The transportation of pharmaceuticals on the road is a multi-billion euro business only highly specialised companies are willing to take on, as even a subtle temperature change can be a serious threat to the integrity of an entire load.
German company Frigo-Trans is one such expert business. Located in the town of Fußgönheim, some 100km south of Frankfurt am Main, it is specialised in servicing the healthcare industry and has gained vast experience in handling the complex logistics processes behind the transportation and handling of modern medicine.
Telematics has arguably been the most impactful tool to enter the Frigo-Trans business over the past decade, says Shareholder Walter Buchholz, right alongside more efficiently insulated transport equipment. The integration of different systems, however, has been an on-going issue ever since the first GPS tracking unit was installed in a Frigo-Trans truck, and it took Buchholz and his team until recently to find a solution that would allow them to fully tap into the technology’s potential.
According to Buchholz, Frigo-Trans had been using a whole variety of telematics systems before, not only on the company’s 80-strong trailer fleet – mainly for temperature monitoring – but also on each truck, most often a vehicle-specific solution. A third group of systems had been in use to support the drivers and connect them with head office.
In the past, this multi-platform approach seemed unavoidable, says Buchholz, as different Frigo-Trans departments required different information. “Some may have needed access to technical data such as brake actuation, maintenance intervals and fuel usage, while some required process-relevant information like payload and current position.”
Walter Buchholz’s mission was to reduce the amount of technology needed while maintaining the same, high level of transparency. “The idea was to optimise the entire communication processes on the vehicle – fully integrating truck, trailer and driver specific technology into one transparent solution,” he explains. “Above all, it was important to us to connect the truck’s telematics system to the existing trailer system and allow the two to talk to each other.”
He explains that the idea was to get a precise overview of which truck was towing which trailer at what time, and where it was located. “Following that, we’d be able to evaluate the exact route including all intended stops, also taking in account all driver-related information such as mandatory breaks, using a single system.”
The challenge, he says, was to optimise a system that had been working seamlessly before – Frigo-Trans’ award-winning, yet complex Cool Chain Control system.
The solution came in the form of a whole new system developed by BPW subsidiary idem. It incorporates truck-specific telematics and keeps the driver informed via a seven-inch colour display inside the cab.
“With the large display as part of the on-board system, we found precisely the operating unit that we were looking for to display messages for the driver as well as all necessary navigation functions,” he says – adding that all on-board systems are now connected to the truck’s CAN bus and tachograph, as well to both doors. The system even has an alarm button to allow Frigo-Trans to venture into the security transport industry in the future.
What’s more, the new system is able to communicate with the truck’s TControl Center (TCC), which is in turn connected to the server of the LIS Winsped ERP system via a web interface, and exchanges order-relevant data with head office.
Walter Buchholz says the new setup opened up a whole new range of opportunities for Frigo-Trans. For example, the temperature information from the trailer is now sent directly to the on-board system in the truck via the TCC, allowing the driver to access it from the cab. As a result, deviations from nominal parameters alert both head office and the driver, effectively halving the risk of defects going unrecognised.
The new system is also capable of monitoring the refrigeration units’ diesel supply. “It is already a standard procedure in many telematics systems for the driver to record the grade and quantity of fuel filled for the truck. Trailer telematics systems, however, usually don’t have such a function because there is no input device,” Buchholz explains. “The system we’ve developed with idem can now also measure the quantity of fuel left in the refrigeration unit so that the trailer servicing team is always up to date.
“This delivers an additional benefit for the business and has significantly contributed to increasing the level of acceptance for the new system amongst drivers, because in the past, it was still necessary to record information about fuelling the reefer unit in manual fuelling logs.”
According to Buchholz, Frigo-Trans’ schedulers also benefit from that added level of transparency as the system allows them to communicate directly with each driver and automatically inform them on driving and rest times, for example.
Buchholz says in the past, telematics providers have attempted to achieve this level of complexity by linking sensors on the trailer directly with the telematics unit on the truck. Frigo-Trans’ new system, however, does not rely on cables connecting the front and back of a combination anymore. It also doesn’t use Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or similar radio technologies, as they require truck and trailer to be compatible, thereby ruling out the use of third-party equipment.
“In the past, when the trailer was unhitched, it dropped off the radar and could no longer be reached by the telematics system. “That’s why we opted for a dual system comprising a telematics unit in the truck and in the trailer.”
With one company providing both units and no ties to OEMs or third parties, the opportunities for Frigo-Trans to expand on the system seem endless. “In the mid-term, we intend to introduce scanners as well and link the telematics to our WinSped haulage system,” Buchholz says. “To do this, we need a reliable technology partner, and we believe idem telematics has been the right choice for us. It’s all about reducing complexity and enabling the business to actually make sense of the data it collects.”