Technology is Changing How Carriers, Shippers, and Brokers Connect

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J.B. Hunt Transport Services’ digital freight-matching platform, Carrier 360, also features a recently announced trailer pool and drop-and-hook service called 360Box.
 - Photo: J.B. Hunt
J.B. Hunt Transport Services’ digital freight-matching platform, Carrier 360, also features a recently announced trailer pool and drop-and-hook service called 360Box.Photo: J.B. Hunt

Disruption. Transparency. Visibility. Efficiency. Trust. Collaboration. Algorithms. Artificial Intelligence. This is the vocabulary of the rapidly changing world of technology and logistics.

Some envision technology in the freight market doing what Uber and Lyft have done in the ride-sharing market or Airbnb in the vacation market. But automating logistics is much more complex.

There are indeed a fast-growing number of automated load-matching technologies. But other technology solutions take a wide range of approaches to better connect carriers, shippers, and freight brokers, to make logistics and supply chains run more efficiently, and to drive more profits for users. There’s everything from digital brokers and electronic load boards to sophisticated systems that manage the entire process from load tender to payment. Some focus on the immediate transaction of the spot market. Others aim to foster greater collaboration.

“The power of software and technology, combined with relationships, has the potential to make the whole freight and logistics value chain much more efficient and effective,” says Jeff Hopper, chief marketing officer for DAT Services, which got its start replacing truckstop load boards of handwritten note cards pinned to a bulletin board with electronic displays.

This carrier sourcing screen from EKA’s Omni-TMS is one example of how technology is changing the way brokers, carriers, and shippers interact.
 - Image: EKA
This carrier sourcing screen from EKA’s Omni-TMS is one example of how technology is changing the way brokers, carriers, and shippers interact.Image: EKA

Freight-matching in the spot market

Only about 30% of the freight moved by truck is transacted on the spot market, according to FTR. Shippers and carriers alike want the stability of long-term contracts for certain lanes. But there’s still plenty of transactional freight, and a lot of inefficiencies to be addressed, as spreadsheets, notebooks, telephones and laminated maps are still the tools of choice for many small brokers and carriers.

“Commercial freight is still fraught with archaic, antiquated means of how you connect a load with a transporter,” says Mike Williams, CEO of uShip, which started 15 years ago as a sort of eBay for people wanting to find a bit of extra capacity for small shipments such as items of furniture. The company has expanded into other areas, including a less-than-truckload platform and a partnership with global logistics giant DB Schenker.

“I think the biggest change has been the ability to move to a digital relationship from an email and phone relationship – that’s where everybody’s trying to get to,” says Robert Brothers, manager of product development for McLeod Software.

While Silicon Valley startups aiming to drag the industry into the 21st century have gotten a lot of attention, there are many established brokers and third-party logistics companies using technology to better serve shipper customers and carriers in their network.

For instance, one of the world’s largest 3PLs, C.H. Robinson, offers its contract carriers electronic tools called Navisphere, with features such as SmartMatch, which intuitively finds loads for you, and billing status, which lets you quickly see payments issued on loads.

XPO Logistics says 22,000 carriers have signed up with its mobile app, Drive XPO, since its launch last year. More than 50% of the company’s loads are now offered to its carriers electronically, customized for their preferences.

Some companies have turned to digital brokerage opportunities after seeing first-hand industry needs.

Lidia Yan founded Next Trucking, a digital broker focused on drayage at Southern California ports. Traditional brokers, she says, “have their more preferred carriers they work with. The digital brokers can bring transparency. We allow shippers to connect directly without a lot of human intervention. It gives more to the carriers, because they will be paid a fair market price. And the shippers can trace and track.”

Digital broker Transfix was started five years ago by founders with experience in the trucking and brokerage business. “Like any other broker, our job is to help get shippers and carriers connected,” explains Drew McElroy, co-founder and CEO. But it tries to streamline that as much as possible via technology.

“The vast majority of people moving freight are still old-school brokers,” he says, matching loads one by one. “In any given market on any day, we know how many drivers are looking for loads and how many loads we have. Our system looks at best solutions for minimizing empty mileage and wait time for these 30 loads and 30 drivers.” Transfix uses algorithms to match freight and trucks that allow its carriers to get more loaded miles on a weekly basis. “Our goal is to have choices the minute you deliver – or even before you deliver – your headhaul.”

