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Telematics may transform trucking’s view of trailers

An aging trailer population, high diesel prices, and tighter government regulations are going to drive more widespread use of trailer telematics systems in the U.S. trucking industry as fleets try to enhance the productivity and longevity of such assets.

“We view remote asset management as becoming more critical to the operational and financial success of trucking companies,” Henry Popplewell, GM and senior VP for trailer telematics provider SkyBitz, told Fleet Owner.

“Through remote asset tracking, trailers are deployed where they need to be and available assets are quickly identified, which helps lower costs by eliminating out of route miles – and fewer miles driven translate into fuel savings,” he pointed out.

“Enabling visibility of trailers, shipping containers and cargo while on the move … improves customer satisfaction, just-in-time logistics, and dispatch operations,” Popplewell said. “In effect, trailer tracking and remote asset management makes the truck and fleet smarter.”

Those are just some of the reasons why global consulting firm Frost & Sullivan believes the next five years will see immense change and growth within the commercial semi-trailer market in North America.

“The proliferation of advanced semi-trailer technologies will be driven by three crucial factors: strengthening of the regulatory environment, rising fuel prices and an aging trailer population,” said Wallace Lau, a research analyst with the firm. “Fleets are looking towards advanced trailer technologies to enhance and optimize fleet productivity through the usage of telematics, safety systems, trailer aerodynamics, and chassis systems.”

For example, he pointed out that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA) program is a particularly strong force behind the increase in demand for the upkeep of the technology and maintenance for semi-trailers, noting that fleets are recognizing that they cannot risk being penalized or shut down due to poor CSA scores.

SkyBitz’s Popplewell added that telematics can play a role in the trailer maintenance arena, pointing out that his firm’s system can provide tire pressure monitoring for lowering maintenance costs. “This helps lower tire cost per mile and avoid costly blow-outs or run flats,” he explained.

The ability to retrofit such technology onto existing trailers is also expected to become a hot topic, as Frost & Sullivan’s Lau noted that due to the recessionary environment over the past four years, fleets have forcibly postponed purchases of new equipment – extending the average age of semi-trailers to almost 8.5 years compared to 5 to 6 years before the recession hit.

“In turn, this has created a backlog of demand for replacement, as fleets now need new equipment and advanced technology,” he stressed, adding that the North American semi-trailer market saw strong demand in 2012, with approximately 248,000 units produced – a 31,000 unit increase from 2011.

Frost & Sullivan also projects for advanced trailer technologies – from aerodynamic devices to safety and telematics systems – will boost total market revenues for such items from $2.04 billion in 2011 to some $3 billion by 2018.

“Yet with increasing competition, all of these technologies have and continue to compete for the purchase dollars of fleet managers, which leads to certain segments growing at the expense of others,” Lau cautioned.

SkyBitz’s Popplewell, however, thinks demand for trailer telematics systems will only keep growing as fleets seek to use such technology to boost productivity and better satisfy the data needs of shippers..

“Over the next 5 years I see more and more adoption of sensor data in addition to location data for the trailer,” he said. “The combination of location and sensor data provides actionable information to help manage fleets and provide real time information to their customers, the shippers.”

The second big trend he sees is that trucking and logistics companies and shippers will look for more seamless delivery of data – including data gleaned from trailers.

“Shippers will want access to the same set of information that the logistics or trucking company has today,” Popplewell noted. “By integrating all the various sources of data into logistics Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, it will create a seamless and more impactful experience.”

Yet in order to maximize the potential of remote asset management, trucking companies must move beyond simply collecting data on resource visibility to using it to optimize operational planning and processes.

“Remote asset management solutions have evolved beyond reporting the date and location of equipment to advanced monitoring that can include cargo temperature measurements and’ geo-fencing,’” Popplewell explained. “Users of remote asset management technology must also move beyond passively collecting data to proactively using it to optimize and simplify operations across a global supply chain.”

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