The Present and Future of Connected Fleets

The Present and Future of Connected Fleets

The Where and How

For Casey Littleton, Global Product Manager, Telematics, at Hertz, the benefits telematics brings to his company’s assets are fundamental. “The customer wants to know where the asset is and how is it being used,” he says. “These are the big pain points.”

Not only does the customer want to have this data, Littleton points out, but the Hertz branch office and Littleton himself do as well. With an estimated 75,000 pieces of equipment and trucks that Hertz leases in North America, this is no small task. To make the task smaller, Littleton and Hertz use a proprietary on-line application, Equipment Point, that enables customers, Hertz branches and Littleton himself to log on and monitor where the assets are and what condition they are in.

“Let’s say ABC Plumbing has 10 things of ours, and a San Francisco branch has 300 things to monitor. They can all get on and check to see how and where they are,” Little ton explains. “And I can log on and see all the branches.”

Littleton’s (and Hertz’s) aim to connect all the company’s assets was made more difficult by the fact that Hertz leases assets produced by different manufacturers, and some of these brands come equipped with their own telematics application. But the Equipment Point app solved that issue.

“Equipment Point takes all the different data and transforms it into one language,” Littleton says. “So all branch managers see the same thing.”

Another difficulty was – and remains – that to many of the assets are not “smart,” he says. “Half of my fleet have ‘dumb’ engines. There’s nothing to plug into.”

In addition, the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP) has yet to agree on CAN Bus or JBUS protocol standards, which increased the difficulty of tracking all of Hertz’s assets.

“It’s a challenge to do without creating 32 different boxes,” Littleton says.

To meet that challenge, Hertz approached a Chicago-based company, Morey Corp., which created a box capable of harvesting data from both analog and connected engines.

“The box has three wires, for the analog, or “dumb,” engines and also for the CAN Bus,” Littleton explains. “They custom-built it for me, and now other companies, such as Verizon, are buying it.”

 With “dumb” engines, “there’s nothing to monitor,” Littleton says. In this case, the odometer readings are integrated with data on the back end, such as the maintenance schedule, to provide a rough idea of how the asset is being used.

However, with connected engines, the box provides a broad range of data related to asset use, including fuel use and diagnostic trouble codes.

“The whole idea of the data is that it enables us to be proactive, rather than reactive,” he declares. “That changes the kind of check you have to write.”

This is especially important in view of imminent mandated engine changes, in the United States and Canada, aimed at reducing their collective carbon footprint.

The new, so-called Tier 4 engines, Littleton says, shunt soot into a chamber, rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. Once that chamber is full, the engine heats up and burns off the soot; but the asset must be stationary for that operation to take place.

However, the operator has the ability to manually override this regeneration, and will do so to keep the tractor or truck operating.  The problem is that if he or she continues to override the burn-off, the chamber will fill with soot and the engine will stop, potentially leading to an expensive repair bill.

“If they see that happening, our branch can call or send an SMS or email to the customer,” Littleton explains. “Everyone is interested in the health of the asset and needs to know if someone is abusing the equipment. The branches and the customer want to look. It’s becoming more of an ask every day from customers demanding to see the data.”

Hertz offers this service not only to customers of its own equipment, but to companies looking to have their own fleets maintained. “We put our black box into Shell Oil’s fleet,” Littleton says. “We maintain their fleet for them. They can log on [to Equipment Point] and distinguish what assets they own from what they rent.”

Fleet maintenance has been a Hertz business for some time, Littleton says, adding: “It’s a must-have to be successful.” And connectivity, he adds, has become a vital element of the business. “Connectivity makes maintenance and tracking the routes of the fleet a lot easier and more efficient.”

That brings benefits to Hertz and to its customers. “We take better care of our customer and it helps us save money,” Littleton says. “We pass these savings on to our customers because it’s a cutthroat business.”

Littleton says the day is not far off – perhaps within the year – when all of Hertz assets will have smart engines and come equipped with the Hertz black box.

“I will go to the manufacturers and have them install our black box in their equipment at the factory,” he says. “So when I take delivery, they’ll all have my black box in them.”

The benefit for the manufacturer is that Hertz will buy more equipment from those who agree. “We have the buying power to get this done,” Littleton says, and predicts: “Every piece of equipment I rent will have our black box in it in a year. It’s already one-third done.”


Taxes and Fuel

The truck-leasing company Ryder System Inc. has a different approach to telematics. As Mike Dennis, the company’s group director of Maintenance and Operations North America, put it, “There’s no benefit for us in developing a black box. For the same reason we’re not building trucks. We want to concentrate on what we do well.”