The magic of matching

Using technology to help match available loads with available trucks on the spot market is not a new concept., for instance, started using the internet in the ’90s (then known as Internet Truckstop) to create a virtual load board, and it has continued to invest in technology to help match trucks and loads.

“We’re not trying to eliminate the relationship between carriers and brokers,” says CEO Paris Cole. By giving visibility to both sides into factors such as pricing, the company believes it can eliminate a lot of waste in those calls.

Transplace was founded in 2010 as an internet-based transportation logistics company. “Finding the next load for a truck before it’s been dispatched on the first leg or while it’s on the first leg is harder than it seems,” says Jeff Thomas, senior vice president of capacity services. “Through artificial intelligence, we’ve been able to identify opportunities that have a strong possibility of success, and that is translating to fewer empty miles and more multi-leg dispatches. Quite frankly, it’s good for us, for the carrier and for the shipper, and it’s keeping trucks in our network.”

There are a number of companies that aim to take even more inefficiencies out of the process, even entirely automating load-matching.

Convoy, for instance, in February announced that it had achieved 100% matching in key markets. “What automated matching means is no humans are involved in helping the carrier find the job,” explains Nikhil Jaipuria, director of product, carriers. “What we’ve seen is matching a carrier with a particular load is one of the more time-consuming and expensive tasks. In the traditional brokerage model it takes about 100 phone calls, and carriers say they spend 50 to 75% of their time looking for loads. Through the Convoy app, what we’ve done is largely eliminated the call-intensive brokerage model and are allowing carriers to get matched with loads automatically.” However, Convoy also relies on humans to augment the technology when brokering specialized loads or when it has specific demands from shippers.

Technology can be used not only for instant freight-matching and pricing, but also for addressing longer-term needs, such as with Lanehub’s software, which helps shippers find freight for empty legs in their private or dedicated fleets.
 - Photo: Lanehub
Technology can be used not only for instant freight-matching and pricing, but also for addressing longer-term needs, such as with Lanehub’s software, which helps shippers find freight for empty legs in their private or dedicated fleets.Photo: Lanehub

Beyond the spot market

Matching up freight with available capacity outside of the usual bid-and-contract process is not limited to the spot market.

Lanehub, for instance, says its technology lets shippers and carriers work together to improve utilization on lanes on a longer-term basis. Shippers load their lane networks into the company’s software. “It will show them which other members line up well with their network, and they can mutually agree to share those cases where they do have fits between them,” explains Chandler Hall, COO and executive vice president. Say one shipper has freight going from point A to point B, while another has freight going from B to A. Lanehub’s software will show them those matches and help the two connect to set up a deal. Many shippers use it to find freight on empty legs in their private or dedicated fleets. They also can work with their carriers to help reduce empty miles or get more consistent freight.

EKA Solutions, which is rolling out a cloud-based, end-to-end Omni-TMS for shippers, carriers, and brokers, developed a marketplace module, EKA MPlace. It lets shipper and brokers trade with precision in the more dynamic carrier capacity price environment, says J.J. Singh, EKA founder, chairman and CEO.

A shipper may have a new customer or a new lane not covered by its existing long-term carrier contracts and route guide, explains EKA President Mark Walker. “They don’t just want to shop it out to just anybody” in the spot market, he says. “Shippers can put that shipment [in mPlace] so their trusted carriers and brokers can see the load and make a longer-term deal.”

Supply chain visibility

Visibility is key in this new world. This includes the ability to know where trucks are at all times – something that has been made easier with the electronic logging device mandate and rapid advances in vehicle telematics – as well as visibility into pricing, detention, and other areas.

Part of what’s driving this demand for visibility in the supply chain is what’s called the Amazon effect. E-commerce customers expect to know when their shipment is

going to arrive and where it is in the system. While that can happen with big parcel carriers such as UPS and FedEx, small carriers that can’t provide that kind of visibility may be left out of the market.

“If Amazon ships it on a small carrier, we’re not going to know where that order is,” explains EKA’s Walker. EKA says its cloud-based Omni-TMS platform is affordable for small- to medium-size carriers, as well as smaller shippers and brokers.

 “With capacity as tight as it’s been, it’s been very difficult for shippers to get their freight moved and have visibility into those freight movements,” says Bryan Coyne, general manager of visibility for Trimble Transportation. Visibility companies such as 10-4 (now part of Trimble Visibility) or FourKites do a good job of helping shippers see where their loads are, he says, whether they are being hauled by a contract carrier or through a brokerage relationship.

