When one thinks of truck drivers, the term “computer geek” doesn’t often spring to mind.
However, today’s truckers, and trucking companies, are becoming increasing tech-savvy as a way of doing business better.
Mike Hopper, CFO of Memphis-based Ozark Motor Lines Inc ., is seeing more of an emphasis on technology in the trucking industry, from operations to the trucks.
“People see truck drivers as not a very modern people, but you’d be surprised,” he says.
Ozark Motor Lines estimates 30 percent of their drivers have personal laptops in their cabs, which they use on breaks to watch movies or send e-mail.
The trucks have come a long way in recent years as well.
Today’s more modern trucks have in-cab communication systems with keyboard and computer on board. Ozark Motor Lines’ systems tell where a truck is through an hourly ping, which is recorded. Also, if the driver calls in, the location is recorded.
These systems have been around since the late 1990s, but prices have dropped to where they’re becoming more standard.
Hopper remembers these systems used to be $4,000 a unit, but are now roughly $1,000 a unit. No matter the cost, Ozark Motor Lines has found the systems to be critical to operations.
“We need to be in touch with truckers,” Hopper says. “It’s an improvement of the communication system between the tractor driver and the dispatcher.”
Jeff Konrad is a vice president with Traffic Consultants Inc. , a company which works with customers to control and reduce transportation costs.
He’s seen the benefit of providing truckers with improved communication and tracking.
“Over the years, it’s improved the service level and accountability of the trucking industry because there’s more visibility now,” Konrad says. “Years ago, you’d ship something on Monday, hope it got there on Friday and never knew where it was in transit. Now, with the improved technology, you can know where it is on a daily basis and pinpoint the delivery to within the hour.”
With the improved technology, carriers can track shipments much better, which ultimately can help customers decide which company to use.
“Customers want not only reports of when the product ships, but when it’s delivered,” Konrad says. “That’s a way of keeping a scorecard on the various carriers.”
Ozark has also taken advantage of more recent truck technology, investing in forward-looking radar which monitors the distance between tractor and the vehicle in front of it.
“If that distance is not being maintained, it will sound a beep that the driver is closing on something,” Hopper says. “If the driver doesn’t react and the object is getting closer, then it takes the accelerator from them. The driver’s not able to give it more fuel.”
If that distance closes even further at a fast rate of speed, the system will eventually start applying the brakes, going increasingly harder until it stops the vehicle.
“It’s an expensive proposition to put that on trucks, but if you run over something or somebody, heaven forbid, that’s very expensive,” Hopper says.
Ozark will have this system, which runs $2,000 a unit, on its current order of 200 trucks. The company currently has more than 700 trucks in its fleet.
These trucks also have an anti-roll-over feature.
“If you’re going around a curve too fast, it will indicate you need to take corrective action,” Hopper says.
Memphis-based Intermodal Cartage Co. Inc., which specializes in transporting import and export ocean containers, has also made investments in on-board technology.
The company contracted with Minnetonka, Minn.-based PeopleNet, a provider of mobile communications systems, for on-board computing equipment that is installed into each tractor.
Although not required by the government, the company saw this on-board equipment as the wave of the future and knew it would eventually become industry-wide, according to Randy Wright, executive vice president of Intermodal Cartage.
The overall cost to implement PeopleNet was close to $1,800 per truck.
The system works similar to a phone subscription where there is a monthly fee for each unit. That cost is $45 per month.
Intermodal Cartage needed a way to increase the efficiency of its operations, and the partnership with PeopleNet offered them that solution. The equipment has freed the company’s driver managers from spending most of their shift on the phone, keeping track of drivers. The system allows them to send dispatches directly to the drivers from the dispatch system.
“Likewise, the drivers are able to send a message upon their arrival at a consignee or when they are ready to depart a shipper’s location,” Wright says. “These e-mails update the dispatch system, which provides real-time accuracy to their dispatch records. Customers have grown to enjoy this real-time data and now can plan on arrivals of their freight without a multitude of phone calls, the norm in the not-so-distant past.”
A part of the PeopleNet offering has been the drivers’ hours of service logs. Since all commercial motor vehicle drivers are governed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, this system allows the driver managers to better manage drivers’ hours. The system automatically notifies the drivers of the approaching end to their available hours for driving. Prior to using this system, logs were managed manually without the use of any computers and audits were always performed seven to 14 days after a driver completed their log. With this system, violations have decreased dramatically.
“The older system forced a driver to round his time to the closest 15 minutes, but with our PeopleNet system, it calculates down to the minute and second,” Wright says. “Therefore, most of our drivers have actually gained minutes on the driving line.”
Ozark Motor Lines Inc. Transportation company HQ: Memphis President: Steve Higginbotham Employees: 880 Address: 3934 Homewood Phone: (901) 251-9711 Website: www.ozark.com