Vehicle Tracking Systems in Logistics – The Ultimate Guide
What Are the Different Types of Vehicle Tracking and Fleet Management Systems?
Get from point A to point B.
If only it were that easy.
The whole purpose of a vehicle is to move people and/or their goods from one place to another. Whether it’s someone trying to get to office in time or someone trying to deliver to that office on time, there are plenty of things to check and balance:
- Current location
- Preferred Routes
- Diversions along the way
- Parking once you’ve arrived
- Fuel levels
Managing a fleet of vehicles is more challenging because you’re also balancing:
- Rising fuel costs
- Mounting maintenance costs
- Safety concerns
all the while driving a commitment to excellent customer service.
Fleet managers and other logistics professionals have, over decades, developed several tried and tested strategies to address these concerns.
GPS vehicle tracking is among the most popular options out there, and several fleet management systems have been developed over the years that allow fleet operators to track vehicles using realistic maps and views generated from GPS data.
What Is GPS Vehicle Tracking?
Let us begin with GPS. GPS stands for Global Positioning System.
It's a navigation system that uses satellites in space to triangulate a position on earth.
It’s a pretty simple setup. A receiver on the ground listens to signals that the orbital satellites beam down, signals that contain information on the satellites’ precise coordinates. Receivers gauge how long it takes these signals to reach them, and by comparing signals from at least three satellites, it’s possible to pinpoint the receiver’s exact position on the Earth through triangulation.
The more satellites you’re listening to, the more accurately you can detect your location.
And there are a lot of satellites to listen to out there.Global GPS Networks for Location and Navigation
While the term “GPS” ubiquitously refers to a system that uses a network of orbital satellites to map location on Earth, there are in fact four separate networks that are in use right now.
- Nationality: USA
- Number of Satellites: 32
- Nationality: Russia
- Number of Satellites: 24
- Nationality: EU
- Number of Satellites: 30
- Nationality: China
- Number of Satellites: 35 (proposed)
A good GPS vehicle or fleet tracking system tunes in to more than one of these, a redundancy that guarantees better location accuracy.Applications of GPS
Created and deployed primarily for military use, GPS networks have been opened — within limits — to civilian use, and they’ve been co-opted for several day-to-day applications such as:
- Navigation aids.
- Tracking systems - for things like phones, luggage, or pets.
- Precise positioning - for engineering applications.
- Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) systems.
- Pedestrian Navigation Systems (PNSs)
- Location-based Services (LBS)
- Autonomous Vehicles (AVs)
- Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS)
The most common use for GPS devices is in map applications or turn-by-turn navigation systems, usually sold as standalone units or integrated into smartphones and vehicles. GPS has also become an integral part of how vehicle tracking works, evolving from a simple replacement for maps to an incredibly versatile tool that can help improve efficiency and savings.
GPS vehicle tracking is the use of GPS positioning and data transmission through cellular networks in order to locate a vehicle or truck in real-time or at any point in time.Types of GPS Vehicle Tracking Systems
There are several off-the-shelf truck or car tracker options available today, with loads of variants in terms of price, features, and reliability. Most vehicle trackers can be grouped into two classes.Hardwired or Embedded GPS Vehicle Trackers
This type of vehicle tracking device is wired to the engine block (embedded) or cabin of the truck (hardwired), drawing power from the vehicle’s battery.
They’re the most common type of vehicle tracker used in fleet management. Hardwired vehicle trackers are built to resist tamper or sabotage. They’re sometimes also hooked up to the vehicle’s security system, allowing users to track or even remotely disable stolen vehicles.
Although they’re reasonably reliable, most vehicle trackers are only active as long as the battery of the truck is functional, and wires are intact. Another problem with wired trackers is data logging. Unless the tracker has enough on-board storage or can transmit its data over a mobile network — assuming there’s any network reception of course — hardwired vehicle trackers aren’t reliable as logging and buffering tools, which makes it hard to account for a vehicle’s whereabouts when someone’s not tracking the feeds, or when the engine is off.OBD II Port Based GPS Vehicle Trackers
Commonly known as OBD Trackers -- This type of vehicle tracker plugs directly into the OBD II diagnostic port that’s available in most newer vehicles. An OBD Tracker draws power from the vehicle itself, and it can also read data from the vehicle’s built-in sensors and diagnostics systems, allowing it to track things like fuel levels, acceleration, ignition status, etc. from the vehicle’s on-board computer.
