Telematics use in commercial work truck fleets is growing.   -  Photo: Work Truck

Telematics use in commercial work truck fleets is growing. 

Photo: Work Truck

Telematics use is growing in work truck fleets. Advancing telematics technology assists truck fleet managers in tracking vehicles, reducing fuel consumption and idling, and ensuring vehicles are properly utilized and maintained.

Several truck fleet managers spoke with Work Truck to share how telematics has made a difference in their fleets.

Telematics Verifies Fleet Status

For the past year, Nexus IS has utilized the Qube2 GPS system from Navman Wireless for its fleet of mainly light-duty pickups. Partnered with technology industry leaders Cisco Systems, NEC Unified Solutions, and Microsoft, the Valencia, Calif.-based Nexus IS offers integrated voice, video, data, and convergence solutions throughout the U.S.

 "The system has become an integral part of our business process. We use Navman Wireless to verify status of our fleet at the start of the service day as well as throughout the day as we monitor commitments," said Tom Lyon, fleet manager for Nexus IS. "We routinely use reports to provide clients with verification of arrival and departure time of our vehicles and technicians."

According to Lyon, the system was initially opposed by nearly 100 percent of the field service staff.  

"It helped identify problem areas in our business and offered specific data used in taking corrective actions. Over time, it has become a routine and accepted tool and provided a better business process for our customers," noted Lyon. "We are a far better field service organization as a result. It also offers terrific selling tools when we demo the solution for potential clients. It gives the customer more assurances."

Telematics Track Heavy Transport, Inc. Fleet

For just under a year, Santa Ana, Calif.-based Heavy Transport, Inc., has used a Navman Wireless tracking system with map screens in all of its trucks and tracks hours of service in a few of its rental cranes. The cargo truck fleet specializes in single truckload to complete project shipments and comprises approximately 90 heavy-duty trucks and 300 cranes.

The system is hooked up to the hydraulic pumps instead of the ignition switch so the fleet not only knows when the engine is running, but also when the ignition switch is on. According to Bob Weyers, general manager at Heavy Transport, Inc., "The trucks are all wired so it shows us when the door is open or closed and when the ignition is on or off."

In the company's crane rental fleet, cranes are sent out for "bare rent" at times, with the rental based on a preset weekly fee. The telematics unit tells Weyers if cranes are used beyond the original rental agreement, as truck drivers are paid hourly while working locally and mileage when working out of town.

"These units made the drivers aware that we know when or if they are not fully honest with their log books and delivery orders," said Weyers.

Heavy Transport experienced a few installation issues in the first few trucks. "We made one call to our rep, and he made it good," said Weyers.

Heavy Transport customers want location updates of trucks pulling their loads. According to Weyers, "the Navman Wireless units let them know instantly where [vehicles] are and the speed they are traveling."

Nestlé Adds Wireless System to Fleet Operations

Nestlé Waters North America, distributor of 15 national bottled water brands, including Arrowhead and Perrier, initiated a series of follow-on purchase orders to implement I.D. Systems' PowerFleet vehicle management system (VMS) on fleets of industrial trucks at six of the company's U.S. plants.

"We are very excited to begin rolling out this innovative technology across additional facilities to expand the benefits it brings to our supply chain organization," said Chris Lyon of Nestlé Waters North America's National Fleet Services group.

The Greenwich, Conn.-headquartered Nestlé Waters initially deployed the system at two sites in mid-2009. The orders were placed by I.D. Systems' strategic marketing partner NACCO Materials Handling Group, Inc., a global manufacturer of industrial trucks, and facilitated by Yale/Chase Equipment and Services, Inc.

Wireless VMS helps Nestlé improve material handling productivity by establishing accountability for equipment use, ensuring equipment is in the proper place at the right time, streamlining material-handling work flow, and providing unique equipment utilization metrics.

A wireless VMS can also help improve workplace safety and security by restricting vehicle access to trained, authorized operators, providing electronic vehicle inspection checklists, and sensing vehicle impacts. 

Schnucks Uses Telematics for Visibility

Schnuck Markets, Inc., a family-owned and operated food and pharmacy company, utilizes a fleet management solution from the fleet optimization software and services company XATA Corp.

With more than 100 stores across seven states, Schnucks serves customers in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Tennessee, and Mississippi. The company uses XATANET's fleet operations software platform and services for real-time communications and to monitor the performance of its 85-unit truck fleet.