“One of the huge things technology is bringing to the table when we look at the supply chain is having the ability to see, across multiple different carriers, the freight movements that are out there, so [shippers] can more accurately plan their activity,” Coyne says. “Whether it’s inbound supplies for factories or the outbound distribution, they can direct their resources in the right area.”

While Trimble Visibility’s customers are shippers, carriers that have contracts with those shippers are also entered into the system, giving those carriers the ability to provide the kind of visibility that “may be table stakes to the shipper,” he says.

Automating rates

One of the key areas of visibility made possible by newer technology in pricing and payments.

For instance, McLeod offers its customers digital freight-matching tools within its TMS. The difference today, Brothers says, is in pricing visibility that allows carriers to make a decision on a price immediately.

“In the past when you got a tender, you had a contracted price you agreed on through some bid process, or you picked up the phone and negotiated a price. The pricing is now part of the communication mechanism. Brokers and shippers are able to do that because the pricing data available in the market is so much better and so much more reliable,” Brothers explains.

In the past, it was hard to know the true price of a load, says Convoy’s Jaipuria. “One of the things that helps carriers earn more is automated bidding.” Through Convoy’s app, carriers can specify the lanes they want to run, when they’ll be empty, and what rate works for their business. For every load that comes into the Convoy network, the app automatically compares it with their preferences. If it works, the load is offered in the app and all the carrier has to do is accept. “No negotiating, no back and forth, no calling brokers to check for new loads. One tap and you’re done.”

Another example is Loadsmart. It integrates with the shipper’s transportation management system via API to access shipment data, and runs each shipment through a machine learning pricing algorithm to return a live, bookable rate directly to the shipper’s TMS. This allows the shipper to compare the prices from other carriers and brokers, which are logged in their static rate tree, with Loadsmart’s bookable rate. Instead of the shipper’s load planner manually comparing Loadsmart’s pre-spot dynamic prices with static rates from their routing guide, this is done automatically on a server. Because it is given real-time, the rate is always live and can be booked with one click.

Technology providers say pricing automation has the potential to deliver lower costs for shippers, but at the same time higher rates for carriers, because the broker doesn’t take as big of a bite.

“Brokers were not always thought of as good business partners,” says Kate Kaufman, director of account ops for Uber Freight. “You were just expecting to be taken advantage of.” She says shippers have been surprised by the low rates, but like Uber Rides, Uber Freight pricing is based on proven algorithms and on what’s happening right now in the marketplace.

“Carriers are equally surprised,” she says.  “Because we’re not engaging in that hidden margin, where who knows if [the broker] took 10% or 50%, our prices are fair [and] we put them out there for everyone to see. And that has changed the game.”

Load-matching technology has come a long way since DAT Solutions got its start with Dial-A-Truck load boards in truckstops.
 - Photo: DAT Solutions
Load-matching technology has come a long way since DAT Solutions got its start with Dial-A-Truck load boards in truckstops.Photo: DAT Solutions

Building trust and collaboration

While some freight may be able to be matched entirely without human interaction, few believe this technology will bring about the end of brokers and 3PLs.

“There is plenty of room to automate some of the transactions in the marketplace, and to make them fully digital where price is the only element,” says EKA’s Walker. But it doesn’t work for all types of freight. He cites produce, for instance. “Few people can transport produce because it has so many unusual characteristics and special handling issues around it. You can probably think of other non CPG [consumer packaged goods] type freight that’s not just drop a trailer and move it from point A to point B and I’m done.” Oversize loads, for instance, and high-security loads such as pharmaceuticals or defense.

“There is only a certain type of freight that is applicable to total digitization,” Singh adds. “The market is so big that even if it’s only 10 to 15%, you create a lot of bling. They are not going to be able to take over the world.”

In fact, technology can improve collaboration and relationships between shippers, carriers, and brokers, by building trust.

“Transparency and trust has always been an issue in the industry, and by using technology in our approach to trucking, we want to make sure carriers have control to make the best decisions,” says Convoy’s Jaipuria. “But across the board we’re driving more efficiency and transparency, which I think will engender more trust. The shipper gets a higher quality of service, and carriers get high-quality loads and have piece of mind they will get paid as promised.”

