Tri City Glass is learning to use telematics to operate its fleet more efficiently

One of the most interesting things about vehicle telematics systems is that fleets often purchase them for one very specific function without realizing that telematics has the potential to revolutionize their entire fleet operation.

Such is the case with Tri City Glass and Door, an Appleton, WI-based company that has the Networkfleet telematics system installed in 28 of its trucks. The company, which installs auto, residential and commercial glass from three locations, started to use telematics in order to take control of idling time, only to find that the opportunities to make the fleet operate more efficiently were seemingly limitless.

In fact, fleet manager Larry Bender is still in the middle of the learning process: he keeps discovering so many new applications for the vehicle data he receives from Networkfleet that he can't keep up.

We recently spoke with Bender about his experience with telematics, and here's what he had to say:

Fleet Maintenance: How did you get interested in using telematics?

Larry Bender: It started a couple years ago. We have a lot of service and install vehicles on the road, and it was in the winter and we were out doing a service for a rep for a different telematics company, and he called me up and said, 'You know, while you were fixing our door here, your truck ran continuously for an hour and a half.' Granted, it was in the wintertime, and the installers need to stay warm, but we don't see the employees' cars parked in the parking lot running all day long. If it was one isolated vehicle that wouldn't be so bad, but typically that's not the case.

So we tried a test run with one unit, and the results were good. But it was a system that downloaded when the vehicle came into the yard, so it wasn't 'real-time.' We tried it for a while, to test the waters, and after doing a little research we decided to go with Networkfleet because of the options and the real-time capability.

We track our installers, and their times are all separated on the service orders per location, and that's one of the features that helps us justify or explain the time going to and from a particular job. Occasionally we have a person who calls up and says, 'Well, your guy was only here for a half-hour.' But there's driving time involved that's also incorporated into our service orders, so if a question arises we can pull up a report. And our techs are more accountable and more aware of accurately recording their times per job.

So as we've gotten more and more involved, and as we've gotten more familiar-and we're still learning-we've set our maximum speed at 75 miles an hour. That gives us a little leeway over 65 mph, for passing, but Networkfleet will send us an e-mail to let us know as it's actually happening. All the guys have cell phones, so we give them a call immediately and let them know they need to slow down.

FM: How many vehicles have the telematics units installed?

LB: We have 28 vehicles out of 36 currently with the Networkfleet units on them, and they're a mix of the full-size vans we use for auto glass replacement, chassis cab trucks that we use with larger glass racks on, for our commercial install crews, and some pick-up trucks for our salespeople and project managers. And then there are our service vehicles, which are cube vans and Sprinters.

We put a handful on at one location, then we added another location, and we're continually adding them as we see more and more benefits.

FM: Are you planning any new vehicle purchases in the immediate future?

LB: There's more consideration, but we still have a scheduled replacement guideline for the vehicles, and obviously if one goes down we accelerate that schedule. We are trying to keep things current, and we don't want to have them all aging at the same time.

Like everyone, we're watching where all of the dollars are going, but there are good deals out there right now. We had one vehicle that was scheduled for replacement next year, and there's currently a Dodge Sprinter on a lot that we're looking at replacing that with. We can get a considerably better deal than the previous one that we just bought last year. We're always looking for opportunities.

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