How Does Fleet Tracking Work?
When it comes to GPS fleet tracking, systems are categorized as:
- Active — hardwired or OBDII based
- Passive — loggers
Passive tracking systems use devices that log location data and save it on to an embedded flash drive for retrieval later. They’re a low-cost solution, but the data is never retrieved in real-time, and there are several operational issues, most notably issues with data recovery, data tamper, or software compatibility. These systems as also called GPS data loggers or simply GPS loggers.
Most fleet managers prefer active real-time vehicle tracking systems because they give you live information, which is more actionable and reliable. In its simplest form, active fleet tracking and management involves:
- Tracking the location of vehicles or assets in real-time – through devices using GPS, cellular data, or a combination of tracking methods.
- Communicating that location information to a control station – where it’s stored and analyzed by specialized software.
- Generating reports based on tracking information – which can be used to troubleshoot routes in real-time or optimize logistics operations over time.
The tracking device is usually an embedded or hardwired system, and it consists of:
- A microcontroller or a similar processing unit that’s connected to sensors on the vehicle
- A GPS receiver
- A communication module that’s used to transmit information from the vehicle
These trackers can be connected to different vehicle systems in the vehicle in order to track a vehicle’s location and direction of movement, in addition to some other information such as fuel levels, tire pressure, ignition status, engine temperature, etc.
Data gathered by the tracking device is transmitted to a server through cellular networks or other means of transmission. From there, it can be displayed on a dashboard through a web browser or specialized software for real-time tracking and management. It can also be stored for future analysis; some tracking devices also have on-board data storage capabilities, allowing you to download and review data when connectivity fails.
A tracking device can help monitor a vehicle’s normal day-to-day functioning, and it can also help identify incidents such as theft, hijack, crashes, or accidents. They’re also handy when vehicle owners lease or rent out their vehicles and need to track vehicle usage. This is especially true in fleet management, where it’s necessary to monitor the driver for safety reasons, to make sure they’re not using company vehicles for personal gains, or to prevent things like fuel theft.How to Install Vehicle or Fleet Tracking Systems?
Most vehicle tracking systems are the hardwired sort, and they’re meant to operate for long periods of time with minimal maintenance.
It’s usually a better idea to get a professional to install tracking systems, because most vehicle tracking modules integrate with a vehicle’s on-board sensors and electronics, and any issues while installing the vehicle tracking system could interfere with other vehicular electronic or electrical systems, affecting the vehicle’s normal functions.
Installing a hardwired vehicle tracking system generally involves two steps.
- Select the Location for Your Location Tracker
The first thing you need to figure out is where you want to install your tracking device. Most fleet trackers need to be discreet or hidden from drivers, which means it’ll either go under the dashboard or within the engine block.
Keep in mind that wireless signals, whether they’re GPS or cellular data, won’t penetrate metal too well, so if the tracking device has an embedded antenna, make sure it’s not buried too deep within the vehicle body. It’s also important to make sure the vehicle tracker isn’t placed too close to other electrical or electronic components in order to eliminate the likelihood of electronic feedback or interference when the device is transmitting. The best place for your vehicle tracked is at the base of your windshield.
- Connect the Tracker to the Vehicle’s Battery
Most active vehicle tracking systems draw power directly from the vehicle’s power grid, specifically from the ignition column. This ensures that your tracking system is always on when the engine is, and it prevents the tracking system from draining the vehicle’s battery when the vehicle isn’t running.