At the same time, he acknowledges that Ryder will need to become more telematics-oriented. “There will be legislation eventually putting a telematics solution in every truck,” Dennis says. “With that coming, we’re going to have to start providing a telematics solution.”

But, again, he insists the technology for that solution will be provided by TSPs. “We want to partner with some of the big players. They’re the ones with the expertise.”

One of the telematics solutions the company currently provides to its customers concerns the reporting of interstate fuel taxes.

“Different U.S. states charge different fuel taxes,” Dennis explains. “Companies are required to fill out trip reports about how much out-of-state fuel they used so that the appropriate fuel tax can be paid to the respective state. Doing it automatically saves companies time.”

Like Hertz, Ryder also provides a telematics solution regarding the proper and efficient use of environmentally friendly equipment and technology. This concerns the mandated use of diesel particulate filters and diesel exhaust fluid (DEF).

DEF is an aqueous urea solution that is used with a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) device to reduce mono-nitrogen oxideemissions from diesel engines. According to Dennis, if a vehicle senses that there is no DEF in the vehicle, it will automatically “derate” or slow down.

“It can also limit the speed to 5 mph. This can have a substantial impact on the customer,” he says.

The aim of this function is to force the operator to adhere to the regulation regarding emissions. Ryder’s solution alerts the customer to an imminent problem in this area.

“If someone operates a vehicle without DEF, we see that coming ahead of time and we can alert the customer,” Dennis says.

The message from Ryder informs the customer that they have a driver operating a vehicle without DEF and that has, consequently, slowed to 55 mph. The message warns that if the driver continues to operate the vehicle in this manner, it will slow to 5 mph.

Dennis says that this occurs frequently because of the many seasoned drivers who see a red light on the dash and think that they’ll just put off responding to it later.

“We monitor this behavior through telematics and coach the drivers and our customers how to get the most out of their business,” he says. “If you have ten drivers transporting something to a client and one of them breaks down, that will have a financial impact, so you want to know ahead of time.”

Currently, Ryder manages some 30,000 individual prisms, which are both OBD capable and can be connected to the J-Bus on heavy-duty vehicles.

 “Ryder installs some of the prisms in our shop and coordinates the other installs as the vehicle is built at the factory,” Dennis says.  “Ryder has coordinated installs and managed prisms on Ryder Lease vehicles, Ryder rental vehicles and customer-owned vehicles.”

The prisms transmit the data to Ryder, where it is analyzed. The company offers four separate solutions for its customers to select from to access that data.


A European Solution

The Swedish commercial vehicle manufacturer  Scania offers its customers three telematics solutions, says Karin Rådström, the company’s director of Fleet & Driver Services.

The first, the Monitoring service, is offered free of charge for 10 years and provides basic information about the vehicle, such as fuel consumption and CO2 emission. The service includes a PDF sent to the customer on a regular basis, weekly or monthly, containing data on all the vehicles in their fleet, including driver performance data such as idling, heavy braking and speeding.

“It gives the customers who are not using telematics an insight as to what the data can bring,” Rådström says. “It’s a kind of teaser, and we get good upselling from it.”

The next level is the Analysis package, which provides the customers access to Scania’s Fleet Management Portal and real-time data on their drivers’ performances, as well as a smartphone app that enables drivers to send fault reports with photographs in case of an accident.

“This package is a differentiator for us,” Rådström says.

Finally, Scania’s Control package combines the other two solutions and adds such services as track & trace and geofencing. “It allows customers to see where vehicles are so they can plan routing,” Rådström explains. “Having a position map as to where the truck is in real time is becoming more of a commodity.”

She says Scania is currently working on a solution that would allow it to group the transports by types and “compare apples with apples. That would enable us to see with every driver what and how they can improve. It would enable us to compare drivers from different fleets who drive the same type of vehicle.”

Currently, Rådström says, Scania also offers a dynamic driver coaching service that compares driving data such as length of trip and average speed with loads with its proprietary benchmarks. The coach speaks with the driver once a month about his or her performance. The service also includes classroom training with a special focus on eco-driving.

Scania also provides an in-cab system with continuous feedback to the driver. Using sensor data from the electrical units, the on-board system also grades the driver, provides data on what to improve and gives feedback in advance of a certain driving event, such as a hill or a curve.

“All this coaching refreshes information and helps reduce gas consumption,” Rådström says. “Our algorithm helps us understand the data, which shows us how to improve the driving.”


