explains. “When drivers say the container number into their cell phones, the message comes through the Angel website to our website, and it looks up the information and sends it back down to their website, where drivers are told whether shipments are in our system or not, and if they are ready to be picked up at Norfolk.”

VIT is thinking about adding outbound-calling capabilities, and perhaps an event-triggered mechanism where if drivers don’t check the system, it proactively will notify them a shipment is ready for pick up.

“The more information you can give drivers, the better,” observes Seale. LT

Can you hear me now?
Here’s a quick look at some recent offerings in wireless communications:

KonaWare Inc. (www.konaware.com), with its mobile application platform for software developers, has joined with FreightDATA Software (www.freightdatasoftware.com) in offering FreightDATA Mobile. Running on PocketPC devices, the solution links drivers and dispatchers in delivering schedule, delivery, dispatch, account, load and billing information. Dependable Highway Express (www.godependable.com), an LTL carrier, will be using the program for city dispatch pickup and delivery and anticipates a 15% saving in operation costs.

The Mobius TTS onboard computer from Cadec Corp. (www.cadec.com) supports changes in hours of service requirements that went into effect on January 4. With the system, drivers receive route information and instant event notification. Dispatchers receive driver and vehicle data, safety compliance information as well as pickup and delivery tracking. Data are integrated between the onboard computer and the back office.

For satellite tracking and mobile communications, PeopleNet (www.peoplenetonline.com) offers a variety of solutions, enabling customization to meet specific needs. The PeopleNet g2x system includes such features as Palm-based handheld devices used for capturing signatures and reading bar codes, over-the-air programming so systems may be upgraded without taking a vehicle out of service, and vehicle monitoring and reporting. Other system abilities are online routing and mileage reports, matching of loads, and online reporting of fuel tax.

resources

Aether Systems Inc.
www.aethersystems.com

Angel.com
www.angel.com

Enterprise Information Solutions Inc.
www.eissolution.com

Hartt Transportation Systems Inc.
www.hartt-trans.com

Nextel Communications
www.nextel.com

Qualcomm Inc.
www.qualcomm.com

Sodrel Truck Lines Inc.
www.sodrellogistics.com

U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection
www.cbp.gov

U.S. Postal Service
www.usps.com

Virginia International Terminals Inc.
www.vit.org

Logistics Today logo
April, 2004

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at a glance
This article looks at how wireless technology is helping companies improve supply chain visibility and control

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