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Last fall, Work Truck and Automotive Fleet magazine held a free 60-minute webinar: "How to Manage Your Truck Fleet Effectively." The live interactive event was sponsored by Ford Fleet. Sherb Brown, VP of Bobit Business Media and Auto Group publisher, moderated the event, which featured panel experts Paul Russell, marketing manager, and Bill Frykman, business development manager of Ford Work Solutions (FWS). 

Presenting Productivity Through Technology

Ford developed Ford Work Solutions, a suite of productivity-focused software applications and product features, to help lessen fleet managers' daily workloads, enhance productivity in work environments, and promote efficient time management. 

FWS partnered with DeWalt, Garmin, Sprint, Magneti Marelli, MasterLock, and Microlise to make this innovation possible. 

In the webinar, Ford presented the FWS process, which includes four key components in running a truck fleet operation:

  • Operate a business from a company truck (Computing).
  • Track company-owned tools (Tool Link).
  • Track a company fleet employees and vehicles (Crew Chief).
  • Secure valuable items (Cable Lock). 

Defining A 'Work Truck'

The ability to work in an office setting takes on a new meaning with FWS. With the help of Magneti Marelli and powered by Microsoft Auto, which provides full high-speed Internet access via the Sprint Mobile Broadband Network, an in-dash computer fits in the in-vehicle radio location, transforming truck or van applications into fully functioning mobile offices. 

Frykman explained the in-dash computer is the "heart" of FWS. He cited the technology convergence of cell phones and BlackBerrys, usually carried in a hip pocket or stored in a handbag. While these devices can be useful, their size can present difficulties. With a 6.5-inch touch screen, the in-dash computer device is more accessible and easier to see and operate, said Frykman. 

Secured and mounted in the vehicle, the device features stable automotive-grade technology compared to many laptop capabilities. It operates on Windows CE, an industrialized operating system.

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The in-dash computer transforms into a "work truck" office equipped with:

  • Wireless keyboard.
  • Download capabilities for such documents as wiring diagrams, work orders, or reference materials.
  • Internet connectivity.
  • Word processor and spreadsheet applications, calculator, and calendar.
  • Available wireless printer to print invoices or work orders.
  • Access to e-mail.
  • Hands-free phone with Bluetooth connection.
  • Text messaging capabilities.
  • Navigation provided by Garmin, with audible turn-by-turn directions and access to real-time traffic updates, fuel prices, and weather conditions. 

Monitoring Tools on the 'Go'

Russell presented features of another FWS component - Tool Link, designed with customer input regarding the "pain points" of their daily activities and work environments. 

Tool Link, a radio-frequency identification (RFID) asset identification system was developed in partnership with DeWalt. The system scans tools, equipment, and other valuable asset inventories. Each tool and equipment piece is tagged with an ID number. Tool Link sends radio waves to the van box or truck bed to determine if the tagged tools or equipment are present. 

"This process is not only limited to tools and equipment," said Russell. "You can tag anything you'd like to. The benefits are clear. You've got your tools onboard and once you've finished at the job site, you can check to see if all your tools are on board." 

Fifty readable tags are provided with the Tool Link system. Additional tags can be purchased on the FWS Web site. Tested for performance and durability, the tags are weather-resistant and function in rain, heat, and cold. 

Tool lists can also be tailored to a particular job, or industries. For example, a contractor can organize a Tool Link list based on framing equipment. 

Russell related a real-world business case example of Tool Link benefits. A contractor needed a set of critical tools to complete a job. He forgot to include a nail gun among the tools, which cost not only $240 for a replacement, but also a loss of productivity. 

With Tool Link, the contractor could have been certain the right tool was available at the right time by its tool and inventory tracking features. "[Tool Link is] a straight forward solution to losing items," said Russell. 

"Ford is the first OEM to provide this in-vehicle application and gives huge benefits to truck and van customers," Russell noted. 

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Managing the Crew

The FWS Crew Chief application combines telematics and diagnostics to help both small and large fleets manage and monitor: 

  • Real-time vehicle location and maintenance tracking.
  • Vehicle and driver performance.
  • Vehicle diagnostics. 

Crew Chief-generated data is linked to a Web-based application, Microlise, for use by a fleet administrator in an office or any Internet-accessible location, including an FWS in-dash computer. 

The Crew Chief unit is independent of the in-dash computer and is located in a black box mounted underneath the dashboard - no driver interaction required. The black box includes a GPS chip, connection to vehicle's electrical network, a small CPU with storage, and a cellular modem. 

During the webinar, Frykman provided an overview of notification types Crew Chief can identify, including low tire pressure, oil level, vehicle location, status reports, etc. 

"This customizable feature will allow fleet managers the flexibility to manage more effectively. Crew Chief can focus on vehicle location or how vehicles are performing," said Frykman. 

Securing the Goods

Ford teamed with Master Lock, an industry-leading lock manufacturer to produce Cable Lock. According to Russell, Cable Lock, while not technology-based, is a practical and functional tool. A heavy-duty 10-foot braided steel cable locks down tools and equipment in a truck bed. 

"Customers tell me when they have valuable items in the back of their truck beds and want to go to lunch for a quick bite, they want piece of mind that their tools are safely secured," said Russell. 

Driving Ford Work Solution to Customers

FWS is available on the 2009 F-150 and Super Duty pickups and E-Series vans. The in-dash computer, Tool Link, and Crew Chief are factory-installed and ordered through dealerships. Cable Lock is dealer-installed. 

All FWS content carries a three year supply, 36,000-mile warranty and is supported though normal Ford channels. 

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