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How satellite data enhance tractor-trailer uptime

May 31, 2024
Satellite data can help navigate between too much and too little maintenance and keep trucks on the road longer and in better shape.

Performing maintenance on equipment that doesn’t need it is a waste of time and money. It also takes assets off the road that could be earning money for your company. On the other hand, deferring maintenance for too long risks wasting even more time and money. What’s a fleet manager to do?

The answer may be right over your headabout 1,200 miles over it, to be specific. That’s the altitude where low-flying satellites circle the Earth. One of the most valuable things they do is send and receive small bursts of data that can help you navigate between too much and too little maintenance and keep your trucks on the road longer and in better shape.

Data tells the story

A 2023 study by Penske found that more than half of large and medium-sized fleets are using telematicsonboard sensors and systems that do everything from GPS tracking to monitoring of fluid consumption, engine runtime and tire pressure. For small fleets, the numbers are smaller but still substantial: about 37% of are using them.

Using data from these telematics systems, fleet managers can schedule maintenance based on actual usage and performance per vehicle instead of on the calendar. The savings can be dramatic. One fleet of 50,000 food and beverage trucks used telematics data to turn $50,000 cylinder-head failure catastrophes into manageable $3,000 repairs. With those failures affecting 80 trucks on average, the fleet saved $1 million in just four months.

Most trucking telematics systems use cellular to send and receive the data that keeps fleet managers informed about performance and usage. But as anyone who drives long-haul can attest, cellular isn’t available everywhere. According to the Federal Communications Commission, 16% of America’s land area has no LTE service. These are the wide, open spaces far from cities and interstate highwaysbut where people live and businesses need to receive, warehouse and ship goods.

For connectivity that goes everywhere, satellite is the best solution. The common perception is that satellite connectivity is expensive, finicky and unreliable. That might have been partly true in the past, but it is old news today. Satellite services have specialized into internet access, imaging, GPS tracking, and short data messaging. A satellite transmitter the size of a quarter can now be embedded in a telematics system and deliver 3 daily data updates from almost anywhere in the world for one-half cent a day.

Trailers need maintenance too

On any given day, there are nearly 4 million Class 8 big rigs on North American roads, and an average of 2-3 trailers for every one of them. Those trailers need maintenance, too, but they have no independent engine or systems to monitor. A company in Canada, TGI Connect, provides a solar-powered GPS satellite tracker for attachment to trailers. The small device has a 10-year life, is recharged by the sun and has enough onboard intelligence to transmit an alert if it detaches from the trailer. It transmits GPS coordinates over satellite on a schedule determined by the customer.

Using the location data of trailers in motion, TGI generates accurate estimates of trailer mileage. Its cloud-based software alerts customers when that mileage approaches maintenance milestones they have set in advance. The data persuaded one customer that it was performing maintenance on trailers twice as often as needed. With each maintenance session consuming an average of $750 in lost billable time, cutting maintenance activity in half generated meaningful savings.

That simple piece of dataexact GPS coordinatescan contribute to operational improvements for fleet managers in so many ways. It can cut the time it takes to match trucks to trailers, reduce the number of owned and rented trailers a fleet needs to keep on hand, and turn trailer detentions into profit centers. Satellite-connected telematics systems can do more than monitor the truck: in remote areas beyond the reach of cellular, they can prevent crimes of opportunity such as theft of fuel or cargo. Like any good technology, once you adopt it, you discover all it can do for you that you never imagined possible.

About the Author

Martin Jefferson

Martin Jefferson currently serves as the Commercial IoT Data Services Manager for Globalstar. With over 30 years of experience as an experienced senior technical sales

executive, Jefferson helps drive the satellite IoT business for the brand and acts as key liaison for Globalstar’s Value Added Manufacturers and Resellers.

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