"Schnucks is one of the few grocers that distributes its own goods, and the ability to improve our fleet operations and provide exceptional customer service is critical as we face growing industry demands," said Bob Kramer, director of transportation for Schnucks.

Asplundh Increases Safety & Improves Operations

 Asplundh Tree Expert Co., a line clearance service company for the utility industry, began working with Telogis Inc. in 2008 to initiate a full-scale telematics system deployment for its fleet of more than 10,000 vegetation management vehicles, including aerial lifts, split dumps, pickup trucks, and specialized units.

Telogis Fleet is a GPS-based fleet productivity and management platform.
"It is a scalable, easy-to-use, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution for enterprise fleets," noted Jim Orr, vice president, technical services - vegetation management at Asplundh Tree Experts. "We installed more than 7,500 units so far and plan to have nearly our entire highway fleet equipped with the solution by the end of 2010."

Orr was looking for a solution to maximize his fleet's operational efficiency, improve safety, and minimize unnecessary costs.

"In order to be successful, the solution had to be used by all levels of the company, from front-line supervisors to executives," explained Orr. The Willow Grove, Pa.-based Asplundh now tracks start/stop times, vehicle maintenance requirements, routes taken, geographical zone alerts, and use of the auxiliary "pony" motor, which operates the hydraulic system for aerial devices.

"We also track abnormal driver behavior, such as after-hours use, speeding, or route deviation. This means we can get immediate feedback on our crew's performance, as well as gain actionable intelligence that can help us make long-term business decisions for staffing, equipment purchasing, and maintenance schedules," said Orr.

Practically speaking, Orr knows exactly what equipment is deployed to each job and how it is used.

"There's no point sending a large truck out to perform a task a crew in a small truck or pickup could do. It's a waste of gas and also means the larger truck can't be used for a task somewhere else," noted Orr. "In the aftermath of a hurricane or ice storm, it can create a major issue if we don't have the correct equipment for each job."

Asplundh saw several major operational and safety improvements after deploying the telematics system.

"First, we saw a reduction in fuel usage, which helps offset the rising cost of fuel, as well as reduce our carbon footprint. Being able to track our assets ensures we send the appropriate vehicle and driver to each job, improving efficiency and customer service. We also saw a positive change in driver behavior. Drivers were less likely to speed, deviate from routes, or misuse equipment," said Orr.

Asplundh needed the solution to be adopted by all organization levels within the company. Telogis worked closely with the service company to determine the most important information to collect, then provided a solution for delivering it efficiently.

"As with any new system or technology, there is bound to be some pushback from the workforce," said Orr. "To offset this, we rolled the new system out in phases so efficient training and administrative support was available during the learning stage. Some of our workforce also felt like 'Big Brother' was watching their every move."

Orr emphasized safety, customer service, and operational benefits, and it didn't take long for drivers to realize the new system actually made their jobs easier.

"We are still measuring the scope of the technology's benefits throughout our operation, but we fully expect the improved efficiencies will pay for the system in a relatively short amount of time. And, of course, the ongoing safety and customer service benefits also make the investment worthwhile for our company," said Orr.

Telematics Benefits McLaughlin Customers

For approximately six months, Cheektowaga, N.Y.-based McLaughlin Communications has been using the Networkfleet L3500 telematics system, purchased through Wright Express, a  provider of payment processing and information management services, to keep tabs on its vehicles, monitor vehicle position and employee driving habits, reduce fuel use, and track unauthorized use in its fleet of more than 80 trucks.

"We have been able to reduce unauthorized use, speeding, after-hour driving, and idling, and are experiencing about a 12-percent reduction in fuel use," said Michael Grives, vice president, McLaughlin Communications.

The system also benefits McLaughlin's customers and clients. They can track or review the positioning history of any vehicle at any given time.

"About a month ago, one of our trucks was stolen from a jobsite," noted Grives. "Within 10 minutes, we were able to call the police and give them the vehicle's exact location. The truck was recovered without any damage and minimal loss within an hour." 

Grives said he didn't experience challenges in implementing the new system. McLaughlin sent one of its own qualified employees into the field to install all the units into fleet vehicles; the entire process was completed and running in 10 days.  

