January 2017, TruckingInfo.com – Department
This trailer’s sitting untethered in New Mexico, but its reefer unit can monitor temperatures of the load and transmit data to home base, no matter where that is. Photos: Tom Berg
Historically, trailers haven’t been expected to do much more than carry payloads with as little bother as possible. They are sometimes set up to haul special commodities and accomplish specialized tasks. They can be made very rugged to shrug off abuse along with everyday wear and tear, and resist deicing chemicals that cause corrosion. But compared to the electronics-embedded tractors that pull them, trailers aren’t too smart.
But that’s changing, especially with temperature-controlled trailers. They are studded with sensors, primarily for temperature monitoring to protect perishables. Both shippers and carriers want to know the temps are right, including multi-compartment trailers with a different temperature in each. So Thermo King and Carrier Transicold, the major makers of the refrigeration/heating units, have developed ever more sophisticated sensors, monitors and controls to protect loads, and to quickly self-test their operating cycles prior to trips. Now reefer units can record and document those temps, and transmit data to operating people if they want real-time numbers.
E-T, call home. The electronic tracking device on the nose of this Schneider van, parked on a rural lot in western Ohio, allows operations people in Wisconsin or elsewhere to know exactly where the vehicle is, whether it’s loaded or empty.
Telematics — the automatic or on-demand transmission of data to a home base — allow truck operators to know how their vehicles are doing without quizzing drivers. In the 1980s, Qualcomm pioneered the tracking of tractors with its Omnitracs device. The small satellite antenna on a tractor’s roof told fleet managers where each vehicle was and, through inference and scheduling, what it was doing. Managers and drivers began calling that antenna, and the electronic box inside the cab, “the Qualcomm.”
“We still run into that,” says Mark Alsbrook, product manager at Omnitracs. “Some people still call it that,” even though Qualcomm sold the product and the operation behind it to Vista Equity several years ago. Omnitracs later got into trailer tracking, and now has products that broadcast a trailer’s exact location, one with a solar panel that keeps the device’s battery charged whether or not it’s tethered