Magazine article Management Today

High-Techhaulage

Magazine article Management Today

High-Techhaulage

Article excerpt

For the past couple of years all eyes in the distribution industry have been trained on, of all places, Hythe in Kent; not on one of the giants of the industry but n a modest 48-vehicle company, Inter City Trucks, which specialises in transporting industrial loads, particularly in eastern Europe.

Inter City is one of five companies (the others are in Belgium, Greece and the Netherlands) being used as test-beds for a number of advanced communications systems, which, if they fulfil their promise, should make even small and medium-sized transport companies much more efficient. The idea is to give operators the ability to pinpoint from minute to minute exactly where on the Continent their vehicles are and to keep drivers in constant touch with home base via computers and satellites.

The Kent company, and its 12-vehicle sister company, Dockspeed, are part of a European Commission project called |Metafora' (Major European Testing of Actual Freight Operations Using Road Transport Infomatics on an Axis). The equipment being road-tested in |Metafora' includes a trip recorder in the form of a |memory card' which electronically records every aspect of the vehicle's journey; vehicle location devices; and terminals that allow messages (including the location information) to be bounced back and forth between truck and transport operator using a satellite link. The vehicle location is done by an American military positioning satellite called GPS (Global Positioning System).

There are 24 of these satellites in orbit beaming positioning information down all the time,' says Stephen Anderson, research fellow in the transport studies group at the University of Westminster, who is co-ordinating the UK end of Metafora. |Receiver the vehicle pick up signals from two or three of these things and by triangulation can calculate the position of the vehicle.' The location information is then bounced back to the home base via one of the Inmarsat communications satellites and displayed on a computer screen. Inter City and Dockspeed have 12 vehicles in the study. Six are equipped with satellite communications, vehicle location equipment and trip recorders and six with trip recorders only.

Inter City's managing director John Faulkner says the drivers have reacted positively to the equipment, particularly the satellite communications package. |It makes them more a part of the operating centre,' he explains. And the drivers appear to like the on-board trip recorder because it cuts down on paperwork. …

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