"We don't know how, or why, we ever tried to operate our company in the past without these units," said Grives. "We operate an installation business that facilitates hundreds of installs in customer's homes daily. The benefits this system provides is immeasurable. It is like having a virtual leash on our company property."

According to Grives, the monthly fuel savings covers the cost of the system.

Water District Shrinks Operating Costs

Faced with dropping revenues from reduced customer water consumption, the Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD) needed to shrink operating costs while still carrying out projects required by state and federal laws.

Located in Riverside County, Calif., EMWD provides fresh and recycled water and wastewater services to a 555 square-mile area. Forced to establish mandatory water use restrictions, EMWD aimed to reduce operating and labor costs to compensate for shrinking revenues.

According to Mark Iverson, EMWD maintenance director, an initial agency goal was more efficient use of its 350-vehicle fleet.

"When the district extended the criteria for vehicle life from 10 years/200,000 miles to 12 years/250,000 miles, we began a study that covered all aspects of fleet management and efficiency. This assessment resulted in changes that have already yielded substantial cost savings and will undoubtedly prolong the life of our fleet," said Iverson.

After evaluating various fleet management products, EMWD installed Networkfleet on all 1996 or newer vehicles. In addition to the potential savings in operating costs, EMWD chose Networkfleet for its plug-and-play installation capability and 24/7 roadside assistance, included in the system's cost.

Iverson explained, "Unlike other GPS products, Networkfleet connects directly to the engine's onboard diagnostic unit (OBD-II) without cutting or splicing wires. After a brief training, EMWD employees completed the installation of Networkfleet on 300 vehicles - without hiring additional staff. It took less than 30 minutes per vehicle."

Because Networkfleet connects to the engine's OBD-II, EMWD can now remotely monitor engine diagnostics, fault codes, and emissions control system status. For example, EMWD staff receives an immediate alert when an engine problem occurs, allowing technicians to proactively repair the vehicle before the problem worsens.

EMWD had to overcome inaccurate perceptions among employees about this type of device.

"Many organizations have the misplaced idea that a GPS system is only useful in situations where employees are suspected of misusing vehicles. Over time, our employees saw they were actually benefiting from from the system. For example, now we can prove a driver wasn't speeding at the time of an accident," said Iverson.

"Networkfleet also automatically collects emissions data, which eliminates the need to bring vehicles in for biennial smog checks," Iverson noted. "Proactive maintenance and automated smog checks save both time and money." 

Kennecott Utah Copper Saves More Than $1 Million

Kennecott Utah Copper's (KUC) operation is unique in that company vehicles don't travel great distances, but are spread out across a 25-mile stretch of land, making it difficult to manage their large fleet of vehicles.

The most significant issue KUC faced was monitoring/policing idle activity. Equipment would be left idling for hours, and managers knew they were producing large amounts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as a result. The excessive idling also led to warranty issues.

Kenny Harvey, mobile maintenance planner/reliability for KUC said, "As our equipment idled, we lost valuable warranty coverage due to the fact that the manufacturers of our light and heavy equipment were basing warranty coverage off hours run, not miles driven."  

Equipment utilization was also an issue. KUC had to find a way to track equipment utilization to right-size the fleet and improve efficiency and vehicle availability. These issues needed to be addressed to ensure vehicles operated efficiently and were completing their contractual or operational lifecycle.

KUC implemented GPS Insight in late 2008 and began to monitor idle time and GHG emissions on 28 vehicle assets. Since that time, the GPS Insight solution enabled KUC to far exceed original expectations. The fleet has now implemented multiple programs and business improvement projects as a result and through the use of the GPS Insight data.

KUC currently monitors 242 vehicle assets and uses the solution to track preventive maintenance intervals and alerts, ensuring proper routing of service vehicles, fuel savings, idle reduction, GHG reduction, and monitoring fleet utilization and availability.

"We saved over $1 million in fuel costs alone in the last 12 months and saved thousands of dollars in other projects using the GPS Insight toolset," said Harvey.

About the author
Lauren Fletcher

Lauren Fletcher

Executive Editor - Fleet, Trucking & Transportation

Lauren Fletcher is Executive Editor for the Fleet, Trucking & Transportation Group. She has covered the truck fleet industry since 2006. Her bright personality helps lead the team's content strategy and focuses on growth, education, and motivation.

View Bio