Greater than the sum

Trucking has an aptitude for innovation by combination

Trucking is a sort of “belt and suspenders” industry. Businesses here like to do everything they can to help assure that something will work no matter what. The only thing we love more than a fool-proof, can’t-fail solution is two of them working back-to-back. That feels even better.

This apparent bone marrow-deep tendency to layer solutions may be why trucking is so adept at discovering ways to combine tools and technologies to achieve results that go far beyond the sum of their parts. The industry has a real aptitude for innovation by combination. Daimler, for example, has introduced a new “Predictive Powertrain Control” system that combines GPS and the ability to see data about the topography of the road ahead with an intelligent cruise control system that can handle speed, braking and shifting. The system was introduced in Germany this May for the new Mercedes-Benz Actros.

Daimler credits the system with improving fuel efficiency by up to an additional 3% in the Actros. The U.S. saw an earlier version of this capability in 2009 as an option in certain Freightliner models. Sure, topographical maps, cruise control and GPS have all been in use for some time, but combined together they go beyond what was possible before.

Fleets are also choosing to layer tools and technologies in new ways. For instance, carriers are combining fuel purchasing systems (both fuel cards and “cardless” programs) with fuel purchase optimization solutions plus fuel management software systems that allow them to track fuel costs by vehicle, driver, lane, type of operation, customer, season, etc., to create new and much more comprehensive approaches to controlling fuel use and cost.

Another example of this gift for innovation by combination is the trend toward looking at the tractor and trailer as an integrated whole when it comes to aerodynamic efficiency. Fleets and their supplier partners are layering aerodynamic devices to reduce drag far more than any single fairing, skirt, boat tail, wheel cover, low rolling-resistance tire or sloped hood could ever do alone. And they are wrapping it all with tools and technologies to help monitor and improve driver performance as it impacts fuel efficiency.

The enormous amount of data that trucking is now accumulating about every aspect of operating a fleet, however, represents perhaps the single greatest storehouse of opportunities for innovation by combination that the industry has ever had. What is more, we now have the sophisticated analytical tools to make sense of it all and then make use of it all.

Just one example, this on the human resources side, is the work that the team at Qualcomm’s Fleet Risk Advisor business is doing to analyze historical data about drivers’ work performances paired with information about the events in those same drivers’ personal lives to help prevent accidents before they happen.

This new ability to “see,” especially when blended with trucking’s longtime inclination to layer solutions, is a potent combination indeed. It is helping to create today’s amazing capacity to innovate and create. And it could not possibly come at a better time.

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