J.B. Hunt deploys GPS tracking for intermodal and over-the-road trailers

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 1,017 views 

J.B. Hunt Transport Services will spend millions of dollars to install GPS tracking devices and load sensors in its more than 90,000-unit intermodal and over-the-road trailer fleets.

The Lowell-based carrier hopes to increase operational efficiency and decrease cargo theft and unauthorized use of its equipment, according to a news release. J.B. Hunt is purchasing the devices and sensors from Orbcomm of Rochelle Park., N.J. The company is a global provider of machine-to-machine and Internet of Things (IoT)communication equipment and will install its “end-to-end tracking and monitoring” devices in the carrier’s fleets throughout 2017.

When asked how much the carrier invested into the devices, a spokeswoman for Orbcomm said it was a “multi-million dollar investment.” Based on the $3 million to $4 million value of 10,000 units, the investment might be more than $36 million. Trailer tracking devices such as these cost between $200 and $300 each and require a monthly service fee between $8 and $10.

John Kent, director of the Supply Chain Management Research Center at the University of Arkansas, said the trailer tracking devices differ from the tracking devices installed in trucks. The latter devices, which cost several thousand dollars, also offer load tracking when a trailer is attached to a truck, but the devices to be installed in the intermodal and over-the-road trailers will offer visibility in the supply chain without being attached to a truck.

When asked why Orbcomm was selected as the provider, CEO Marc Eisenberg said “we are the only company that had technology for all of their (J.B. Hunt’s) asset classes. We have the largest team in this market for engineers and support. We performed the best in the trial period.” Orbcomm spent more than a year working with J.B. Hunt piloting its tracking and monitoring system.

The new system, which will be equipped in all of the carrier’s 53-foot trailers, will give “insight and control over every facet of its operation,” the release shows. “Each unit will be equipped with a solar-rechargeable GPS tracking device and a full-length sensor to determine the presence or absence of cargo inside the trailing unit.” The information received from the system, including real-time location and cargo status, will be integrated into the carrier’s transportation management system, J.B. Hunt 360.

In November 2014, the carrier launched J.B. Hunt 360 to provide its customers with a system offering real-time load tracking, published rates and pricing for shipping lanes.
The carrier has been looking to install tracking equipment and sensors in trailers for more than 15 years. In 2001, the carrier installed 18,000 devices in dry-van trailers for “tracking untethered trailers, including those with load sensing capability,” according to a case study by technology provider Velociti. The 18-month project to install the devices was completed in 2002.

After 9/11, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration commissioned a study, in which J.B. Hunt participated, to test tracking devices for trailers. The study was commissioned as a result of a 2003 House bill, showing that “truck trailers pose a significant potential security threat” and provide “an easy means to transport dangerous cargos.” While tracking devices were commercially available for trucks, devices “are needed to track and control an untethered trailer.”

Terry Matthews, executive vice president and president of J.B. Hunt’s intermodal division, sees “numerous areas within our operation where we will see immediate benefits in efficiency. End-to-end visibility to the entire supply chain is the new expectation, and as a technology leader in the industry, we are excited to provide this service to our customers.”

Orbcomm (NASDAQ: ORBC) reported Feb. 28 a net loss of $23.52 million, or a loss of 33 cents per share, for 2016. Revenue, including product and service sales, rose 4% to $186.74 million for the year, compared to 2015. As of Dec. 31, the number of billable subscriber communicators rose 9.8% to 1.72 million, from 1.56 million in 2015.

According to a recent survey of shippers conducted by American Shipper, 39% of shippers use carriers’ visibility systems to track shipments in the supply chain. Other sources for visibility included: third-party logistics, 13%; shippers’ transportation management system, 11%; and a standalone system from a software provider, 9%.

The survey also showed that the biggest blind spots in the supply chain are when shipments are at container terminals. The fewest amount of blind spots take place when the shipment is in the truckload or airfreight legs.

A total of 56% of shippers who responded to the survey use visibility systems to monitor a shipment, and 39% use it for decision making. However, only 6% reported having real-time visibility, meaning there was no latency in the data provided by the visibility system they used. About 70% reported “moderate latency” in the system.

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