By Brian Albright, Field Technologies magazine
A tablet-based fleet management solution could generate $1 million in fuel savings at Heniff Transportation.
For companies that operate large vehicle fleets, a GPS-based fleet management solution can be a boon to efficiency and safety. But these solutions have to work reliably and, more importantly, be embraced by employees in order to realize any of the benefits.
Heniff Transportation Systems had a mobile fleet management solution in place, but the system was unreliable, and drivers were unwilling to utilize the technology on a consistent basis. As a result, data was incomplete, and the company was unable to leverage the system to improve its dispatch and routing efficiency or to provide feedback to drivers about their safety performance. A new solution that combines in-cab rugged tablet computers and a location-based fleet management solution has allowed the company to streamline administrative operations, save fuel, and improve driver performance.
Heniff is a tanker company specializing in liquid bulk transportation of hazardous materials and other chemicals. Based in Oak Brook, IL, the company operates eight terminals in Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Tennessee, and Louisiana, with a fleet of 300 tractor units and 550 trailers.
Although the company used a fleet management/ tracking solution for several years, the hardware was older (“green screen” units), it was not user-friendly, and there were problems with the software (including false “breadcrumb” GPS information). As a result, most drivers did not use the system. “We had hardware, software, and support issues, which made it difficult to use,” says Joe Neal, IT director at Heniff. “We could never achieve high compliance with that solution. It was a glorified text message box.”
In 2010, Neal and his team began evaluating replacement solutions. “We wanted something that could automate fuel tax reporting, accurately track our assets, locate our drivers and our equipment, and make dispatching easier,” Neal says. The company selected the PeopleNet fleet management solution and worked with the vendor to find new in-cab hardware that could help the company expand the solution to provide additional functionality.
Tablets Provide Benefits Outside Of The Truck
Neal says the company wanted the option of taking the mobile computers out of the trucks and using them for other tasks during their routes. “We were struggling with data collection at the customer sites, and we wanted a process similar to UPS/FedExstyle delivery, with electronic signature capture and delivery information, inspection reports, etc.,” Neal says. “We also wanted something we could grow into, utilize the base features first, and then add on gradually.”
Heniff and PeopleNet evaluated a number of different tablet devices before selecting the MobileDemand xTablet T7000 tablet. The MobileDemand unit was not only rugged, but offered a number of expansion opportunities that would allow Heniff to add more functionality moving forward (like bar code scanning). Since it was based on Windows 7, Neal says his company felt it would be easier to support and grow with in the future.
“There are things we want to do later that we aren’t doing now, and we wanted a tablet that gives us the ability to expand the solution. For instance, we want to have customers sign for shipments directly on the tablet computer and generally steer us away from paper,” Neal says. “We’ve already had customers ask us about bar code scanning and adding bar codes to a bill of lading. We aren’t doing that today, but it’s an option down the line.”
Drivers Trained In 45 Minutes On New Solution
Heniff began deploying the new system in early 2011. Each truck was outfitted with the MobileDemand tablet and an in-cab speaker for audible driver feedback. The tablet is tied into the PeopleNet GPS equipment. The entire solution is fully integrated with the PeopleNet dispatch solution in place at Heniff.
The company organized a core implementation group at each terminal, enlisting terminal managers to be local “champions” of the solution. Training can be done remotely using the desktop sharing functionality in Windows 7. “If I was training you, I could show you what you needed to do right on the computer screen,” Neal says. “That cut down the training time for the drivers by half. It now takes just about 45 minutes to train them on electronic logging and dispatch.”
To date, the system is only partially deployed. About half of Heniff’s 300-truck fleet has been outfitted with the mobile hardware, with the remainder to be installed in 2012.
Each morning the driver logs in to the MobileDemand unit using a unique driver ID and password, performs their pretrip inspection, records the inspection information on the tablet, and reviews their route. The drivers can accept or reject each stop (if they decline an assignment, the drivers have to send an explanation back to the dispatcher via the tablet device). Once the driver hits the “start” button on the tablet and is in transit, the computer automatically begins tracking the vehicle’s movements and provides turn-by-turn driving directions (via the Maptuit NaviGo solution), if requested. The system also provides automated voice navigation for hazmat or truck routing, which is essential for bulk carriers like Heniff.
“Having hazmat directions took a big load off the drivers and the dispatchers,” Neal says. “Before, the terminals would get calls all the time because the drivers needed directions for hazmat routes. We don’t get those calls anymore from the drivers that have the new hardware.”
Each customer location is assigned a geofence with a one-mile radius. Once a truck enters the geofence area and stops, the driver is prompted to report whether or not he has actually arrived at the location (if the truck is simply stopped at a light, the driver can ignore the prompt; he is prompted again when the vehicle makes additional stops). At the pickup location, drivers enter information into the tablet about their load and which trailer they are hauling. Once the vehicle is on the move again, the system automatically logs the load/unload times and notes that the unit is in transit.
All of the route information (arrival for pickup, loading, unloading, etc.) is recorded automatically, along with each driver’s hours of service information and all state fuel tax information. If customers call the company’s service center for information about their loads, Heniff representatives can easily look up the status of each truck.
Importantly, the system automatically prompts the driver to record their status. “That sounds like a small thing, but it’s really a big deal,” Neal says. “Use of the system is very high.”
In addition to location monitoring/ tracking, PeopleNet’s SpeedGauge module monitors driver behaviors and vehicle speeds. Heniff can monitor driver behavior (hard stops, speeding) and provide incentives for good drivers as well as an opportunity to correct poor driving practices. “That gives us a tool to catch those bad driver habits before a trooper does,” Neal says.