DAT’s Hopper contends trust is becoming even more important. “I think like in anything in the business world, smart people who are serious about solving business problems realize that trust is important. Brokers are realizing this, too, and they’re going to treat carriers well and find good loads for them. As a neutral platform, we feel we’re helping them facilitate that.”

Part of that involves crowd-sourced data that helps carriers and shippers decide who they want to – and don’t want to – work with.

Transfix, for example, gives shippers and carriers the ability to rate each other. “If you’re not behaving well, in our network we capture that and there starts to be real implications,” McElroy says. Drivers who don’t make appointments get matched with loads less frequently. Shippers who continually detain carriers? “Those sort of things get reflected in your price. We’re making the consequences of bad behavior start to be felt by folks.”

Since Uber Freight added shipper facility ratings to its load-matching app, in much the same way it added user ratings to its rideshare platform, “we see a lot more emphasis on the shipper side into the collaboration they can have with the carrier,” says Xinfeng Le, Uber Freight’s carrier product lead. “The shipper wants to become the shipper of choice for carriers so they can attract high-quality carriers to haul loads for them and lower their costs in terms of carrying trucking capacity.”

KeepTruckin, a company that started out as an electronic log provider and since has moved into fleet management solutions and load-matching, also has added shipper facility insights to its platform. “We’ll be able to deliver to carriers what the driver experience is at those facilities and leverage the power of the network to deliver those insights,” says CEO Shoiab Makani. “We think it’s going to be really valuable for our carriers to understand the shippers they serve and make better planning decisions.”

One company believes blockchain-driven smart contracts will enable a system of “trust but verify.”

DexFreight is in final beta-testing of a decentralized, blockchain-based logistics platform that uses smart contracts used by shippers, carriers and “other supply chain stakeholders,” such as brokers.

“Everyone talks about taking out the middleman, about the broker disappearing, but we have a different vision,” says dexFreight co-founder Hector Hernandez. “Blockchain is not about tracking or pricing. It’s about collaboration, a new business model. I think there’s going to be an evolution of the role of the 3PL.”

Disruption or evolution?

Next Trucking’s Lidia Yan believes that in the long run, digital brokers will be able to replace traditional brokers. But not everyone does.

“I know some [traditional brokerage/3PL companies] are trying to go the technology way and want to do their own freight-matching software or TMS,” she says. “But technology startups, we’re faster, we’re more efficient, we’re smaller and more nimble, so we can adapt to the market a lot faster, where large traditional brokers have to disrupt themselves.”

KeepTruckin’s Makani doesn’t like the word disruption. “I think that’s the wrong framing. I think business is evolving. Fleets, carriers, are recognizing that they can benefit from technology. There was a lot of resistance at one point, but that has really changed. You’re seeing drivers, even small fleets recognize they need to use modern technology if they want to compete.”

At the same time, however, “We think brokers and 3PLs serve an important function. To us it’s not about replacing the broker or 3PL – it’s about enabling them, allowing them to access capacity in a much more efficient way.”’s Cole also takes issue with the notion of disruption. “These new entrants, and the funds being poured into technology in the transportation and logistics industry, it’s bringing awareness of what technology can do. Unfortunately, I think sometimes some of the new entrants talk about how they’re going to ‘disrupt’ the industry more than they talk about how they’re going to enable the industry.”

Transplace’s Thomas believes technology that completely replaces the relationships between shipper, carrier, and broker or 3PL with automation is “probably missing the finer points. Ultimately there are still choices. People do business with the people they want to do business with. I believe the companies that will flourish will keep relationships with carriers as part of their arsenal.”

How Logistics Technology is Helping Small Carriers and Brokers Compete

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Trailer pools allowing access to drop and hook freight is one way logistics tech is helping smaller carriers.
 - Photo courtesy J.B. Hunt
Trailer pools allowing access to drop and hook freight is one way logistics tech is helping smaller carriers.Photo courtesy J.B. Hunt

Technology is allowing the small carriers that make up the vast majority of the trucking industry to become a more integral part of the supply chain.

“You have a lot of smaller carrier companies that are able to bid on and compete for larger shipper contracts or freight just because technology has enabled them to be a player in that marketplace,” says Bryan Coyne, general manager of visibility for Trimble Transportation.

