What Is A Smart Trailer?

March 7, 2019


4 minutes

As smart trailers incorporate IoT sensors, real-time shipping insights are poised to transform the trucking industry.

In the past several years, the transportation industry has undergone a technological transformation. Now smart trailers are arriving, integrating innovative data-gathering devices as part of the rapidly growing Internet of Things (IoT). While truck drivers already use shipping technology like the Electronic Logging Device (ELD), sensors are now proliferating in the back of the vehicle, collecting more data, and allowing more real-time insights, than ever before.

Of course, leveraging all that data isn’t necessarily straightforward. If the data isn’t accessible until after the fact, “smart” capabilities are limited to accurate reporting. Ideally, truckers and other stakeholders actually have ongoing access to a clear overview of the trailer and its cargo, enabling them to respond and take action as the situation unfolds. With the right platform to unite and visualize all that data, smart trailers can offer the situational awareness that shipping companies need to stay competitive in a rapidly evolving industry.


Smart trailers-situational awareness


What is a “Smart Trailer”?

Smart trailers can be any type of trailer, from flatbed to reefer — what makes it “smart” is the integrated IoT technology that provides insights into the status of the truck and its cargo. A smart trailer is loaded with sophisticated sensors, which can collectively measure a wide array of features, including mileage, temperature, humidity, shock, and vibration. Some smart trailers push real-time data to a platform or the cloud, while others report data at regular intervals, or store it in logs to be accessed later.

Smart trailer shipping technology includes detailed location tracking, both in the yard and on the road. With geofencing, fleet managers are given continuous visibility into the location and status of their assets. Truckers can save time in the lot by knowing a trailer’s location and whether it’s “ready to roll.” Similarly, sensors can register whether a truck is in drivable shape, detecting tire inflation levels and even weight per axle. Sensors can flag issues like drained batteries well before the truck gets on the road.

The right transportation technology can help fleets stay both compliant and secure. The Food Safety Modernization Act means carriers must be able to document food conditions, including temperature, from pickup to delivery. Sensors can provide instant notification in case of temperature fluctuations and store a drive log for future reporting. Similarly, enhanced security measures can protect loads from cargo theft. Surveillance cameras can provide continuous cargo insights, while sensors can push notifications if doors are opened at unusual times or in unauthorized locations.


How Smart Trailers Are Impacting the Trucking Industry

Currently, the trucking industry is struggling to balance a driver shortage with rapidly growing demand. At the same time, clients are eager to work with fleets that can offer competitive pricing. Trucking companies are poised to compete — and profit — if they can reduce inefficiencies, provide more flexible service, and ultimately reduce their own costs. That’s where logistics technology like smart trailers can make a difference.

In the trucking industry, operational success always comes down to efficiently managing time and distance. In a sense, basic GPS was the first “smart” trucking innovation. Now smart routing helps truckers shave time off their deliveries, avoid traffic or bad weather, and take jobs during deadhead miles. Meanwhile, the fleet has more flexibility as a whole — they can better respond to last-minute requests or help truckers avoid costly partial load deliveries. Data insights from trucking tech can reveal when a company could redistribute trailers to other locations, plan ahead for seasonal needs, or trim down on fleet size. In this economy, doing more with less gives you a competitive edge.

Previously, managing cargo in transit was mostly about hoping for the best. But now, the sensing capabilities of current shipping technology can provide truckers, managers, and clients with crucial trailer and load data — all in real-time. If something goes wrong with a shipment, the trucker can actually react before the situation worsens, rather than discover the problem hours later. Security alarms can protect sitting trucks from theft, pinging management if a door or box is opened. This kind of highly responsive problem-solving wasn’t previously possible, but it is already ensuring more consistency and compliance — and helping stakeholders avoid costly incidents.

Trailer maintenance is a major expense throughout the industry. Typically, maintenance is done on a fixed rotation, which incurs higher costs when trailers receive repairs before they are needed. But smart sensors can revolutionize the maintenance schedule. Basing repairs on mileage means a trailer doesn’t get new tires long before they are needed. At the same time, sensors can give more in-depth insights into lights, brakes, and other systems, so that any issues are caught sooner, independently of an inspection. Predictive maintenance offers a safer and more cost-effective solution to help truckers avoid costly breakdowns on the road.



Connecting the Dots

It’s one thing to have dozens of sensors in a trailer, gathering data. But it’s another to connect those sensors to a system that actually turns that data into actionable insights. That means choosing the right technology to integrate smart trailers and other connected assets — a platform that offers data visualization in real-time, across multiple channels.

With a comprehensive platform, it becomes possible to take decisive action in response to critical information, knowing that you have full visibility into the entirety of the operation. With greater situational awareness of their trailer and cargo, truckers can make decisions to ensure personal safety and load integrity. Managers and clients can use ongoing updates to ensure that individual shipments are on-schedule and secure. Meanwhile, managers need to be able to see aggregated data, for in-the-moment flexible routing and smarter resource distribution. Overall, smart trailers are only smart if the data they’re producing is actionable.


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