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Climbing rates, detention times turn LTL fleets toward trailer tracking tech

‘Where’s my stuff?’ has become harder to answer for LTL carriers

Historically, the less-than-truckload carrier market has resisted trailer tracking technology, since locating LTL cargo has been a simpler task compared with full truckload. But recent labor shortages, supply chain congestion and extremely tight capacity have created the perfect storm: exacerbated accessorial detention charges and growing tensions between shippers and LTL carriers. As a result, LTL carriers have implemented drop-trailer programs as a way to gain more capacity.

With drop-and-hook freight, it doesn’t take much to notice an enormous difference in capacity. According to Aaron Terrazas, director of economic research at Convoy, a mere 1% increase in drop-and-hook utilization equals an uptick in availability on the order of 10,000 drivers. However, as drop-and-hook operations increase, visibility issues are cropping up for LTL carriers, and the simple question ⁠— “Where’s my stuff?” ⁠— is becoming harder to answer. 

The good news is that when capacity remains tight for an extended period, rates that shippers pay carriers to transport goods increase, which means margins increase as well. The SONAR chart below reveals the steady increase of LTL contract rates since March 2020. It only makes sense that carriers would use some of that newfound cash flow to improve operations and invest in technology solutions.

“With all the difficulty with hiring, technology is an obvious answer,” said Zach Strickland, director of freight market intelligence at FreightWaves. “The capacity issue is not going to resolve quickly. Manual asset tracking is a huge cost burden and leads to tons of inefficiencies, as carriers lose track of equipment easily. If you can find additional capacity now as a carrier, that will help you grow and sustain when the market settles.”

Today’s trailer tracking technologies surpass locating trailers, containers and other assets on a map. While the old guard of telematics sensor technology was able to distinguish whether or not a trailer was loaded, the new freight cameras allow carriers and shippers to see high-resolution images and the degree to which a trailer is loaded. Of critical importance is to have 4G LTE connected solutions to enable continued visibility beyond the 3G sunset and better support video-based solutions that require increased bandwidth.

Because damage claims can easily tax a carrier’s bottom line and cause disputes with customers, high-definition freight cameras can also offer visual proof when cargo shifts during transport. In order for fleet managers to keep an eye inside the trailer at all times, telematics providers like PowerFleet use the latest camera technologies like image recognition processors, door sensors and cargo area environmental sensors. PowerFleet can then leverage machine learning to identify the trends present in photos, all processes which can ultimately protect the carrier from rising insurance costs. 

“We are seeing significant interest from customers to not only implement telematics to keep tabs on their assets, but they’re also adding freight cameras to gain figurative and literal visibility over their shipments,” said Mark Stanton, PowerFleet’s general manager of supply chain visibility solutions.

The primary opportunity inherent in these solutions is to gain visibility and understanding of trailer capacity, which is all tied to revenue. Once carriers can see the aggregate of available fleet capacity and locations, they can optimize drivers’ routes, gauging who is closest to the pickup location and which driver has the capacity to grab the load.

Integrating end-to-end telematics solutions allows carriers to take control of their equipment in a chaotic market and stop the guesswork: How long has the trailer sat inactive? Did it sit inbound or did the shipper unload it, but the carrier didn’t pick it up? 

“Knowing just how long your equipment is being tied up at certain locations can also lead to vast improvement in utilization,” added Strickland.

To learn more about PowerFleet’s end-to-end trailer tracking solution for LTL fleets, click here

Corrie White

Corrie is fascinated how the supply chain is simultaneously ubiquitous and invisible. She covers freight technology, cross-border freight and the effects of consumer behavior on the freight industry. Alongside writing about transportation, her poetry has been published widely in literary magazines. She holds degrees in English and Creative Writing from UNC Chapel Hill and UNC Greensboro.