Take Elizabeth Orton, owner of Find a Way Shipping, a family-based business she started with her cousin last year in Dayton, Ohio. They specialize in moving high-end furniture shipments.

Starting with one cargo van, she soon added a trailer, a second cargo van, and a box truck, and reports being able to keep all her vehicles full and running using uShip, a company that connects retailers with truckers who have extra space to carry additional goods. It’s the kind of small-fleet success story that would have been a lot harder before the use of technology to find loads.

“The industry is so fragmented – 90% of companies are small ones,” says Lidia Yan, CEO of Next Trucking, which offers a technology load-matching solution for the drayage industry in southern California. “Most of them don’t have the latest technology. Now they can take advantage of that technology and become more efficient.”

ELD-Driven Telematics Helps Make it Possible

One thing that’s driving that? The electronic logging device mandate.

“I think it’s really important to recognize the most fundamental change in the last two years is that small carriers are now online,” says Shoaib Makani, who founded KeepTruckin, a company that started out as an electronic log provider and since has moved into fleet management technology solutions. “The ELD mandate essentially catalyzed the adoption of telematics devices. It brought connectivity to a segment of the market that was totally disconnected. The small carriers were offline, and they’re the ones that are carrying spot freight, brokered freight, so the shipper experience was poor because they couldn’t get visibility. Now small carriers are online, they’re connected, so it actually has improved the prospects of small carriers and the end user shipper experience.”

Using uShip to get freight has helped Find A Way Shipping grow from one to four vehicles in a year's time.
 - Photo courtesy uShip
Using uShip to get freight has helped Find A Way Shipping grow from one to four vehicles in a year’s time.Photo courtesy uShip

Makani says KeepTruckin’s smart load board is positioned, “not as a replacement of a 3PL, but an enabler, allowing small brokers and asset-based carriers to access connected capacity and deliver a better experience to shippers, which allows them to compete in this new world. I don’t think the small broker or mid-size asset-based carriers go away in the new world; by leveraging technology and accessing connected capacity they can actually thrive.”

EKA Solutions, for instance, says its affordable, cloud-based Omni-TMS software platform allows brokers, carriers, and shippers to manage their entire business from beginning to end – from assigning and tracking loads to back-end billing and financial functions.

“It’s a step change in affordability for small- and medium-size customers to conduct their business in a manner that’s competitive with large companies,” says J.J. Singh, EKA Solutions founder and CEO.

Mark Walker, EKA president, points out that unlike most industries that are dominated by a few large players, trucking is made up primarily of small businesses – many of which are still not using any kind of transportation management system software.

“Whether shippers, brokers or carriers, there are a very high number of them still on spreadsheets and paper,” he says. “We felt the first move was to try to digitize the players that were in the industry, because there’s no other way to get to a transparent or visible supply chain.”

No Trailer Fleet? No Problem!

In addition, some companies have developed trailer pool systems that allow small fleets to participate in drop-and-hook freight that traditionally would only be available to larger carriers with large numbers of trailers.

Convoy, for instance, has leased thousands of trailers and placed them at shipper facilities, where they are pre-loaded. Truckers using Convoy Go can just bring a power unit to pick up a preloaded Convoy trailer instead of bringing a tractor-trailer and waiting while the trailer is loaded.

“Optimizing trailer pool movement is a difficult data science project. Computers can do that more efficiently than humans can,” says Nikhil Jaipuria, Convoy’s director of product, carriers.

J.B. Hunt and Uber Freight recently launched trailer pools as part of their freight-matching platforms, as well.

Having determined that what it terms the “traditional trailer pool model” to be “particularly ripe for reinvention,” Uber Freight last fall launched Powerloop. The new company is described as affiliated with Uber Freight, and will rent trailers to eligible Uber Freight motor carriers and “in doing so, enable them to participate in an innovative new trailer pool model,” said the company.

J.B. Hunt Transport Services’ trailer pool and drop-and-hook service, called J.B. Hunt 360box, is starting out with a pool of 500 additional 54-foot trailers that can be reserved for drop trailer purposes. Carriers can make offers to transport the trailers using Carrier 360 by J.B. Hunt, the company’s digital freight-matching platform. As demand grows, J.B. Hunt plans to accelerate the available units.

How One Truck Fleet is Closing in on True Predictive Maintenance

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All That’s Trucking • May 31, 2019 • by Deborah Lockridge


Why should a truck with 240,000 miles get the same PM as a truck with 30,000 miles?