While there are plenty of options out there, the cost of your vehicle tracking solution will largely depend on the following factors.Hardware
Which involves the cost of:The GPS Tracking Device
Active GPS tracking devices that are hardwired to the vehicle’s ignition are typically more expensive than passive GPS tracking devices. That’s because active devices have better antennae for improved accuracy, additional features such as signal scrubbing, noise cancellation, as well as tamper-proofing or tamper detection.Additional Components
These could include additional antennae for better signal reception, signal boosters for active tracking data transmission, or add-ons such as processing capabilities, security modules, or additional on-board data storage.Installation
This involves direct costs such as hiring professionals that are familiar with installing complex GPS vehicle tracking systems, as well as indirect costs such as the fuel required to get the vehicle to and from the site of installation (if it’s not on-site) and the revenue lost due to the vehicle’s downtime.Connectivity & Data Plan
Active GPS vehicle tracking systems with real-time location reporting features are constantly connected to a “central monitoring station” – usually a software or web-based dashboard that tracks a whole fleet or company-wide logistics. Most active mobile GPS tracking solutions rely on cellular connectivity solutions such as 3G, 2G, or GSM-based options to maintain communications. As the system constantly broadcasts location information (and sometimes feeds from an array of other sensors as well) it could generate over a Terabyte of data over the course of the day, which requires a separate — and sometimes significant — spend on connectivity and data plans.Fleet Tracking Software
Every smart system needs a control center. There are plenty of software suites available that can work standalone or through a browser, and they allow fleet managers to integrate fleet-wide tracking feeds onto a single dashboard, allowing them to manage their logistics operations online. Software solutions go beyond implement dashboards, they also come bundled with a host of other features such as real-time alerts, condition or event-based monitoring, and data analytics. While some systems could require a significant initial investment to set up and deploy, there are solutions out there that are built on Software as a Service (SaaS) models and allow you to pay as you go.
What Are the Benefits and Limitations of GPS Vehicle Tracking Systems?
Fleet management today calls for the mastery of several variables using a variety of technologies that include vehicle tracking, telematics, and smart surveillance. More advanced fleet management solutions allow things like fuel economy, driver behavior, and several other important parameters such as mileage, speed, braking style, and fuel consumption to be closely monitored, allowing fleet managers to gather useful data.
The collected data, properly filtered and analyzed, could give fleet companies valuable insights.
There’s a growing interest in new and evolving technologies that could help out in these areas. Developments in big data, connectivity, low-cost hardware, and overall trends are building toward the rise of connected vehicles; these developments have the potential to give fleet managers new options and opportunities in their never-ending quest to improve fleet performance, increase margins, and consistently deliver customer satisfaction.
Visibility into the current location of logistics fleets increases the effectiveness and efficiency of prevalent fleet management techniques, and the growing adoption of technology and automation has the potential to reduce overall transportation and manpower costs.
At the same time, there are also many benefits of logistics visibility that vehicle tracking could not address. We will examine their limitations and also discuss how these challenges were overcome by technologies other than vehicle tracking – such as RFID or IoT enabled package-level monitoring solutions.
Before you learn about the features of a good vehicle tracking system, see if Vehicle Tracking itself is the right approach to your logistics visibility problem. Perhaps you need something more granular. Logistics Tracking Evolution – Vehicles to Containers to Packages14 Features of a Good GPS Vehicle Tracking System for Logistics and Fleet Management
There are a few inherent issues with GPS technology and mobile connectivity in general such as accuracy in cloudy weather or the loss of signal strength in urban or underground areas. Fleet tracking solutions need to be resilient to these weaknesses in order to avoid gaps in tracking and reporting.
In addition to their role in monitoring and safety assurance, most GPS tracking technologies are installed for their security features such as the ability to remotely disable vehicles to prevent theft or recover stolen property. These features work only as long as the tracking system is in place, and enterprising thieves (or drivers) are learning how to disable or fool such systems. A good vehicle tracking system should be able to detect, or better yet, prevent that.
While most active GPS vehicle tracking systems have pretty robust location tracking and connectivity solutions, there are inevitable gaps or a loss in signal due to bad reception in remote areas, underground, or indoors. High-end vehicle tracking systems maintain an on-board data log in addition to real-time data transmission in order to bridge these gaps in connectivity and data, ensuring there’s end-to-end visibility without any gaps in data.
While most mobile or vehicle tracking solutions use the American GPS network, good fleet tracking solutions also harness other global GPS networks such as GLONASS as well as additional methods such as cellular tower triangulation and inertial navigation in order to improve their location accuracy.
Good GPS vehicle tracking systems for security and stolen vehicle recovery need to be small and stealthy enough to avoid detection, or else they’re easily disabled by enterprising thieves.
While it’s understood that quality doesn’t come cheap, a good GPS vehicle tracking system should also be cost-effective enough to make it viable for round-the-clock deployment.
Vehicles out on the road are exposed to the elements and harsh operating conditions, more so if they’re fleet vehicles that are running almost constantly. The GPS tracking hardware deployed to track these vehicles need to be just as rugged as the vehicles they’re tracking, or else fixing and maintaining them won’t be cost-effective for long-term deployments.
