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Integrated solution for managing produce transport fleets

Transport firms that supply Europe’s supermarkets and grocery stores with refrigerated and frozen produce could soon save millions of euros a year, once a new, integrated fleet-management solution hits the market.

An innovative software system that allows transport managers to track the status of their haulage fleet at all times has recently been implemented by three European companies, thanks to the Cold-Trace project co-funded under the eTEN programme. The technology was originally developed under the two-year IST project ColdRoad.

In addition to tracking the movements of vehicles, the Cold-Trace system also monitors temperatures inside the trailers, to ensure that produce reaches its destination in the optimum condition.

“It may seem surprising, but although systems to monitor the temperature inside trucks and GPS systems to track their location have long been on the market, there has been no integrated solution combining those applications with work-order management,” explains Yolanda Ursa, the manager of the Cold-Trace project at INMARK in Spain.

By combining these three applications, the system evaluated by the Cold-Trace team provides fleet managers with all the information necessary to ensure the safe, prompt and efficient delivery of produce in the most cost-effective way possible.

“It really is a big-brother style solution,” Ursa says. “Fleet managers know where all their trucks are at all times, if the driver has stopped, if there have been any accidents and if the goods are at the right temperature.”

Where in the past fleet managers have relied on calling drivers to find out where they are or to check if a pick-up or drop-off went ok, the Cold-Trace system gives them the information for the whole fleet on a PC screen. A 'black box' in each truck is connected to a server in the fleet manager’s office via a GPRS connection, while each driver has a standard PDA. GPS location data and information from sensors placed around the vehicle are all fed into the black box, and from there fed back to fleet headquarters.

“Normally there are temperature sensors inside and outside the vehicle, as well as a sensor to tell if the door is open, which would obviously severely disrupt the cold chain,” Ursa explains.

If any temperature increase above set parameters is detected, an alarm sounds, alerting both the driver (who receives the information on his PDA) and the fleet manager. Fleet managers are informed where the vehicle is at all times, including the speed it is travelling and if the driver makes any unplanned stops. While the driver is provided with real-time location information and guidance to his destination.

A remote-control system even allows the fleet manager or driver to set refrigeration levels in the truck remotely. “That feature alone saves the driver half an hour every morning, which is the time it takes on average to cool off a truck before it can be loaded,” Ursa explains.

“In terms of the economic savings, we estimate that remote-controlled pre-cooling would save companies over two thousand euros per driver per year, roughly six percent of labour costs, or result in an equivalent increase in productivity,” she adds.

Other cost and time-saving benefits of the system have also been quantified by the project team. For example, the validation trials indicated that companies could save as much as 1,600 euros per truck per year, just by using the system to optimise routes and cargo and thus lessen the amount of time the truck is on the road empty.

The reduced need to make costly phone calls to drivers’ mobile phones could “save at least a hundred and seventy euros per truck per year, although that figure could actually be much higher,” Ursa notes. “Taken in combination, these are significant cost savings for both large and small haulage firms.”

The Cold-Trace system was installed at one Irish and two Spanish transport companies. At Spanish project partner Disfrimur the system was initially used to manage 270 trucks; it is soon due to be implemented across the company’s entire 500-vehicle fleet. The other Spanish test user, Montfrisa, is also planning to incorporate the system across its entire fleet of 150 vehicles, while O’Donovan Transport in Ireland is set to do the same.

Ursa notes that though implementing the system represents a “big change” for companies, it has been well received by fleet managers and should help professionalise the sector by improving the efficiency and productivity of drivers. Finally, as well as offering obvious benefits for supermarkets and grocery stores, which can be assured that produce will reach them in optimal condition, the insurance industry will also look favourably on a system that reduces the opportunity for theft.

Cold-Trace ended in October 2006, and the project team is currently looking for local partners across Europe in order to begin widespread commercialisation.

Jernett Karensen | alfa
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