Photo courtesy NFI

Bill Bliem believes he’s on the cusp of the holy grail of truck fleet equipment managers: true predictive maintenance.

Bill is senior vice president of fleet services at NFI, a former HDT Truck Fleet Innovator, a member of our Editorial Advisory Board, and is at the forefront of a lot of trucking technology, from electric trucks to artificial intelligence.

“In the 37 years I’ve been in this business, we’ve been talking about measuring uptime and downtime, and nobody’s ever been able to really do it,” he said. But now,  he says, he’s able to track the lead-in time to a shop, the average time in a shop, the lead-out time from a shop until it’s dispatched, and the utilization of a truck based on available hours in a day – all thanks to a new machine-learning tool NFI has been developing with a company called

As the case study on’s website explains it, “’s Fleet Health AI app creates a digital twin of NFI’s fleet, mapping every incident, trip, breakdown, or other unplanned incident, then feeding that data into our machine learning models. This enables us to predict asset and component-level failure. On top of that, NFI gains insights into asset acquisition/disposition and preventive maintenance effectiveness.”

Bliem told me the goal is to have the program up and running by the end of this summer. So far, he said, the system is only using data coming out of NFI’s TMT asset maintenance software and its TMW dispatch software. “Going forward we’ve got [Noodle] hooked up with Daimler trying to get them hooked up to collect ECM data, not just fault codes, and we’re combining all this data.

“Everybody like me, we want data, we want data, we want data – then no one knows what to do with all that data. NFI’s the first one that knows what to do with this floodgate of data coming in.”

The vision

Bliem explained what he hopes this effort will lead to. “Say you have a 2017 Freightliner day cab tractor that has 240,000 miles on it. My vision is that we’re going to be able to sit here at corporate and say there’s a risk assessment that’s yellow on this truck, and we’re going to spit out a custom PM sheet to bring that truck in and inspect so many items. We send that specific PM sheet to that shop or vendor and say, ‘This is what you need to inspect on this truck for this PM. Get it in and get it done.’ And the next inspection may not be for another 60,000 miles depending on what the risk of that truck is. “

Obviously trucks will still need to be brought in for required yearly DOT inspections and to change the oil (right now oil change intervals are at 60,000 miles.)

In Bliem’s scenario, he said, “the first PM on a truck might not be till 60,000 miles. Why are we brining it in at 30,000 miles if nothing ever goes wrong?”

How they got here

The project was the outgrowth of a continuous improvement project NFI did on its preventive maintenance inspection process.

NFI cut the number of PMs by decreeing that no PM inspections would be done before a minimum of 28,500 miles. It cut about 40 minutes out of the time it did to do the PM inspections through the continuous improvement process, doing things such as creating special PM bays.

“While we were doing that, I starting talking about, we need custom PM sheets. The owner’s manual for your car tells you at 15,000 miles you need to check these three things and at 40,000 miles you need to check these 5 things and replace this thing. I said we need that for our trucks. We’ve been doing inspections the same way my entire career. Yes, we’ve tweaked some of the checkmarks on our PM sheets, but we’ve been checking things the same way we did 50 years ago – and trucks are a lot different today.”

He asked his staff – a group with some 150-200 years worth of collective maintenance experience – how many time they have had to replace a one-way check valve in the air brake system.

“Out of five guys, I have one guy that thinks he remembers one. Yet we spend 15 minutes inspecting these every 30,000 miles. Why?”

“Why can’t we predict when a part’s going to fail and set it up for an inspection at 20% before we think it’s going to fail? We still have to inspect all the DOT safety items, of course, but we don’t have to inspect the alternator every 30,00 miles if we don’t think it’s going to fail until 300,000 miles. So that was how it started.”

He talked with NFI’s IT department, and with a company called Uptake that’s doing fault code predictive analysis. “Which is great, but we wanted more than fault codes,” Bliem said. “To us, a fault code is a result – and we want a cause. We want to know before you have a fault code, right?”

It turned out was already working with NFI to develop more efficient warehouse operations. So Bliem’s department started working with Noodle last fall on some data collection projects and has been seriously working on the predictive maintenance project since the first of the year.

Next steps

Noodle has a program designed, and NFI is working with them to validate and fine-tune it. “Right now we’re just going through all the systems.”

