LOS ANGELES -- After years of using wireless technology to keep tabs on drivers, motor carriers are beginning to employ similar technology to track trailers in a move they say will improve customer service, enhance the productivity of trailer fleets and help drivers locate equipment faster.
"The number one driver frustration is the trailer search," Todd Ericksrud, vice president of operations at Schneider Logistics, told a seminar Tuesday sponsored by the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Schneider National, based in Green Bay, Wisc., first teamed up with Qualcomm Corp. in 1988 to develop a satellite communications system to track its extensive fleet of cabs -- called power units -- and to communicate wirelessly with drivers via in-truck computers. The technology enables drivers to receive dispatches from the carrier and transmit their arrival and departure information without having to get out of their trucks.
Now, carriers want to apply the same wireless technology to track the approximately 2.1 million trailers in the U.S.
Trucking companies lose track of their trailers when the equipment is being carried by rail or are being hauled by other motor carriers in partnership arrangements. Thousands more trailers are scattered across the country at shipper warehouses and distribution centers.
Schneider National last year introduced its "untethered trailer tracking" solution, equipping 18 vans with special hardware that provided real-time visibility through a wireless communications system.
Schneider National says the wireless technology will boost customer satisfaction, and consequently generate more business, by giving customers visibility of their cargo whether or not the trailer is being pulled by a Schneider tractor. A poll of shippers revealed that 44 percent would reward the motor carrier with more freight if it would provide trailer status updates.
Ericksrud said Schneider National conducts more than 2,000 individual trailer searches a month, forcing drivers to spend an average of three hours and drive 40 miles to pick up a trailer in that time. Use of the wireless technology should significantly reduce these unbilled miles.
The wireless technology will also help motor carriers better manage their fleets, potentially allowing them to carry more freight without having to purchase more trailers.
Schneider plans to equip 80 percent of its trailers with wireless technology in the coming year. Although it won't disclose the cost, Schneider doesn't expect to see a positive return on the investment until mid-2005.
At the same time, Schneider said it has formed an industry consortium to further develop wireless trailer technology.