Trucking's dynamic duo

Once-vilified as the trucking industry’s “big brother,” onboard computing (OBR) has irrefutably proven to be an invaluable tool for reducing costs throughout a carrier’s operation – maintenance, safety, regulatory compliance and fuel consumption. A partnership between OBR and GPS-based mobile communications unleashes the power to streamline workflow and empower a fleet’s drivers, vehicles and back offices to reach maximum efficiency.

Even cynical drivers who were once “technology-averse” have come to appreciate how an automated environment affords them more drive time.

We’re hearing customers praise OBR for not only slashing costs, but also for supporting their driver-retention efforts. Drivers, as well as management, are reaping significant rewards. Among them: no longer having to deal with logbook paperwork and delays associated with roadside inspections; protection against unfounded legal actions; and preservation of their CSA scores.

In essence, drivers almost always value these benefits, resulting in reduced turnover and associated costs.

But let’s get back to the impressive ROI and bottom-line benefits that the dynamic duo - OBR and mobile communications - provide. Among them are reduced overhead, insurance premiums, fuel consumption, maintenance and other costs, and improved customer service and driver efficiency.

Real-Time Data Enables Real-Time Action

Perhaps the most valuable advantage OBR technology provides is the availability of real-time data. However, real-time access to real-time data magnifies the value.

Alerts based on established thresholds let management know immediately when events occur that are critical to safety, maintenance and fuel consumption. Without this early-warning system, risky behaviors can go undetected until reports are reviewed.

In the meantime, how much fuel might a vehicle burn due to low tire pressure? How much additional engine damage could occur because a driver didn’t file an inspection report noting issues? Could a driver’s lead foot cause an accident?

The point is that managers can immediately act on these alerts to stop undesirable behaviors and avoid unnecessary costs.

Timely OBR data reporting in a meaningful format is also extremely helpful in measuring performance against goals, quickly identifying trends and warding off potential disasters. Managers who have this information - speed, sudden acceleration, sudden deceleration, long and short idle - can easily spot at-risk drivers and vehicles.

Managers can then dialog with drivers to identify root causes of undesirable behaviors and discuss issues related to the health of vehicles. When brought to their attention, drivers have the opportunity to focus on correcting negative behaviors before they lead to poor results.

Further, reports that compare historical data to current OBR data reveal recent changes in driving behaviors and vehicle performance. If a vehicle’s fuel efficiency has dropped without a change in the driver’s data, maintenance knows to check the vehicle.

This type of trendspotting enables fleets to be more aggressive in heading off issues.

With fuel costs again on the rise, optimizing MPG is on the top of everyone’s mind. For many fleets, long idle data alone has improved MPG.

One fleet told us that just by frequently monitoring driver and vehicle data helped them improve their MPG by nearly 30 percent, far exceeding their initial goal of 0.2 to 0.3 of a mile. Other recorded data related to MPG and maintenance are tire-pressure, sudden acceleration and deceleration and overspeed.

Alerts and Reporting Rein in Maintenance Expense

OBR data can drive fault-code alarm reporting/notification to help fleets avoid costly major repairs. Exception alerting acts as a heads-up to take a closer look at a potential mechanical issue that maintenance can nip in the bud before it becomes a real headache that could turn a delivery schedule upside down.

Without this tool for preventive maintenance, diagnostics is on hold until the truck arrives at a shop or dealership, either on its own power or by a tow.

In addition to curbing maintenance expenses, fault-code reporting makes drivers feel more secure about the appearance of a check-engine light. They believe that maintenance has their back and will advise them about what they should do. That keeps them from making unnecessary trips to and stops at dealerships, as in the case of a light for high exhaust temperature due to terrain causing a hard pull.

Fault-code reporting is an indispensable tool for staying ahead of changing maintenance requirements.

Mobile Communications with Geofencing

For a variety of reasons, more fleets are turning to mobile communications devices with geofencing and automated messaging.

Driven by an automated GPS system, there is little to no required telephone communication between drivers and dispatch, which in itself frees up everybody’s time. Change management, including driver instruction and customer notification, is automated and handled predominantly through electronic messaging.

Geofencing enables data collection and reporting about vehicle status and location, associating latitude and longitude with each stop throughout the route. A geofence is essentially the radius (or “fence”) around a designated point that triggers certain events from a mobile communications device, which are reported to the system.

Automating the relay of arrival and departure date/time provides accurate, timely information to the back-office system without data-entry by the driver. The addition of automated exception notification updates dispatch and customers, providing better service.

The Future is Now

The integration between OBR, GPS-based mobile communications and back-office routing, dispatching and accounting creates a centralized, paperless environment that relieves drivers and back-office personnel of handling paper and initiating phone calls, plus provides a solid foundation for efficient decision-making.

It’s all about muscling costs out of fleet operations. Show me a fleet with a better bottom line, and I’ll show you a fleet that’s more competitive.

Rick Ochsendorf is senior vice president of operations for PeopleNet, a leading provider of innovative and integrated onboard computing and mobile communications systems for effective fleet management.