Telematics enables better fleet management by providing operators and managers with end-to-end fleet visibility. But how does a fleet telematics system work?
Fleet management solutions use a telematics control unit (TCU) embedded in the onboard devices on all their vehicles. A TCU dictates what data is collected and transmitted to the telematics provider’s servers and then to the end user.
Simply put, the TCU is one of the most integral parts of a fleet telematics solution.
In this article, we’ll explain what TCUs are, how they work, and why every fleet should use them to boost fleet efficiency and safety.
What is a telematics control unit?
A telematics control unit (TCU) is an onboard device for fleet vehicles that collects telematics data, including location, speed, and engine diagnostics. Operators can view and use this data on a fleet telematics solution to gain end-to-end fleet visibility and boost efficiency.
The more advanced your TCU and fleet telematics solution is, the easier it is for operators to manage the fleet.
For example, the CalAmp Application takes in data captured by the TCU to allow geofencing, give preemptive maintenance reminders, monitor and send alerts related to driver behavior, and collect historical data for reporting and analysis.
This data helps operators oversee and optimize the entire fleet rather than focusing solely on vehicle tracking.
When paired with a driver interface, a TCU also acts as an Electronic Logging Device (ELD) for commercial fleets. It automatically records driving hours, miles driven, and Hours Of Service (HOS). It is mandatory for most commercial drivers as per the ELD mandate established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
An ELD automatically records the date, time, and the vehicle’s location details, miles driven, engine hours, HOS, and duty status. It aims to ensure drivers don’t exceed the maximum hours they can drive according to the ELD mandate. Consequently, it reduces the risk of collisions and other accidents.
A TCU that is part of a unified fleet telematics solution can streamline compliance, improve efficiency, reduce costs, and boost customer satisfaction.
How does a telematics control unit work?
TCUs are commonly used in the automotive industry. Each one is fitted into the CAN-BUS port of a commercial fleet vehicle and interacts with different subsystems within the vehicle, acting as a microcontroller.
A TCU typically consists of an electronic processing unit, an external user interface for managing device setup and configuration, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a GPS, a mobile communication unit, a microprocessor, memory to store sensor data, a battery module, and a Bluetooth module.
All of these components are used to facilitate data collection. This data is then transmitted to cloud servers via mobile networks. These servers interpret the data and then present it to users via the websites and applications of telematics service providers.
Operators want a TCU and fleet management solution that collects and sends data in near real-time. Rapid data collection improves fleet safety, visibility, and productivity. With CalAmp, for example, operators get instant alerts for harsh driving and can instantly reach drivers to coach them on how to improve.
The top 7 benefits of a telematics control unit for fleets
Fleet owners and managers can use a TCU to boost their operations.
Here are the seven advantages of using TCU and fleet management software.
1. Improve fleet communication
A TCU that uses cloud servers enables instant two-way communication between drivers and operators. It also improves communication between vehicles.
Let’s say a driver sees a massive traffic jam up ahead that will lead to a major delivery delay. With a TCU, they can instantly reach an operator for quick assistance and get help deciding on a new route. The operator can also warn other nearby vehicles to avoid this particular road.
Simplifying communication like this makes fleet management easier and boosts collaboration between drivers and managers.
2. Rapid real-time fleet reporting
A TCU combined with telematics software like the CalAmp Application can enable data collection and reporting in near real-time. As a result, operators and managers get instant access to data on the locations and health of their fleet vehicles.
Operators can also use vehicle data to perform preemptive fleet maintenance.
Quick data collection enables operators to take action instantaneously rather than having to wait hours or days.
3. Better fleet maintenance
A TCU collects crucial information about the fleet vehicle’s engine and data from other sensors, like brakes and wheels.
Operators can view this information to determine which trucks require maintenance before an issue goes from minor to major.
When a fleet vehicle is stuck with a mechanic for a long time, it reduces fleet efficiency and increases the pressure on other drivers to compensate for delayed deliveries.
Advanced telematics solutions like the CalAmp Application use TCU data to send automated maintenance alerts and regular preemptive maintenance reminders.
4. Boost fleet safety
A TCU acts as an ELD for fleet vehicles and is crucial for fleet safety and compliance.
Using ELDs with advanced fleet telematics solutions enables instant alerts related to risky driving behavior, like harsh braking, speeding, and tailgating.
Telematics solutions like CalAmp’s offering can also provide a distracted driving avoidance solution to help drivers avoid accidents. And should a collision or another type of accident occur, operators can use video-based telematics to get instant alerts.
Monitoring drivers using this system can significantly improve existing on-the-road protocols and build trust between drivers and managers.
Fleet owners can use sensors to maximize asset safety and prevent cargo theft or loss.
5. Effective fleet management
Fleet management involves monitoring and controlling route planning, scheduling, safety, compliance, maintenance, reporting, and more.
These areas require accurate data collection, and a TCU is essential for this. Without a TCU, operators are left in the dark until the vehicle breaks down, the driver arrives at their destination, or another on-road incident occurs.
