In It For The Long Haul

Von Todd Datz

A black box, which the drivers refer to as the satellite, ismounted inside all Schneider cabs. It has a keyboard andallows drivers to send and receive text messages - viasatellite, of course - to and from the customer serviceassociates back in Green Bay. "We send and receive about 4million messages per month," says Paul Mueller, president ofSchneider Technology Services, a unit of Schneider Logisticsthat provides tech support for all of Schneider National viaan outsourcing arrangement.

OmniTracs also allows Schneider to know where its tractorsare at all times. The OmniTracs antenna, which sits on theback of the tractor, maintains constant communication with asatellite and automatically reports its location back toGreen Bay. Besides being critical to the company´s customerservice reps, the location technology happens to be quiteuseful when somebody decides to take a joyride in one of thetrucks. "We can determine pretty effectively a tractorlocation within 300 feet," Mueller says.

Schneider and Qualcomm also jointly developed a monitoringtechnology called SensorTracs, which uses electronic enginesensors to record information such as speed, rpms and idletime. In 1990, Schneider became the first fleet to implementthe technology, allowing the company to receive engine datavia automatic satellite downloads. SensorTracs helpsSchneider manage wear and tear on its engines and also keepsdrivers on their toes (and off the gas). "As a matter offact," Mueller notes, "one element of a driver´s monthlybonus is predicated on staying within certain key factorranges when operating the vehicle." Jeff Gordon wannabesbeware.

Unlike tractor-tracking technology, which has been aroundsince 1988, trailer-tracking technology is just starting tobe rolled out to the nation´s fleets. Trailers need to betracked for the same reasons tractors are - they areexpensive units, and knowing in real-time whether they´rerolling on a train car through Raleigh, N.C., or sitting ina yard in Sioux Falls is critical. "Those arerevenue-generating assets, so understanding where they areand the status of those assets is pretty important," Muellersays.

Schneider began beta-testing a satellite trailer-trackingsystem from a company called Orbcomm in 1999, but thatcompany filed Chapter 11 last year. Enter Qualcomm, whichhad been partnering with Orbcomm to offer thetrailer-tracking system. Schneider decided to go with theQualcomm technology which uses cellular, not satellite,technology like OmniTracs earlier this year and eventuallyplans to install it on all its trailers. Not only canSchneider monitor the whereabouts of its trailers, a sensorunit inside the trailer can tell whether the trailer isempty or full. Another sensor mounted in the bottom of thetrailer can tell whether it´s hooked to a tractor or not.

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