Trailer Tech Market in Fast Lane

You can’t get much lower on the tech chain than a trailer, right? It’s not much more than a box on wheels. However, a growing interest by the transportation industry to bring the lowly trailer into the wired world is firing a hot market in tracking hardware and services.

According to a report released Wednesday by ABI Research in Oyster Bay, N.Y., in North America alone, the percentage of trailers tracked will more than triple by the end of the decade.

Worldwide numbers are also strong, the report noted, with subscribers to tracking services almost doubling over the last year.

10 Percent Penetration

There are about 5 million trailers in North America and only about 10 percent have been outfitted with tracking devices, according to ABI Research Associate Steve Bae.

He noted that efficient fleet management is a major draw to many companies adopting tracking solutions.

“With these trailer tracking systems, they can monitor their trailers whenever they want,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “They can use their trailers more efficiently.”

Tight Margins

In trucking today, efficiency is very important. “Margins are so tight — they’re pennies in trucking,” Roni Taylor, executive vice president for marketing for SkyBitz, a tracking firm based in Sterling, Va., told the E-Commerce Times.

“In order to be competitive, they need trailer tracking,” she continued. “They need to turn over their trailers more often. They can’t waste a driver’s time looking for trailers.”

According to Taylor, SkyBitz charges US$430 for each tracking box placed on a trailer, $15 for setting up the unit and $10 a month to service it. She said that, on average, customers usually recoup their initial investment in the system in about nine months.

“If they happen to have a trailer stolen that’s loaded with pharmaceuticals that cost $9 million and you recover it, then you’ve done your ROI [Return on Investment] in less than a day,” she maintained.

$50 Billion Lost

With annual cargo theft losses anywhere from $25 billion to $50 billion, security is another driver behind the tracking boom.

Supply chain shrinkage has been increasing over the last 10 years, but recently it’s been inflamed by low margins on many products, according to Mark Eppley, president of SC Integrity in Seattle.

“A lot of people competing with Wal-Mart, for example, acquire products at the lowest possible cost and don’t ask questions,” he declared. “You’ve got a market out there for hot merchandise that’s in standard distribution. A lot of it gets pulled out, stolen and recycled through other distributors.”

Cannonball Call Home

Tracking systems allow operators to quickly assess if something has gone awry with a shipment. “If a trailer is off a regular or designated route, the operator can see it and contact the driver about it,” Bae said.

He added that information from sensors placed in the trailer can also be monitored over the Internet by the operator. Those sensors can tell the operator if a door has been opened or cargo removed.

Taylor noted, however: “Security is the bonus that comes along with utilization efficiency. Almost every one of our customers will tell you that.”

Long Battery Life

She added that one of the selling points of SkyBitz’s tracking solution is the battery life of its hardware.

“When you have unpowered assets and you add technology to that asset, you don’t want to keep going back and recharging or swapping out batteries,” she explained.

She claimed the battery life for SkyBitz’s hardware to be four to five years.

SkyBitz conserves battery life by moving the calculations for determining the position of a trailer out of the tracking box and into the company’s network operations center.

Every Second Counts

The system works like this:

  • The SkyBitz box on the roof of the trailer “wakes up” and takes a snapshot of its location using GPS satellite data. How often it takes its snapshots is determined by the customer.
  • That raw GPS data is beamed to SkyBitz’s communication satellite which, in turn, beams it to the company’s network center.
  • At the center, the raw data is converted into location data and pushed to the customer through the Internet.

“That, on average, takes less than 37 seconds,” Taylor said.

“Our competitors have a GPS chipset in their devices and solve for GPS location in them,” she explained. “So instead of staying on for under 10 seconds, their devices have to stay on for a minute to a minute and half.”

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