The drive for efficiency in the transportation sector has never been more achievable than it is today, thanks to the rise of data gathered from in-vehicle sensors and GPS navigation and tracking systems. Understanding and reacting to this data in real-time is where opportunity lies, particularly for fleet management.
The interpretation and analysis of data informs fleet logistics practices and can lead to significant operational efficiencies. The consulting group Accenture estimates that an analytics-informed fleet operations strategy can help to, on average, reduce fleet size by more than 15 percent, reduce maintenance costs by more than 10 percent and achieve fuel savings of more than 8 percent.
Providing in-vehicle communications and outfitting fleets with sensors, and connectivity to gather the data from those sensors can seem like a significant outlay, especially in today’s delicate economy. Logistics and transportation businesses around the world are facing shrinking margins and correspondingly smaller ICT budgets. However, the opportunities afforded by equipping a fleet in this way can provide significant time, money and resource savings, easily justifying the cost.
Sensors linked to the vehicle can report data that has many different impacts on operations, such as engine status, engine temperature and efficiency, fuel consumption, tire pressure and hydraulic fluid levels. Cargo sensors can allow monitoring of in-transport conditions like temperature and humidity, or detect tampering. Vehicle speeds, braking patterns and other driver performance statistics can be gathered to ensure drivers are operating vehicles within safety tolerances and adhering to speed limits or other legal regulations.
Logistics management teams can use these insights in a tactical way by improving the performance of that specific vehicle, or strategically, by analyzing the data across their entire fleet to derive improvements to operating processes, for example, optimising vehicle maintenance schedules or cargo loading procedures for increased efficiency.
GPS-based tracking facilities can ensure that drivers are keeping to agreed upon routes and taking mandated rest breaks, and sound real-time alarms based on geofencing to alert logistics managers if a vehicle deviates from expected routes. Again, this data also can be used strategically to understand best practice and most efficient routes, reducing delays or bottlenecks throughout the network.
Safety and Security
As well as ensuring optimum fleet efficiency, safety and security of cargo and personnel also are key considerations for fleet owner and operators, with good reason. The FBI conservatively estimates the annual revenue impact of cargo theft in the United States as $30 billion, and this figure does not take into account the consequential losses that theft can cause, such as effects on personnel injured through violent theft, the impact thefts can have on insurance premiums or the cost of vehicle repair and replacement.
In-cab communications allow drivers to instantly raise the alarm in the case of accident, theft or cargo tampering, as well as keep the logistics teams up to date with more routine information, like traffic jams or highway accidents. The onboard telemetry monitoring mentioned earlier can be configured to alert HQ automatically in incidents like these, either to corroborate and deepen the information received following an incident, or raise the alarm independently of the driver.
An example of connected fleet in action concerns a specialist security and risk management firm, commissioned to monitor the transportation of heavy equipment and material for the construction of a 710-kilometer pipeline across the mountainous tropical forest in Papua New Guinea. For the protection, safety and security of the drivers against piracy or potential road traffic accidents, the construction company mandated that each truck be installed with a tracking, monitoring and security alerting system.
The telematics system installed met all the clients’ requirements, including being able to set a safe speed threshold and monitor driver peak, average and over-speed events; alerts when vehicles entered hazardous areas or deviated from their designated route. The system also enabled panic alerts from the driver, and provided the capability to remotely immobilize vehicles over the air to help mitigate risks occurring in real-time. Installing this capability in their fleet helped to ensure early and effective interventions to save cargo and lives.
Powering the Connected Fleet
Sensors on their own are relatively useless without a way to gather the data they generate in real-time. Whilst it is possible to record the data manually and collate it once the vehicle returns to depot, this method is inefficient and can result in delays and inaccuracies from lost or misreported data. Waiting to receive this data also leaves logistics companies unable to respond to incidents as they occur, such as accidents resulting in traffic congestion or vehicle breakdown.
Advances in connectivity technology mean that real-time wireless connectivity for remote monitoring, tracking and control is not only an option; it is rapidly becoming the norm. Currently, cellular is the technology of choice for enabling remote vehicle connectivity, due to its price, performance and availability. But as markets evolve, the limitations of cellular have become more and more apparent.
Cellular networks are broadcast through masts scattered throughout their operational territory, and their distribution is designed around a population coverage model, meaning that their coverage for more remote and rural locations is often patchy or non-existent. Quality of service can often be a concern with cellular connectivity, as its popularity in the consumer market can lead to congestion and service degradation. Regionality is also a crucial concern when choosing a connectivity solution. The operation of individual cellular networks typically only cover one region or country, meaning that the logistics company wanting to operate internationally either pays more in roaming fees or has to rely on multiple service agreements with different cellular operators, leading to an increased administration burden.
Satellite technology can enable the same levels of remote wireless monitoring and control of a fleet, while countering the drawbacks of cellular connectivity. As satellite isn’t dependent on the same kind of ground-based infrastructure as cellular, it can provide coverage that encompasses a fleet’s entire operational footprint. Global satellite operators, like Inmarsat, can cover national and international fleets with the same network, eliminating the need to manage relationships with multiple networks. Reliability is another crucial factor and satellite services do tend to be more reliable than cellular, enabling 24/7 connectivity for any fleet.
There is also a myth that satellite is too expensive for most businesses, although the cost of ownership compares favorably to cellular connectivity, especially when the cost of international roaming is taken into account.
The increasing reliance on data analytics in the land transport industries means that it is by far the most popular use case for satellite-based M2M connectivity with industry figures of more than 1.5 million in-service units in 2014 and revenues of $378.8 million, which is forecasted to grow to just over 3 million in service units and revenue of $854 million by 2024. North America is the biggest transportation market in terms of numbers, but emerging economies in countries like Brazil are seeing rapid growth.
However, that’s not to say that satellite and cellular technologies are incompatible. In fact we’re seeing increasing demand for dual-mode connectivity, using LCR (least-cost routing) to route data from vehicles to HQ in the most efficient and cost effective manner. Over the next few years, as the market develops and we move further towards remote vehicle control and automation I see this dual-mode connectivity becoming more and more vital with satellite connectivity’s coverage and reliability supporting cellular for constant, real time operational visibility and control of an entire fleet logistics network.