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Truck technology keeps fleets safer, productive

October 1, 2005 By    

On June 2, 2004, the top story on many national morning TV shows was the disappearance of two propane trucks from a parking lot in New Jersey. With the age of heightened security, the FBI was so concerned that it sent out a security alert for the missing propane trucks.

 Jeff Bannister
Jeff Bannister

Eventually the stolen trucks were recovered without incident, but the threat of a stolen propane truck to be used as a mobile bomb still exists. It could happen to any company in any location at any given time and it continues to be a top priority for many propane businesses.

To help combat that threat, there is new technology on the market to help prevent theft and to track trucks in the event they are stolen, hijacked or misused. And it all starts with the right truck electronics system built into the propane trucks.

New advances in truck electronics technology have laid the groundwork for innovations such as wireless tracking and monitoring of trucks and the integration between the performances of the propane truck and its body and equipment.

A new theft-deterrent system is built right into trucks that use a specific type of multiplexed wiring called Diamond Logic. In each cab, a set of rocker switches can be installed in the dash as part of the system.

Upon starting the vehicle, a security code needs to be entered in order for the truck to continue running. If the correct code is not entered within a seven-second time interval, the engine will automatically shut down. This feature is specifically designed to help prevent thefts and unauthorized use of propane trucks.

In the case where a truck may already be running, telematics technology can track its exact location. With the latest technology, telematics moves wireless data from each vehicle into the office or work station of fleet and maintenance managers. An in-vehicle device transmits telemetry and location information via wireless technology. The information is displayed through a secure Web site that provides real-time data reporting and administration on each vehicle in customers’ fleets.

For example, with International Truck and Engine’s new telematics system called Aware Vehicle Intelligence, a fleet manager can log on to any computer and check out where the fleet is located and review the vital signs of each vehicle.

The fleet manager can also set up a geofence – a virtual electronic boundary – to be alerted if one of their trucks has entered or left a designated area.

For example, the fleet manager of XYZ Propane can set a boundary around the normal routes of his trucks. He can set up the system so that whenever one of those trucks leaves its normal route area, he can immediately be alerted to it via a text message to his cell phone and/or an e-mail to his computer. He can then check with the driver to see if there is an issue as to why the truck is not in its normal operating area.

A geofence can also be used to set up a boundary around a sensitive landmark such as a power plant or government building. If a truck with telematics built into it entered a restricted area, the fleet manager and possibly law enforcement officials can be alerted immediately to investigate the situation.

While the security ramifications are a high priority for trucks in the propane industry, day-to-day business issues are also a concern to propane businesses.

Trucks outfitted with an integrated telematics system can help fleet managers with maintenance issues as well as being more productive with deliveries.

Vehicle logistics and performance and maintenance records are three key areas that are important for fleet managers to monitor, but can drain a number of resources to manage.

Telematics offers an improved option for fleet managers to track location, monitor performance, diagnose issues, track maintenance needs and ensure driver and vehicle security by taking advantage of wireless telemetry. It gives owners the ability, vision and knowledge to succeed in an increasingly competitive and regulated business environment.

Telematics provides automatic reporting on the battery state of charge, odometer reading and operating time, which can reduce administration and record keeping by automating end-of-day reports.

It also provides early warning of any electrical issues. Pre-emptive vehicle maintenance helps reduce costs. Catching a problem with a truck before it happens eliminates the costs incurred due to downtime, heavy-duty tow and repair.

A service interval management component features automated preventative maintenance schedules for the entire fleet based on mileage, operating hours or calendar time. The major benefits for fleet managers are that it provides information for reducing maintenance costs, automates record keeping, reduces downtime and unscheduled services that could be missed using conventional schedules. It also provides flexibility for service scheduling based on actual usage rather than simple calendar time.

With International Telematics, vehicle fault codes are reported to fleet managers with description, time stamp and component cause. So if an engine light is activated in the truck, the fleet manager can learn about it in real-time online. Internet links provide maintainers easy access to International service information.

In the event of a truck breakdown or accident, a complete telematics system will offer a home notification device in the vehicle that allows the driver to immediately notify a fleet manager via pager, mobile phone, e-mail or Web site. Notifications are time- and location-stamped, so the fleet manager will know exactly when and where the driver encountered a problem.

Even when it comes to body equipment, telematics can assist fleet managers because it can report on current status and usage of body equipment accessories. With this feature, the owner knows how often equipment is being used and maintainers can monitor operating information to drive more efficient maintenance schedules. Several fleets that are already using truck electronics technology say that they appreciate the information that tracks whether or not a hose is still out of stow or even if the chocks are not stowed properly.

Telematics also offers the opportunity to optimize driver performance. Information provided by telematics can report key operator driving habits relating to braking applications, rapid speed changes, vehicle speed and engine rpm. This can lead to lower vehicle maintenance, reduced fuel costs and unscheduled out-of-service time by understanding driver profiles. With the use of telematics, owners can enable driver incentive programs, resulting in less wear and tear on valuable assets.

In addition to the security benefits of having the right truck electronics and telematics system installed on a fleet of propane trucks, it is designed to give customers more confidence in the health of their business, deliver robust data on asset performance and allow managers to focus on running their business, not operating their equipment.

Likewise, truck drivers can be more confident in the health and security of their vehicle, as truck electronics technology will reduce downtime, eliminate paperwork, anticipate maintenance needs and provide an extra connection to their fleets’ security resources and other services. Telematics allows the fleet manager or technician to virtually be inside every truck in person, with full diagnostic and safety capabilities.

Jeff Bannister is director of truck electronics for International Truck and Engine Corp., producer of International brand commercial trucks, mid-range diesel engines and IC brand school buses.

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