Consumers expect fresh, quality food when they visit their favorite stores and restaurants. That’s why grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants and food service facilities often invest a great deal of money and resources in their stores, kitchens and distribution centers to ensure quality and freshness.
Suppliers and distributors should demonstrate their commitment to providing transportation that delivers food quickly, safely and efficiently so it maintains as high quality and freshness as possible. And yet, how do those suppliers and distributors hold their transportation costs down in these difficult economic times? How do they respond effectively when there is a recall on certain food products already in transit without costly mass disruptions to the supply chain?
Full-service leasing providers offer trucking fleets and food distributors various solutions not only through the trucks and trailers they lease, but also fleet management solutions that give them the ability to track shipments on the road in real-time. And with full service leasing, fleet management solutions can be made very affordable since they are built into the lease payment.
But not all fleet management solutions can offer the degree of transparency and traceability grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants and food service facilities want in their supply chains. There are several attributes and functions fleets and distributors should look for in a fleet management solution.
First, does the fleet management solution offer over-the-air programming so that upgrades don’t require fleets to take their vehicles off the road to update the system? Does it offer an onboard computing and mobile communications system that provides reliable, bandwidth-rich coverage? Is it built for wireless performance? It should. The solution should be compatible with a wide variety of back-end systems. It should also offer the versatility to add different tools to monitor vehicle and driver performance or offer drivers in-cab navigation assistance, depending on the specific needs of fleets and their customers.
For example, Bellevue, WA-based PacLease offers PacTrac, a scalable telematics solution powered by Minneapolis-based PeopleNet, that doesn’t suffer from the transmission latency or dead zones typical on single mode networks and bandwidth-constrained satellite communications networks. The over-the-air programmable solution provides GPS-based tracking, onboard voice and data communications and Internet-based business systems integration. This allows fleets not only to communicate with drivers and know where they are, but also to provide useful information about their trucks and drivers.
Fleets and distributors should look for fleet management solutions that track vehicles in real-time so that their managers know where trucks are instantly. It should also monitor vehicle engines through their engine control module (ECM) and report results regularly so that managers can evaluate how drivers are performing in relation to fuel economy, vehicle speed, idle times and engine speed.
PacTrac offers that functionality in a tool called PerformX. It can help fleets and distributors get a firm handle on driver performance, which can greatly affect fuel and vehicle maintenance costs. With PacTrac, fleets can add onboard event recording, which gives them second-by-second recorded data that managers can use to monitor driver habits, alter behaviors, take corrective action and possibly prevent accidents.
An enhanced version of PacTrac features an application called PACOS, an automated messaging and geofencing platform. The system can be set at different thresholds depending on the route and the needs of the shipper or fleet. So, for example, managers can monitor drivers and know when they are out-of-route, delayed or stopped.
Fleet managers can also set up the system to notify shippers when the truck reaches a certain distance from their door or loading dock so that personnel know exactly when shipments will arrive. Or the system can be set to provide exceptions-based alerts that notify shippers only when an issue will delay arrival.
A good fleet management solution should offer companies an option that allows drivers to fill out driver trip records electronically to improve the speed and accuracy of the information. Such functionality means drivers don’t have to fill out fuel and trip sheets manually and hand them in at the end of their shifts. Since the system collects the data automatically, the chance of lost or forgotten information is greatly diminished, which reduces potential compliance issues. Dispatchers can use the information from electronic trip records to do a better job of assigning loads to drivers.
PacTrac also allows fleets to add eDriver Logs, an electronic on-board recording tool which can automatically calculate driving hours of service through a combination of GPS locations and PerformX engine diagnostic information. Drivers indicate if they are on duty, off duty, in the sleeper berth, or driving through the message display. The information can then be relayed to dispatchers or fleet managers. Drivers can also show up-to-date logbooks to law enforcement or DOT officers, which can be viewed from the cab, on demand.
Fleet management solution providers are starting to offer tethered trailer tracking tools. These tools allow fleets to monitor when and where the trailer door is opened and closed, variances in tire pressures, when and where the trailer is hooked or unhooked and the temperature inside a refrigerated trailer. That information can be crucial in determining the temperature of food during transit and when and where trailers have been accessed.
PacTrac currently offers compatible untethered trailer tracking solutions through partner providers, but will soon offer a tethered trailer tracking solution using the latest in radio frequency identification technology. This tethered solution will allow the PacTrac onboard computer to automatically recognize the RFID tag and sensors on trailers.
Once the truck and trailer are connected and run for a specific distance that’s pre-determined by the fleet manager, the system will begin recording and relaying information about the trailer. That means drivers won’t have to remember to manually input trailer identification numbers.
With the proper fleet management tool, full-service leasing can help fleets and distributors simultaneously increase fleet operating efficiency, reduce supply-chain inefficiencies, strengthen relationships with suppliers and customers and keep costs in check. It can also provide them the information they need to respond quickly and efficiently to food product recalls and provide grocers, restaurants and food service operators the traceability they require.