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All About GPS Tracking for Fleet Trailers

GPS-based electronic tracking systems first made inroads with over-the-road truck fleets to keep tabs on freight trailers as they’re hauled great distances and parked in far-off lots after cargo is offloaded.

But every application for this dynamic technology differs where trailers are concerned, which is why utility fleet professionals should dig into how available systems match up to their specific operations.

Steven Berube, senior business development manager, off-road vocational, for Geotab (www.geotab.com), said there are several reasons for electric utilities to consider deploying GPS technology on their trailers. “The first is to help solve a common but expensive accident. There are cases where a trailer will be left at a site and sometimes forgotten. With GPS technology, managers can quickly track down the location of their trailers and save time and money they otherwise would have spent manually tracking them down.

“The second reason is that GPS technology can help reduce the risk of lost or stolen goods and trailers,” Berube continued. “By leveraging GPS technology, fleet managers can quickly locate and follow their assets. For instance, if a trailer is stolen, GPS tracking can help locate the trailer for quick retrieval.”

Trailer Rightsizing
Another reason to deploy GPS technology, he said, is to figure out how many trailers the fleet truly needs. “Many fleets don’t realize that they are buying more trailers than they need. Using a GPS system, managers can better understand their trailer utilization, which allows them to make better-informed purchasing decisions.

“Lastly,” Berube pointed out, “a GPS system can help keep vehicles on the road and reduce maintenance costs. Fleets often use the mileage information from the tire gauge and the tractor to determine when a vehicle requires maintenance; a GPS system can provide a more accurate account of the trailer’s mileage.”

He added that if fleets want to “take it a step further,” integrating GPS with a telematics system can yield more detailed insights into the vehicle’s condition to better inform a comprehensive predictive maintenance program.

Tapping Data
“Modern asset and GPS tracking solutions help to increase operational efficiency and improve productivity and customer service while focusing on driver safety,” according to Erin Cave, director of product management for Verizon Connect (www.verizonconnect.com). She said that by implementing GPS tracking, fleet managers can “stay informed about a range of asset-related conditions, from temperature changes and door openings to vibrations or movement.

“Ideally,” Cave continued, “utilities want to have their assets and vehicles on one comprehensive fleet and asset management software platform. We work with customers to determine exactly what hardware and software configuration will work best for their schedules, teams, size of their fleet and other specifications.” She also noted, “You can still track assets even when they’re outside of the cellular network 4G/5G LTE range by choosing GPRS cellular network data.”

Cave pointed out there is “a range of different GPS vehicle trackers available, and they can collect different types of data. Some are powered by the vehicle itself while others use a battery. Some devices can easily be plugged into the vehicle, while others need professional installation under the dashboard.” She said that along with battery power, trackers can be run using 12V DC, 24V DC, 48V AC, 110V AC or 220V AC power.

Power Points
“Power units can be adjusted to whatever you want drawing from the trailer’s power supply, and non-powered trailers can have battery-powered units installed in a very inconspicuous location,” according to Mike Kollat, director of sales for HoloTrak (www.holotrak.com).

He said battery-powered devices are “extremely configurable” to conserve life. “Configurations are easily modified to ‘check in’ at adjustable intervals. The battery life of these types of trackers can last anywhere from one to 12 years. When you think of the life of a trailer, it can be on the road one day and then sitting in a yard for a few months. It can potentially go idle for years. But with battery-operated trackers, you will still have the visibility to the trailer when you need it.”

Kollat also recommended keeping in mind how the device is set up to report battery health back to the network. “If a trailer is checking back once a day for location purposes only, it should last over 10 years. If the GPS tracker is configured to monitor movement-based events, then battery life will drop to around three years. So, there are variables that play a role in battery life, and each tracker can be customized. Not all batteries will last the same amount of time. Also, ambient temperature plays a role in battery life as well.”

Pricing
What’ll it cost? Verizon Connect’s Cave said that “the price will vary depending on the specific needs of the customer and will be based on the number of units, services needed, and if the customer will self-install or opt for professional installation.”

Geotab’s Berube said its’s difficult to “narrow in on a rough price as it is very wide-ranging. Prices would be dependent on what a fleet is looking to get out of its GPS unit. Comprehensive units that supply detailed insights might be more expensive than basic units, but in most cases, the cost savings of deploying a more comprehensive system, such as telematics, outweigh the initial cost.”

“Current costs for trailer trackers range from $75 for your basic tracker and up to $300 for more advanced trackers equipped with additional sensors,” HoloTrak’s Kollat advised. “We offer flexible month-to-month plans along with annual subscriptions. Adding additional auxiliary sensors and cameras will increase the equipment and subscription cost.”

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

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David Cullen

David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

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