The Driver Scorecard

Driver behavior is also at the heart of the telematics services the U.S. fleet management company Donlen provides, says its vice president of Business Development, Nick Ehrhart.

“The goal of our DriverPoint platform is to get the drivers home safely and help them do their jobs efficiently,” he says.“We use a proprietary algorithm to create a driver safety score, using such data as driving speed, rapid acceleration and rapid deceleration,” he explains. “The higher the score, the less of a risk this driver has of becoming involved in a crash.”

Obviously, good drivers bring many benefits of a fleet. “High-end drivers spend less time on maintenance and their m.p.g. is higher,” he says.” Every point in the score represents an improvement of 3 to 5 percent in m.p.g.”

Donlen is currently working on what Ehrhart calls “an all-encompassing driver scorecard that ties things together.” This would integrate measured data such as speed, braking, and acceleration with such non-telematics information as fuel usage and maintenance data.

“That would give you a much bigger picture,” he says. “And it would answer some important questions, such as, Are maintenance costs risk-averse?”

It would also reveal how important non-driving driver behavior is. For example, it could show if the driver who does maintenance every 5,000 miles, as recommended, is more risk-averse than the driver who waits another 2,500 miles.

A more detailed and more broadly encompassing driver profile would be important to a company, Ehrhart says, “because the majority of drivers not only drive, but make sales and provide services.”

DriverPoint also tracks the vehicle, which helps prevent a driver from taking unauthorized trips. The platform allows the customer to determine how much data it wants to use, to avoid any disputes over a driver’s privacy concerns.

In addition, it sends alerts if the driver is going over the speed limit or is  driving at an inefficient speed. “Every 5 m.p.h. over 65, you lose 7 percent of efficiency,” Ehrhart says.

While the expanded driver profile is to be introduced in 2015, Donlen is also working on providing maintenance alerts based on trouble codes. “We will be able to tell a customer if the vehicle needs to go in for maintenance immediately or next week,” Ehrhart says.

He sees a very bright future for telematics in commercial vehicles in the United States. “Today there’s a 20 percent penetration rate, but it’s growing rapidly,” he says. “There is more and more interest from fleets that previously said we’re not going to do it. Eventually all fleets are going to have it.”


Fleet Workforce Management

Another way to regard the use of telematics in managing a fleet’s drivers would be as workforce management, says Randy Field, Senior Business Development Manager at Panasonic System Communications Company of North America..

“Our systems have been used as workforce management tools, where we are combining telematics with workforce management,” he says.

As an example he cites the case where three drivers use the same vehicle. “We connect into the vehicle’s computer via OBD2, and measure speed, acceleration and deceleration,” he explains. “If you have a driver who accelerates quickly and brakes rapidly, the vehicle will need more maintenance time.”

Field says Panasonic’s algorithm will predict how often a vehicle needs maintenance based on the driver’s behavior. “Oddly,” he says, “some of your best employees drive the worst.”

He notes that driver’s scorecard of their driving has become very popular, “but it’s not being used for predicting maintenance.” And there is a problem of driver resistance to being closely watched.

“One of the realities in this industry is that mobile workers do not want to be watched,” Field says. “That’s why they’re mobile.”

 He notes that technology is continuing to change how fleets are being monitored and how telematics is being employed. And the primary driver, Field says, is cost reduction. “Fleets are always looking for the next tool they can use to reduce operating costs.”

He believes that next tool may well be video analytics. “The on-board camera will be connected to driving events, and it will analyze what you saw – for example, what was in front of you when you braked hard,” he says. “The video could also be used in case of accidents.”

The prerequisite for that stage, however, is the existence of a sophisticated 4G LTE network with almost universal coverage.  With that as a given, Field sees the next phase of fleet telematics as one where workforce management is combined with telematics and videos on a single platform.

“This will give large fleets the capability to integrate their own analytics, and TSPs would migrate from selling boxes to offering solutions,” Field says.

In that area, he says Panasonic has created a solution architecture team to provide services for the enterprise back end, to help the enterprise manage the hardware.

“We’re trying to transform ourselves into a company that anticipates,” Field says. 

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Telematics Brazil & LATAM 2014 on September 24-25, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Telematics West Coast 2014 on October 30-31 in San Diego, USA, Telematics Munich 2014 on November 10-11 in Munich, Germany, Connected Fleets USA on November 20-21 in Atlanta, USA and Consumer Telematics Show 2015, January 5 in Las Vegas.

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