User Interface Improves Solution Adoption
Since the solution is not yet completely rolled out, Neal says the company is still pulling together data on performance improvements. One promising sign is that at the depots where the units are already in operation, compliance with the system is approaching 90%.
“Some of the drivers were a bit intimidated, and some had never really used a computer before,” Neal says. “One thing we didn’t like about the other system we had was that even just to send messages, we needed a cheat sheet in the truck because it was all macro-driven. With PeopleNet, it’s much easier because when they arrive at a customer site, it prompts them. It asks them if they’ve arrived at the location, and they hit yes or no on the screen. It’s very user-friendly.”
The primary ROI will be generated via fuel savings, Neal says, and the company estimates it could save $1 million annually. Those savings will largely come through reduced idling, reduced out-of-route miles, and improved shifting patterns. “We can get that data from the PeopleNet solution,” Neal says. “What’s their idle percentage? Are they shifting in the sweet spot? Are they going out of route? Once we have that, we’re building incentive programs to improve performance and showing the drivers how they can save on fuel. We have a baseline to measure from now, so we know what improvements we need to make to reduce our costs,” Neal adds.
Dispatch planning will also improve, since the company will have better visibility into each driver’s hours of service information. “We have a fixed number of hours the driver can operate during the day: 14 on the clock or 11 behind the wheel,” Neal says. “Now we can maximize those hours. We always know where the drivers are on hours, which was difficult before. Now we have real-time data, so we can match future trips with the driver based on hours left on the clock.”
Tablets Eliminate Manual Logging
Since the tablet computers serve as an electronic logbook, Heniff has been able to reduce the amount of time drivers spend updating manual logbooks (along with the cost of purchasing them). “Logbooks aren’t cheap, and the clerical time spent scanning and checking for errors was significant,” Neal says. “Now we’ve almost eliminated the review process. The eLog flags issues for the safety department, giving us a higher level of accuracy, and we can manage by exception.”
That will lead to a reduction in hours in the back office. “Even contacts with drivers will drop,” Neal says. “For a single load, the driver and dispatcher might call back and forth six or seven times. Now we get automatic notifications when there are issues.” Neal says that the move to e-logbooks will eliminate the man-hour equivalent of 1.5 employees at each terminal, in addition to eliminating the cost of purchasing paper logbooks.
Manual fuel tax monitoring is also being eliminated, since the solution can track how many miles each vehicle traveled in each state. Once the entire fleet is equipped with the new system, Neal says the company expects to further improve administrative efficiency by eliminating the manual processing of the fuel tax information, saving one man week per quarter in administrative effort.
Maintenance will also be improved, since the company will be able to determine the mileage each vehicle is capable of achieving given its potential when loaded or unloaded. If a vehicle is getting less than optimal fuel mileage, the company will be able to identify those vehicles and determine if there is a mechanical problem that needs to be corrected.
“The PeopleNet solution can take the data that is being generated by the trucks and compute how many miles per gallon we should get out of each truck, depending on whether it’s loaded or unloaded,” Neal says. “They can analyze that for weight and driving habits and come up with theoretical fuel economy for each truck. If we see that there is a big difference between the theoretical MPG and what we’re actually getting, then we know something is wrong.”
Tablets’ Functionality Will Enable Solution Expansion
Once the entire fleet is updated, the next step will be to add the mobility component: allowing drivers to use the tablet computers to capture customer signatures and other information during loading and unloading. The company also plans to add bar code scanning capabilities that would allow drivers to scan the bill of lading and the tank to ensure the right product goes into the right tank. The drivers will eventually clock in and out on the tablets as well, instead of using a time card at the depot.
Neal says the company would like to incorporate in-cab document scanning for customer paperwork, too. “We use truck-stop scanning right now, which cuts down on billing time, but with mobile scanning in the cab we could move to the next level,” Neal says.
With the new hardware in place, Heniff is positioned to expand its fleet management solution to improve all aspects of its vehicle operations, from customer service to fuel management to safety. “What we love about this system is that it provides improvements in just about every area of our operations,” Neal says. “We get alerts when there are problems, and we know exactly where the vehicles are at all times, so we can provide an unbelievable amount of information for the customer. From a customer service standpoint, this is phenomenal.”
Tablets Offer Versatility
Heniff Transportation Systems needed a rugged, expandable hardware solution for its fleet management solution, one that would allow the company to add new functionality beyond basic dispatching, routing, and vehicle tracking functions. The company found a solution in MobileDemand’s xTablet T7000 tablet computer, which runs the PeopleNet fleet management software the company has deployed.
The xTablet T7000 meets the MIL-STD-810G standard for durability, runs the Windows 7 operating system, and has an integrated numeric keypad and all-light readable 7-inch display. At Heniff, the xTablet T7000s are mounted in the cab of each vehicle, and equipped with an external speaker to provide audible driver prompts.
“If one of the xTablet T7000s is dropped out of a truck, that’s a 6-foot fall,” says Joe Neal, IT director at Heniff. “The xTablet T7000 is a really solid, durable device. We haven’t had a single hardware problem in a year’s time, and that’s quite a testament to the tablet’s reliability.”
The xTablet T7000s will also allow Heniff to add new capabilities to its fleet solution moving forward. The company will leverage the touch screen display to capture customer signatures during loading and unloading, and plans to add a bar code scanner to scan bills of lading. The units will also allow the company to add in-cab printers and document scanners, to further streamline the invoicing process.
“As soon as we saw these tablets, we knew they were what we needed,” Neal says. “This was the only device that gave us everything we wanted in one package: signature capture, mobility, a built-in camera, bar code scanning, and data entry.” For more information on MobileDemand’s tablets, visit www.mobiledemand.com.