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IoT ecosystems are replacing legacy telematics solutions to help solve some of the most critical problems commercial fleets face today.

The era of electronic logging devices and the rise of telematics have given fleets a more competitive edge. Telematics and connectivity for transportation have changed vastly over the years, offering more benefits today than ever to solve some of the most crucial challenges that commercial fleets face.

Technologies are evolving rapidly, allowing fleet managers to track vehicle locations and leverage various data points to make more informed business decisions, Azuga CEO Ananth Rani told FleetOwner. The data, he added, is increasingly complex and involves data analytics of vehicle health, driver behavior, and predictive risk models.

“Geospatial data isn’t going away, but the power of telematics has become a must-have solution for any business that runs on wheels,” Rani said. “Optimizing efficiencies within the fleets is one of the biggest challenges we hear our customers talk about today. They are experiencing increased workloads with high expectations, and they are looking to their fleet telematics provider to help optimize their routes and ensure driver productivity.”

Thirty years ago, Schneider, which ranks No. 11 on the 2022 FleetOwner 500: For-Hire list, implemented the first generation of vehicle telematics and connectivity with in-cab satellite communications. Now, the national provider of truckload, intermodal, and logistics services uses the Platform Science Internet of Things (IoT) telematics platform to put more innovations at drivers’ fingertips.

“Schneider has always been committed to operational excellence and identifying opportunities to use and create new technology,” said Mark Rourke, Schneider CEO, back when the company implemented Platform Science. “Our work with Platform Science allows us to immediately improve the driver experience, enhance efficiency and productivity, and provide the tools to futureproof our telematics capability in an industry that needs speed to market more than ever.”

The Platform Science solution replaces legacy telematics solutions with its IoT ecosystem designed to unlock the value of disconnected data streams throughout the transportation and logistics industry.

Schneider’s chief information officer, Shaleen Devgun, told FleetOwner that even the rate and pace of change in the telematics space has picked up and now mirrors what has happened over the years with the evolution of technology.

“It’s a hockey stick,” Devgun explained. “So, you take 10 years of change, and that 10 or 15 years of change prior to that is now happening every two or three years. That’s the rate and pace—it’s just accelerated.”

He indicated that, historically, telematics was an appliance-based solution that was very hardware-centric with limited capabilities outside of location-based tracking. That hardware-based ecosystem has transitioned into more of a software-based ecosystem that is driving not just tracking but productivity across all areas within transportation.

Uptime improvements

That operational productivity has expanded to carrier maintenance departments, where software solutions are giving fleets the necessary tools to manage transparency across the shop. In addition, data emitted from these connected vehicle devices can help fleets increase uptime and enhance predictive maintenance capabilities.

Collecting this data allows fleets to understand how vehicles are operating in the real world versus through more abstract maintenance windows, explained Chris Orban, Trimble’s VP of business and area manager of supply chain insights.

With the additional information emitted from tractors, fleets could extend their preventive maintenance schedules based on actual usage and driver conditions, thus reducing the overall cost of scheduled maintenance—and ultimately reducing the total cost of ownership.

Willie Reeves, director of maintenance at PacLease, recalled the humble beginnings when telematics was used to track only the location of a specific unit compared to how the technology has evolved today.

“This was one of the first benefits of telematics, and it helped pave the way for the advances that we see today,” Reeves said. “In today’s ever-changing and expanding environment, we are not only able to simply track the location of a specific unit; we are able to see diagnostic information, fault codes, engine mileage, idle time, and even perform over-the-air software updates.”

Telematics and connectivity also provide an easy-to-use solution for most fleets, Reeves said.

“Fleet managers can now better understand maintenance requirements, truck conditions, and even predict potential areas to address,” he noted. “The days of simple telematics—that only provide asset location—are long behind us.”

Fleets with thousands of assets know about these abilities, how they provide transparency, and more importantly, how they help plan scheduled downtime and decrease unplanned maintenance. But with this evolution of connectivity and telematics solutions, changes are happening so rapidly, there are now several strategies and options for all fleets.

Navistar’s Meena Narahari, director of total cost of ownership and uptime, pointed out that data-driven maintenance is the path forward to managing planned maintenance and proactively addressing unexpected issues before they become catastrophic failures.

“When fleets take a data-driven approach to monitoring vehicle health, they optimize their uptime,” Narahari said. “This means less unplanned service events and visits. It also helps to combine service activities efficiently to address any pending fault codes, campaigns, previously deferred service work, and any required regulatory inspections altogether.”

Srinivas Mallela, Navistar’s director of customer aftersales experience, added that vehicle utilization, operational characteristics, and manufacturer-recommended service intervals are critical factors for optimizing service events and contribute to a lower total cost of ownership. Monitoring idling, cruise, braking, and acceleration events can help improve fuel efficiency resulting in a lower cost per mile.

“Improved fuel economy can help customers extend the maintenance intervals, resulting in lower maintenance costs,” Mallela said. “When fleets understand how their vehicles are performing on the road, they can make small adjustments to vehicle management that can greatly reduce the cost of maintenance.”

Many new trucks today are pre-wired for ELDs and connectivity. For example, Paccar, the corporate parent of Peterbilt Motors Co. and Kenworth, gives new trucks access to Paccar Solutions, a website that provides users with live information on their equipment.

Peterbilt trucks are equipped with Paccar Solutions Service Management, which runs alongside the company’s ARTech augmented reality tool.

“Our goal is to drive uptime for our customers using a wide variety of technologies, and we can do that with ARTech by empowering technicians who are working on our equipment,” said Jason Skoog, Peterbilt’s general manager and Paccar’s VP. “This technology spans the gap between 2D technical data trapped on paper or on screens and the real vehicle in the service bay. Our ARTech augmented reality tool is giving technicians quick access to the information they need when they need it the most—right next to the truck in the service bay.”

