Keep on trackin'

April 1, 2005
TANKSTAR USA Inc, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Service Transport Co, Houston, Texas, are now operating with PeopleNet onboard computing and mobile communications

TANKSTAR USA Inc, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Service Transport Co, Houston, Texas, are now operating with PeopleNet onboard computing and mobile communications systems.

In Canada, Seaboard/Harmac Transportation Group, Concord, Ontario, also has implemented the system supplied by PeopleNet Canada in Mississauga.

The PeopleNet system provides GPS-based location tracking, two-way voice and data communications, electronic driver logs, and Internet-based fleet business tools to provide communication between business owners, dispatchers, drivers, and shippers.

Tankstar began the implementation of PeopleNet's system with its subsidiaries Schwerman Trucking and Rogers Cartage Co, and the system will be rolled out across its other operations, Wheatfield Trucking, Bulk Logistics, and North American Bulk Transport, later in 2005.

At Service Transport, the move to PeopleNet was partly prompted by security concerns for its operation that primarily transports chemicals throughout the 48 continental United States, Mexico, and Canada.

Seaboard/Harmac chose the system for its petroleum and bulk lubricant divisions. The units haul gasoline, distillates, heavy fuel oil, and asphalt as well as jet fuel, marine fuel, and industrial lubricants for all major oil companies from the refinery to various customer outlets from Ontario to Newfoundland.

Information tech

Given Tankstar's customer focus and a strong heritage of innovation, Jack Schwerman, Tankstar president, said he realized that future breakthroughs resided in the realm of information technology. The problem he faced was that the acquisition of different bulk carriers had Tankstar operating with a variety of mobile technologies.

For Schwerman, that turned out to be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, he had actual performance data that he was able to analyze to determine both the cost and benefits of each system. On the other hand, he didn't like what he discovered — that the onboard systems deployed were running into tremendous cost overruns in terms of installation, maintenance, and operations.

“We had learned to live with the costs,” said Schwerman. “But we weren't happy about it because we believed that there would be a lot more information available. That's when PeopleNet came in and got everyone's attention.”

At Service Transport, Jim Brown, vice-president, operations and business development, said: “We have used the PeopleNet satellite tracking as a key ingredient of our safety and security response plan. Satellite tracking plays an important role in giving us the location of our units. We are putting a geo-fence where the truck should be and when it should be there. Eventually, we'd like to geo-fence the entire route. If one of our units goes out of route, that could be a cause for concern; and we'd like to know about it.”

As it looked to upgrade security, Service Transport found that its existing mobile technology provider not only couldn't meet the challenge, but its existing onboard computers were in dire need of maintenance. That proved to be the impetus Brown needed to make a change.

Bob MacQuarrie, Seaboard/Harmac petroleum operations general manager, said, “The improved communication capabilities offered by PeopleNet gave us the tools we needed to ensure that our drivers are equipped with the knowledge and practical skills needed to provide efficient, dependable delivery services. That's what the company's petroleum customers are looking for.”

In making the switch to PeopleNet at Tankstar, Schwerman was seeking primarily to boost the tracking and dispatch capability for both the Schwerman operation and the Rogers business. What he found was a more robust, feature-laden system that allowed him to accomplish more of his operating and safety goals as well. For instance, PeopleNet allowed him to construct geo-fences around certain terminals that automatically trigger a report when a truck arrives or departs from those locations.

“We have trucks in remote locations where there are no facilities and no management, so this move-alert is especially helpful,” Schwerman said.

“We went with PeopleNet because they are always trying to change and improve their technology,” said Brown. “They offered more features and seamless integration with our dispatching software.”

Performance review

One of the features, Plus PeopleNet through its PerformX feature, offers the ability to track key performance indicators such as idling, truck speed, and miles per gallon. For example, the reports on drivers exceeding company speed settings or excessive braking can be used to help target and improve training programs to improve overall performance.

“This information allowed us the ability to take cost out of operation by correcting driver behavior and by becoming more proactive in terms of our preventive maintenance program,” Brown said. “As you begin to learn all the different capabilities of the system, you quickly realize there's more than just messaging to take advantage of. If we can use the system to help us recognize some of our inefficiencies, we can take the steps needed to improve.”

Getting his drivers comfortable with the new system also proved to be less of a challenge than he had thought, according to Brown. “We showed them the benefits, the ability to communicate via e-mail with their family as well as the visual display available through PerformX that enables them to track their performance,” Brown said. “It didn't take them too long to see the benefit.”

At Tankstar, the PeopleNet system also allows the carrier to feed timely and accurate data into its quality process, known as its “Error Free Shipments” program.

“This program defines and communicates to all employees our vision of success through each individual job function,” Schwerman said. “Each employee is trained to this program and its standards.

“Error Free Shipments stresses on time performance, dispatch standards, maintenance schedules, safety guidelines, billing issues, and many other vital areas of our operations. Tracking performance is vital to our ultimate goal of zero defects in all aspects of providing service to our customers. All areas are subject to performance review through non-conformance tracking and reporting.”

Pick-up and delivery

At Seaboard/Harmac, the automated dispatch system helps manage scheduled product pick-up and delivery requirements, and is integrated with the PeopleNet in-cab computer system. All truck safety and communications are managed through the system.

“In our operation, one of the most critical elements we provide our customers is notification of pick-ups and delivery as well as live position updates,” said MacQuarrie.

The information is automatically entered into the company's dispatch system and sent automatically via the PeopleNet system to the truck cab. In the past, the information was transcribed to paper and relayed to drivers via phone lines, an expensive, inaccurate, and sometimes unsafe alternative. The addition of the PeopleNet technology has allowed MacQuarrie to wean his drivers from cell phones that were traditionally used in dispatch.

Automating the paperwork trail has another benefit as it allows the company to better manage inventory for its customers. For instance, customers pay for orders when they are placed, regardless of how much product is actually delivered. Since shipment and customer data is automatically reported both at the rack and at the customer's site, the PeopleNet system allows for immediate billing corrections.

About the Author

Mary Davis