Mesilla Valley Transportation’s updated trailer tracking solution has saved the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In 2016, independent transportation carrier Mesilla Valley Transportation (MVT) upgraded its trailer tracking technology to the latest version of the SkyBitz solution, extending a relationship that stretches back more than a decade and a half. With the upgrade for its fleet of 5,000 trailers, MVT receives near-real-time location information about its fleet as the trailers move through its customers’ facilities and back into its own depots.
Based in Las Cruces, NM, and El Paso, TX, MVT specializes in time-sensitive service between major manufacturing areas in the U.S., as well as in Canada and Mexico. The company’s trailer tracking initiative began during a five-year period of both revenue and operational capacity expansion at MVT in the late 1990s.
While the company was already tracking trucks using technology in the cabs, it lost visibility into its trailer fleet once those assets were delivered to customer locations. In 1999, MVT began looking for a web-based tracking system that would provide location data for all of its trailers, using a solution that would help it provide additional services to customers and improve billing accuracy. The primary goal, however, was improving trailer utilization.
Despite their size, trailers are often lost or even stolen or misused when customers or other trucking companies move them to unauthorized locations. By having full visibility of the fleet, MVT would be able to better allocate trailers, reduce idle time, reduce theft/loss, and reduce unnecessary asset purchases.
MVT was an early customer of SkyBitz’s satellite- based GLS tracking solution. “We were one of the first large fleets to fully implement this type of tracking system,” says Dean Rigg, CFO at Mesilla Valley Transportation. “No one else in the industry was doing this. We wanted to utilize the trailers better, get them back faster, and know where they were.”
At the time, SkyBitz was one of the only satellite- based system providers on the market. It also offered service coverage in Mexico, which was important because of the level of cross-border business MVT does. In addition, the satellite system used less power than comparable GPS technology at that time because the units on the trailers enabled the system to calculate the location quickly and then put the devices back to sleep.
After a successful pilot, MVT installed the SkyBitz units across its entire fleet (which at the time included 2,400 trailers). Rigg says the deployment took roughly eight months. “It was very easy to put the units on the trailers,” Rigg says. “It only took a few minutes per trailer, and we were up and running.”
The Value Of More Frequent Location Updates
As of the most recent upgrade, each of MVT’s trailers now includes a SkyBitz Falcon Series tracking device. The devices provide frequent location status updates via 3G/4G cellular networks, including North American cross-border coverage. The units can be set to report as often as once every 5 minutes and can be programmed over the air to update reporting frequency. MVT can also request location updates on demand. The units are charged on the trailers while en route and can report for up to 90 to 120 days without a power connection.
Using the location data from SkyBitz, MVT is better able to manage the turn time of its trailers. “The turn time is how long the customer has the trailer and how long it takes us to get it back,” Rigg says. “We try to keep that time as low as possible.”
The typical amount of time a trailer is held varies by customer. Using the geofencing and landmark analysis capabilities in SkyBitz, MVT knows when each trailer is dropped into a specific pool. The company knows in advance how long the trailer is likely to remain in place. Using those parameters, the system can provide alerts if the trailer is idle too long or is moved out of the geofence without authorization. If company representatives suspect a trailer has been moved to an unauthorized location or stolen, MVT can put a trailer into “panic mode” so that it is monitored more frequently.
“We can watch for abuse, and if a trailer moves somewhere it’s not supposed to be, we can catch that as well,” Rigg says. “The system has really served as a deterrent for abuse. Once our customers figured out we had this type of tracking, they began treating our trailers differently than those that came from companies that aren’t using an asset tracking solution.”
More Precise Data Enables Accurate Billing
The location data is also used to improve detention billing when unloaded trailers sit idle at customer facilities beyond a predetermined date. MVT is able to more accurately bill its customers for detention, which the company was not previously able to do because of the lack of visibility with the prior solution. Now, the company can use “heat maps” of idle time to track detention. That revenue can average more than $30,000 to $40,000 per month, which has contributed significantly to the system’s ROI.
The original deployment helped improve MVT’s truck-to-trailer ratio from 3.4:1 to 2.6:1. The tracking capability also proved important when MVT launched its intermodal division, because it could give customers complete visibility of their trailers and cargo while goods were transported by train.
MVT has integrated the SkyBitz tracking data with its own internal business systems. Managers are able to see the location of every trailer at all times. They can use the system to perform basic scheduled reports, page trailers when they want to find a specific unit, and conduct accurate yard checks from any location.
The antitheft functionality almost immediately provided a return on investment. A few months after the initial installation, several fully loaded trailers were recovered after an attempted robbery, saving the company hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost cargo, trailers, and increased insurance premiums. Having these real-time location tracking capabilities has also made MVT a more attractive option for shippers of high-value goods that are prone to theft (like consumer electronics).
With the most recent upgrade, SkyBitz provides more frequent location updates (every 15 minutes, compared to twice per day) using the SkyBitz cellular-based Falcon devices. “Our information is more real time,” Rigg says. “I can geofence a location and know when a trailer specifically arrived. In the past, I had to look for a specific trailer and manually ping it in the system. Now I have that up-to-date information without having to go looking for it.”
As an early adopter of trailer tracking technology, MVT has benefited by improving its trailer utilization and reducing the threat of trailer theft or loss. This benefits the company (by reducing costs) and improves the customer service MVT provides by enhancing security and traceability of their cargo.