Improving the driver experience

More and more, technology is being utilized to improve driver satisfaction. Schneider, for example, has been leveraging the Platform Science IoT solution to boost the quality of its drivers’ experience.

In the past, fleets needed the driver to interact with the technology a lot more, Schneider’s Devgun explained. Over time, however, Schneider has shifted its philosophy, allowing professional truck drivers to stay focused on what’s most important: the safe and efficient operation of the commercial vehicle.

Technology has helped eliminate some of the burdens of constantly having to ask drivers a lot of questions. Now, a software-based ecosystem can deduce the information automatically without fleet managers or dispatchers having to constantly interrupt the driver.

The multiple terabytes of data that Schneider constantly derives from its assets every day has become “priceless,” Devgun added.

“Whether it’s information about how the equipment is functioning or how the driver is driving the truck, there’s a lot of that information that we’re now able to derive from these telematics platforms,” Devgun said. “We can use it to make decisions across the enterprise. We can use it to make decisions around optimizing our network. We can use that information derived through or collected through telematics to make safety decisions.”

He also mentioned that thanks to 5G networks, massive amounts of data can be moved back and forth easier, which also creates huge opportunities for fleets.

In addition to eliminating some of the burden from the driver, fleet managers can use telematics to provide operational intelligence for route planning and real-time visibility to dispatch.

“By providing real-time visibility into lighting, brakes, tires, and other components that are known to be usual suspects during roadside stops, telematics identifies many issues that are easily preventable with proactive trailer maintenance programs in place,” said Chris MacDonald, Orbcomm SVP of global transportation sales.

He also pointed out that more than 70% of federal Compliance, Safety, Accountability violations are from maintenance or service problems.

“Knowing the location of each asset along with its current load capacity can help plan future trips and ensure the right driver–one with available hours and trailer space–is heading to the right job,”  MacDonald said. “Strategic route planning leveraging trailer telematics limits deadhead miles while improving detention billing accuracy for excessive detention time, which can help mitigate losses.”

In March, Orbcomm revealed its newest feature enhancements to its data-driven truck telematics solution. The truck management solution provides nose-to-tail intelligence that delivers data insights to fleets, streamlining their operations and helping them achieve business goals. The solution includes cargo camera sensors, tractor ID sensors for refrigerated trailers, and safety and maintenance integrations.

The next evolution

Current trends around data reliance will continue and only get more complex, Azuga’s Rani said. He expects the utilization of AI and machine learning to continue to grow and help in a number of areas, especially in terms of safety and route optimization.

“The business decisions will also expand further into tire analytics, insurance claims, and more,” Rani explained. “Essentially, telematics will enable predictive models that prevent accidents, automate the maintenance schedules of vehicles, improve routing optimization further, and so much more.”

The next evolution is in trailers, Trimble’s Orban said. Most trailer tracking today is great for asset location tracking, he said, but trailer telematics and connectivity are still catching up to the level of detail seen in over-the-road trucks today. Orban believes there needs to be a unified portal that brings in trailer and truck data from these disparate sources.

“Before coming to Trimble, I worked at a carrier that used several different telematics providers and several different trailer tracking providers across its fleet,” Orban said. “Each had their own method of communication, and there was not one portal to access them all in one place, meaning back-office staff had to go check several different systems to find answers to the questions they had. We eventually developed our own web portal for the data, but not all fleets have that kind of IT resource.”

For Ross Froat, executive director of FleetPulse at Great Dane, trailer connectivity has become the most interesting topic in the trucking industry, with a long-term focus on automation. But before that can be deployed (or even considered) at scale, trailers will need to be more recognized as a critical part of that equation, Froat noted.

“Telematics have evolved from location-based services to being able to receive data from many different sensors on critical components, enabling true smart trailers,” Froat explained. “The strong relationships between suppliers building new smart components, trailer OEMs, and fleets are extremely strong and will help accelerate future trailer technology advancements.”

“Trailers and trailer equipment take up the most volume on roadways and are the heaviest-weighing vehicles,” Froat added. “Because of this there is true value in continuing to advance trailer technology and also in establishing connectivity between the tractor and trailer. In this way, fleets can gain more insight into asset utilization, cargo security, transportation safety, and predictive maintenance across all their equipment. This will eventually lead to the advancements required for long-haul electrification and autonomy.”

The ultimate goal, according to Jessica Smith, Phillips VP of customer and data insight, is to provide enough data to satisfy the U.S. Department of Transportation and the asset owner, ensure the trailers are meeting all guidelines, and find out if they can be used with autonomous trucks.

“Autonomous trucks don’t work without a smart trailer,” CEO Rob Phillips has said. “If you’ve got an autonomous truck going down the highway with a fireball behind it, that’s a problem.”

Smith pointed out that Phillips Connect’s CargoVision shows the fleet a real-time internal view of what is inside the trailer and if there are any claims so the driver can get on the road much faster.

She explained the company has released multiple sensors and gateways that can monitor both the health and status of a fleet’s assets. It helps the fleets deliver decoded ABS updates with instructions on why the fault code is present and what to do, shows tire pressure, and sets constraints that are customizable at the customer level.

“Our customers are seeing that their regulators are not set at optimal levels and their ATIS systems are not engaging,” she said. “This not only affects tire health but also decreases fuel efficiency.”

In a short time, commercial vehicle connectivity has experienced swift-evolution, and industry stakeholders believe that further advancement in technology will continue to empower fleets with vast new abilities.