There is probably no company better at using information for optimizing its operations than UPS, the world's largest package delivery company and a global leader in supply chain and freight services. And it's no small feat to capture, distill and utilize that information as UPS is the second largest organization in the U.S., with more than 400,000 employees and a fleet of nearly 99,900 vehicles.
Those vehicles range from cars and light trucks to tractor trailers hauling single, double and triple trailers. The fleet is used to provide small package, as well as logistics and distribution services, including truckload, less-than-truckload (LTL) and urgent LTL service. In addition to diesel and gas-powered trucks, UPS maintains the largest private fleet of alternative fuel vehicles in the U.S.
UPS gathers data from nearly every aspect of its operations - from the handheld computers the delivery drivers carry to record customer interactions, to computers used to scan and sort packages, to mobile devices placed on its trucks. This data is then monitored and analyzed to drill down for opportunities for operational savings.
A wide range of opportunities for information gathering exist within UPS's massive fleet of vehicles. With a fleet the size of UPS', even small changes in routes or in vehicle condition can reap big returns. And the returns are not just in vehicle maintenance improvements. Analyzing data from its huge fleet also pays dividends in terms of lessening the company's carbon footprint, improving fuel consumption and even reducing unsafe behaviors behind the wheel.
UPS is a leader in developing proprietary software and firmware (basically a combination of software and hardware) for data collection, including vehicle data. It has been using a combination of computers and wireless telecommunications technologies for a number of years now.
"We collect all kinds of data about our trucks," says David Reidy, a veteran UPS fleet manager based out of the company's Baltimore, MD, operation. "Over the years we have accumulated tons of historical data. But it's not the data alone that helps us improve, it's what we do with it that makes the difference."
With a need for better capture of data and analysis, and with help from telematics, UPS began developing "telepathic trucks." In 2008, it launched a telematics-based initiative that uses algorithms (procedures or formulas for solving a problem) and firmware to analyze a stream of data collected from sensors in its delivery vans, commonly referred to as package cars. The objective was to use this data to improve efficiency and customer service, slash energy consumption and emissions, and make drivers safer on the roads.
"The technology enables insight into a vehicle's performance and condition, and helps pinpoint opportunities to coach drivers to improve safety, customer service and efficiency," says Dale Spencer, UPS' corporate automotive manager. "The data also is used to cut fuel consumption, emissions and maintenance costs."
Basically, UPS uses technology to "paint" a picture of the driver's, and the package car's, day by capturing data from sensors on more than 200 vehicle-related elements - everything from speed, engine rpm and oil pressure, to seatbelt use, the number of times the truck is placed in reverse, how often the bulkhead door is opened and the amount of time spent idling.
Using a 900 MHz radio, the data is uploaded automatically when a driver returns to his center at the end of the day and passes under a special RF receiver. The data is then sent to UPS' massive data center in Alpharetta, GA. Once the information is captured, proprietary computer applications using in-house developed firmware and sophisticated algorithms enable UPS operations personnel - from truck technicians to supervisors to managers - to analyze the data and, ultimately, draw conclusions about UPS' vehicle-maintenance and logistics processes. The culled information is accessed by computer and is presented in a easy-to-read, clean, dashboard format.
As technology improves and prices drop, fleets now have plenty of providers and options to choose from