Follow that Trailer

Although it offers nationwide reach and moves freight north into Canada, a particularly strong service offered by Las Cruces, N.M.-based Mesilla Valley Transportation (MVT) is between the maquiladora industry in Mexico and the United States. As Mike Kelley, the carrier's director of IT, explains, "we move a lot of raw goods into Mexico and then move the finished products to customer distribution centers in the U.S."

As with other U.S. carriers, MVT does not send its tractors into Mexico, instead dropping and hooking trailers at the border. Mexican trucking companies move the freight to the maquiladora. MVT was having trouble when trailers moved into Mexico, they didn't always quickly move back to the U.S. for re-use.

"We'd send a trailer down," recalls Kelley, "and after being unloaded it would be transferred from Customer A to Customer B, get loaded and be brought back across the border. If the trailer disappeared between A and B, we had no way of knowing where it was or when we would be getting it back."

Needed was a real-time tracking system, not only for those assets going south of the border, but for all of MVT's fleet. The solution would have to be web-based so that data could be easily acquired and load visibility could be offered to shipping customers as well. The solution for MVT has been a global locating system (GLS) from SkyBitz (Sterling, Va.).

The GLS uses a small mobile terminal affixed to an asset. Integrated in the unit is a software-based radio, antennas and a AA-battery pack. Information is transmitted from the mobile terminal to a communications satellite where its position is calculated. The data is transferred and processed at the SkyBitz service operation center and delivered, in the case of MVT, over the Internet.

MTV uses GLS as if it was global positioning system (GPS) data. The SkyBitz system is generally passive but permits changes in interval signaling, for example. "It sends a minimum amount of data, which is stripped down GPS information," says Kelley. "If there's a trailer you know is stolen and you need more active information from it, you can change the unit's settings. The next time the unit communicates, its instructions are changed so that it is to wake up every five minutes and report its location then."

A great benefit for MVT has been its ability to recover trailers more quickly from customers, by charging detention fees for those kept too long. Through better utilization of trailers MVT doesn't have to invest as much in new ones.

Satellite tracking has also helped improve customer service for the carrier's newly established intermodal division. MVT is one of 25 companies that use BNSF's Trailer on Flat Car (TOFC) program. As MVT's trailers move along TOFC rail lines, they are being tracked at all times.

For Kelley, the installation of the GPS is beautiful in its simplicity. "You clean off the top of the trailer," he says. "You pull up the adhesive and slap on the unit and you're done with installation. Enter it into our system and you have GLS information."

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