The question is, he explained, what parts do you use a six-digit system code and when do you dig deeper into the nine-digit part codes (in the VMRS reporting system)?

Initial data on rear brake failures, for instance, “didn’t look right,” Bliem said, and that was because the data was using the system code, combining all the failures from slack adjusters and S-cams and brake shoes and the like. “So you have to go down and analyze and decide whether you do those separately or roll them into a component. So that’s the complications we’re going through right now. So we can get a good risk assessment.”

Bliem says improving uptime will allow NFI to improve fleet efficiency to the point where it won’t need as many trucks to do the same job.

“The ultimate goal, it’s the maintenance holy grail, is reduced breakdowns and to never see the truck between inspections. We should never have a non-scheduled repair. That’s the ultimate goal.”


Deborah Lockridge


Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology. 28 Jesse H. Neal honors.

GPS in Trucks: Great Navigation Tool or Path to Problems?

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By Deborah Lockridge

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Jeff Barker is an experienced truck driver (and technician by training) who’s been training drivers for Crete Carrier Corp. for years. He’s just about seen and heard it all. But a recent encounter with a young trainee about GPS navigation systems was a new one.

On a recent morning, Jeff was taking a short break at a truck stop, cleaning some dirt out of the floor of his cab, when he was approached by a young man who was out with his trainer (for a different company, which shall remain unnamed.)

Here’s how Jeff related the encounter on his Facebook page:

“You know your truck can be placed out of service, don’t you?” he said.

I asked, “Well, did you notice something wrong that I didn’t?”

“You don’t have a GPS in there!”

Jeff said, “I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically. Then while still laughing, I said, ‘Now, where in the hell did you come up with THAT nonsense? I have been out here for almost 25 years now and have NEVER seen a single FMCSA regulation that states I need to have a mandatory GPS device in my truck!’”

The young driver’s trainer came up and asked what was going on, so Jeff asked the trainer where his student was getting his misleading information. The student asked him, “Well, how do you get around?”

Jeff held up his note pad and Road Atlas and told him, “The same way I have been safely doing it for the last 2.9 million miles – and GPS units were not around back when I started, either!”

The trainee apparently didn’t get it, because Jeff reported that resulted in a very puzzled look on the young man’s face.

In a follow-up post, Jeff noted, “Seriously, a GPS could be a good ‘tool’ for any commercial driver to have, if they know how to use it properly and not rely on it for anything more than finding streets in the written legal routing as part of a good trip plan. I know many good, safe drivers who use them for that fashion, but I just choose not to.”

Quite a few of Jeff’s fellow drivers chimed in with comments on his posts:

“I had a student that required a GPS to get to work every morning, despite three weeks of showing up to the same place, parking into the same spot, he still required a GPS to get there,” noted one.

“When I was still on the road, dispatchers didn’t want us using a GPS because of the mistakes on the device itself or the driver’s inability to follow the directions properly when the GPS navigated,” said another. “I actually had a GPS tell me to leave the road and wanted to navigate me through a field to get to a warehouse in Savannah, Georgia.”

One driver said that although he’s used his road atlas for years, and still uses it to locate an unfamiliar town or city, he finally bought a truck-specific GPS and loves it. “I put in the address, cross- reference the directions the GPS gives me with the local directions I get from Crete, and I’ve got to say it is a great tool. Because it is truck specific, has my height and weight programmed in it, I’ve found it to be very reliable. I love it that I always know how many miles I have to go at a glance and it gives a very good ETA that I find useful when communicating with dispatch.”

But another GPS user cautioned, “Even being truck-specific, you still have to watch. Mine has tried taking me down no-truck roads and other things. I love mine, but only as a backup to my road atlas.”

There’s no shortage of news stories of drivers, passenger-vehicle and commercial driver alike, who have blindly followed their GPS directions into situations ranging from difficult to deadly. There was the 2017 case where a truck driver followed his GPS right onto the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey. And in Oregon last year, a trucker whose GPS sent him up the wrong road went missing for four days and had to walk 36 miles in the snow. And how many trucks have you seen that hit low overpasses or get stuck on a tight curve they couldn’t navigate because their GPS is not truck-specific?

Just like so much of the new “driver assistance” technology available in new trucks, GPS navigation systems are a tool – a high-tech tool that can be abused or misunderstood by the user.


Deborah Lockridge


Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology. 28 Jesse H. Neal honors.