A stretched-to-the-limits supply chain has highlighted trucking’s essential role in transporting goods throughout the country. But a trailer shortage that’s forecasted to extend far into 2022 is forcing trucking companies to make do with the trailers they already have. As a result, improving trailer-to-tractor ratios by maximizing trailer utilization has become even more important than ever.
Trailer utilization refers to the percentage of cargo space that’s used, and also to the percentage of time a trailer is on the road making money for the company. It’s common for less-than-truckload companies to underutilize the capacity in their trailers. It’s also common for trailers to sit idle at least 30% of the time. Every minute a trailer is parked in the yard or the maintenance shop, the company’s return on investment in that trailer is reduced.
One reason trailers sit idle is the increased use of drop-and-hook, designed to maximize drivers’ time. Companies need extra trailers to ensure that when the driver is ready to pick up another fully loaded trailer at their destination, the load is ready, too. But lack of visibility, underloaded trailers and trailer maintenance issues also decrease trailer utilization. That’s where smart trailer technology, including trailer GPS trackers and trailer cargo sensors integrated with an edge-to-cloud smart trailer platform, can help.
Increasing trailer visibility
Simply increasing the visibility of your existing trailers using a trailer tracking device can reduce the number of new trailers you need.
Trailers don’t have engines, so it’s not possible to install the vehicle-powered telematics units used to track trucks. But you can track the real-time location of trailers with a solar-powered asset tracker. Visibility into trailer location reminds managers of trailers in the yard or elsewhere that are empty and ready to be deployed. When combined with door open/close sensors, it can also provide useful insights into unauthorized access to cargo as well as how long it takes a trailer to be loaded and unloaded. Moreover, companies can run reports in their fleet management or smart trailer software to track their trailer utilization metrics and strategize ways to improve them.
This visibility doesn’t end with managers in the back office, either; most fleet management software allows companies to access trailer location and utilization data on-the-go via a mobile device or tablet.
Maximizing capacity utilization through load visibility
When companies fill their trailers to capacity, they reduce the number of trailers they need. But too often, trailers hit the road with empty cargo space.
With trailer cargo sensors, installed by the trailer manufacturer or by the trucking company as an aftermarket addition, fleet managers can tell at a glance whether a trailer is loaded appropriately for full truckload or less-than-truckload, how much volume is left, which trailers are sitting empty and which are full and ready to go. If a trailer on the road is underloaded, a manager can instruct the driver to backhaul and pick up additional cargo from another supplier. Managers can also identify trailers that are carrying excess loads and intervene before an accident occurs.
Over time, trucking companies can leverage capacity utilization data to identify trailers on certain routes that are consistently underloaded and work with customers to find ways to move more product with each load or combine several customers’ loads that are headed in the same direction.
Trailer maintenance is costly in more ways than one. Transportation companies risk major liability if trailers are over utilized without regular maintenance. At the same time, labor and parts are expensive, and so is every minute a trailer sits in the shop or on the side of the road. Monitoring a trailer’s condition through sensor technology can reduce the need for manual inspections and also minimize breakdowns caused by tire blowouts, wheel failures and braking issues.
A tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) tracks each tire’s pressure in real time and can alert the driver and fleet manager if the pressure becomes dangerously low. A wheel-end temperature system (WETS) monitors the temperature of each trailer wheel. If the temperature becomes unsafe, an alert is delivered in time to prevent wheel failure and avoid potentially catastrophic accidents.
With sensors, the maintenance department gains new insights into wear and tear on the trailer. Technicians can take preventive action before a small problem like a low-pressure tire or a faulty brake line turns into a big headache that takes a trailer out of service, or worse, results in a nuclear verdict from a massive collision caused by a trailer breakdown.
Enabling resource sharing
Once fleet managers gain a better handle on how their trailer fleet is being used, they might consider trailer sharing if they have excess capacity. At least one technology company is developing a web and mobile app that lets trucking companies rent unused trailers to carriers that need them. This would benefit both parties. The company that owns the trailers gains revenue, and the renter can use the trailer to transport more goods, adding to its bottom line.
Tractor-trailers are the lifeblood of shipping and commerce in America. For trucking companies, using smart trailer technology to track and monitor trailer performance data and keep trailers operating at maximum capacity is the way of the future.