COMPANY: Bob Pfeffer Jr. vice president, Bob's Transport & Storage, Baltimore, Maryland
OPERATION: Truckload commercial/contract carrier and public-warehouse company. Operates fleet of 100 tractors and 400 dry vans to serve customers in Mid-Atlantic states.
PROBLEM: How can a truckload fleet more accurately - and more quickly - track trailers, especially when they are frequently dropped at customer locations?
"We move mostly dry grocery products," reports Bob Pfeffer Jr., vice president of Baltimore-based Bob's Transport & Storage Co. Inc. "That means we have to drop a lot of our trailers at retail stores or warehouses until they can be unloaded by customers.
"Until recently," he continues, "we could only track the trailers manually, although our semi-computerized dispatching system helped pin them down."
However, according to Pfeffer, this amounted to a catch-as-catch-can approach that limited operational flexibility. "A customer may move a trailer from where we left it without notifying us," he points out. "And, as time goes by, a trailer can `fall through the cracks,' and then take a lot of time to track down."
So, figuring that new technology had to offer a better method, Bob's Transport & Storage started its own search of the technology marketplace for a trailer-tracking system.
SOLUTION: "We began looking for an electronic system capable of tracking our trailers when they were unhitched," Pfeffer advises. "We only found one company that had a product out that we could actually put on one of our trailers and test. The other systems we came across were only 'concepts,' which could not be demonstrated in actual service."
Applying the old saw that when you snooze, you lose, Bob's Transport opted to test what it deemed the only available untethered tracking system - Orbital Sciences' GemTrac - on ten of its trailers.
The test went well enough that Bob's Transport has 100 tracking systems on order for its newest trailers. "Eventually, we'll have it fleet-wide," says Pfeffer.
The GemTrac setup consists of a nose-mounted unit that contains a GPS (global positioning system) device, wireless-communication gear, and a rechargeable battery. In addition, a group of sensors placed in the trailer report on trailer volume (loaded or unloaded), door position (open or closed), and temperature (such as for reefer freight).
As Pfeffer sees it, the beauty of the system is that it does not rely on a tractor to power it. As long as the battery in the trailer-mounted unit is charged, location and sensor data will be transmitted. The battery starts recharging, which takes about an hour, as soon as tractor power is hooked up.
"We have the GemTrac systems programmed to give two location positions per day," Pfeffer relates. "It can be set to give you as many position reports as you like. But since it runs on a battery when the trailer's untethered, we felt twice a day was adequate."
Bob's Transport pulls in its GemTrac position reports by accessing the Internet, avoiding the expense of setting up a dedicated line for that function.
For Pfeffer, the payback from untethered trailer tracking will be realized in vehicle utilization. "Eventually," he points out, "we anticipate that our improved trailer tracking will boost our efficiency by about 15%. That would mean we could operate with fewer trailers - or expand our business without adding more rolling stock."