With a TCU, operators can rely on a continuous monitoring system. They gain visibility over each fleet vehicle, its current status (including its location and other sensor data), and its overall health (engine diagnostics).
This consistent oversight enables rapid, informed decision-making and better analysis and insights, and managers can make their fleets more efficient in response.
6. Easier compliance
Compliance is a key concern for many fleet owners and operators. Failure to comply with national, state, and local regulations can lead to significant fines, and fleet vehicles that are suspended due to infractions cause delivery delays.
Fleets should integrate their TCUs with existing logging devices to ensure compliance.
These systems automatically record driving time, miles driven, location, engine hours, and other driver data.
Using this information, operators and drivers can work together to meet federal regulations. For example, automated fuel data collection can simplify IFTA tax reporting and help operators avoid penalties.
As a bonus, data from the telematics control unit can be used to automate payroll systems within the organization.
7. Save money
TCUs and telematics solutions can help fleet owners save thousands of dollars annually.
One method to cut costs is to reduce fuel consumption. For example, commercial fleet managers and operators can improve routes, scheduling, and trailer utilization to prevent multiple trips to nearby delivery locations.
Telematics systems can be used to implement preemptive fleet maintenance. Regular trips to the mechanic increase the lifespan of fleet vehicles and reduce the risks of severe breakdowns and extended downtimes. Proactive maintenance significantly reduces fleet expenses.
Operators also have historical data that allows them to spot and eliminate redundancies.
Let’s say Company A uses three small trucks that regularly deliver products to the same location. Replacing these small vehicles with a larger one means the entire delivery can be made in one trip, speeding up delivery times and reducing fuel costs.
Owners that have advanced telematics software like CalAmp can use instant incident reports, video footage, and other data to reduce insurance and legal liabilities after collisions and accidents.
5 essential features of a telematics control unit for fleets
Choosing the right TCU provider and supporting software can be difficult for fleet owners.
Here are five critical capabilities of a good telematics system.
1. Fast and reliable data transmission
Near real-time data collection and transmission provides fleet visibility, which is crucial for operators.
A TCU that struggles with rapid data transmission can slow down all the processes involved in fleet management. It can also increase response times during critical events and hinder communication between operators and drivers.
An effective TCU seamlessly connects with cloud servers to provide real-time data for operators and owners. CalAmp’s devices and the Telematics Cloud are an excellent example of a fleet telematics system that promotes better fleet management.
2. Automated maintenance
Since maintenance is crucial to keeping fleets operating smoothly and reducing costs, your TCU and telematics system should send reminders automatically.
On CalAmp, for example, managers can schedule automated reminders based on vehicle mileage and hours of use. They can also run maintenance reports as needed to assess overall fleet health.
A bird’s-eye view of fleet health enables operators to spot issues and schedule repairs in advance.
Maintenance also involves monitoring sensor data, like tire temperature and pressure, to prevent breakdowns on the road.
CalAmp’s remote diagnostics enables this via sensor data collection and text and email alerts for urgent vehicle issues. Operators can either get roadside assistance for these issues or send the vehicle to a service center for repair before a major breakdown occurs.
3. A dynamic UI
A TCU that only works with a fleet management app with a complex user interface slows down fleet operations and makes life harder for drivers and operators.
Your telematics system should support users of all levels of technical competency so that everyone across the logistics system can use it properly.
The UI must be simple and provide easy access to different sets of real-time data, reports, historical data, and alerts.
For larger organizations, features like role-based access control, hierarchical structuring, and fast data grouping and management are necessary.
The friendlier your telematics UI is, the faster and more efficiently each user can view the information in line with their specific use case-based needs and take action accordingly.
4. A unified fleet management platform
To capitalize on the potential of your fleet, you need a telematics system that goes beyond basic tracking and compliance. It should address every aspect of your fleet management.
CalAmp provides an extensive list of features that enable fleet tracking and monitoring. The platform also offers advanced solutions related to trucking telematics, asset tracking, trailer management, cargo safety, and driver behavior.
A system like this lets you view and control your entire fleet on one platform and boost productivity rather than relying on an inefficient TCU that barely meets current standards.
Fleet companies often work with multiple partners throughout the supply chain. Rather than using individual fleet telematics programs for each partner, owners can use one uniform platform with integrations to streamline the company’s communications and management.
A good example of this would be CalAmp’s API, which allows fleet owners to integrate existing systems and applications with the platform. This leads to faster access to the data collected by the TCU and powers smarter decision-making.
A connected and cohesive telematics system boosts collaboration, gives operators greater fleet visibility, improves the transparency of fleet operations, and promotes easy data sharing that can help build trust with partners.
A telematics control unit (TCU) is an essential fleet management tool that collects crucial data about fleet vehicles. To truly capitalize on the data a TCU collects, it should be paired with a powerful fleet telematics solution, like CalAmp.
The CalAmp Application promotes real-time visibility, fast data transmission, easier fleet health monitoring, robust trailer and cargo safety, dynamic reporting, and more.
Request a demo to see how we can boost your fleet telematics system.