This is an especially important feature to minimize errors in billing, auditing, and while reviewing shipments. While it’s relatively easy to build a report on the basis of paperwork filed and hours logged, technology provides a means to capture massive amounts of data in real-time and generate reports that aren’t as susceptible to human error.
Tracking and Crisis Management
Good GPS fleet tracking systems help you handle routing, scheduling, and efficient dispatch, all with real-time tracking and alerts. Great fleet tracking solutions go beyond that, suggesting routing decisions based on specific conditions, generating real-time updates about alerts that matter, and automated response handling such as notifying the authorities in case of theft or dangerous incidents.
Total Logistics Cost (TLC) Reductions
The biggest long-term gain from GPS fleet tracking is savings, both direct savings through route optimization that leads to reduced fuel consumption, and indirect savings through reduced insurance premiums, detention costs, and better operational efficiencies through automation.
Detailed Diagnostics and Analytics
Any fleet manager worth his salt has spent time pouring over graphs and reports about trends, ranks, and ratios for the fleet. While this data helps to figure out what happened, it doesn’t always explain why. Without that little nugget, you’ve got no real way to know if an incident could repeat itself, or even what may happen next. Analytics could help fill in those gaps, using sophisticated algorithms to help outline cause and effect, helping you to accurately predict the most likely chain of events – and avoid the unfortunate ones.
Predictive Maintenance, Wear and Tear Reports
Components in shared vehicles (or sometimes the vehicles themselves) need to be replaced more often due to higher utilization and related wear and tear. OEMs and dealers have always faced issues with effective parts & service planning and optimization, and ensuring the right part is at the right place at the right time represents the ultimate pinnacle of just-in-time (JIT) service.
Being able to predict and plan servicing could also help speed up repairs and reduce vehicle downtime, allowing freight and logistics companies to maximize their fleet’s utilization without overreaching or compromising safety.
Real-time and predictive diagnostics and analytics could help:
- Address critical repairs before a failure occurs.
- Reduce warranty costs.
- Reduce average diagnostics and repair time.
- Accelerate root-cause analysis.
- Increase customer uptime.
- Increase fleet uptime and reliability.
- Increase year-over-year service cost improvements.
- Lower service cost for connected fleets.
- Reduce operating costs.
Driver Behavior Monitoring
It'll be a while before autonomous driving kicks in. Until then, fleet managers and their company’s reputation are at the mercy of their drivers. Real-time GPS fleet tracking could help with that.
Real-time fleet tracking doesn’t just allow fleet operators to continuously monitor their vehicles, they’re also able to gauge driver behavior. An array of vehicle sensors (some of which are standard in modern vehicles) allow fleet managers to detect bad driver behavior such as speeding, harsh braking, or cornering at high speeds. Some systems go one step further, sending automated warnings to both the driver and fleet manager, allowing for instant response to potentially dangerous circumstances.
Improvements in efficiency don’t just enable fleet managers to do more with less, they allow them to meet, sometimes even exceed, growing customer expectations. Real-time GPS fleet tracking and management can help reduce the disruption of customer operations by 25 percent, while also allowing other efficiency initiatives such as just-in-time (JIT) inventory and manufacturing.
Even if a GPS vehicle tracking system has these features, its popularity as a logistics visibility tool is fading due to some key drawbacks and limitations in terms of solving real-world logistics issues.5 Limitations That Destined Vehicle Tracking Systems to Fail in Logistics Management
Although real-time GPS tracking has helped logistics and fleet managers streamline their supply chains immensely, there are still some areas where vehicle tracking hasn’t been able to address the inherent issues.
Dependence on Fleet Owner and Logistics Service Providers for Tracking
Have you ever had to wait for someone that’s running late for a movie? It’s tricky to get them to give you an accurate read on where they are, much less how long it’ll take them to get there. Fleet managers deal with this every day, and it’s a bigger problem than just missing part of a movie.
Most logistics operations run on a balance of fleet vehicles and vehicles on hire - 3PLs, or sometimes referred to as market vehicles. While it’s easy enough to deploy GPS tracking within your own fleet, it’s hard, nay, damn near impossible to track hired vehicles unless they’ve got a reliable tracking system of their own deployed.
Vehicle tracking system installations are always a fleet owner initiative, and it’s not feasible to impose tracking and visibility initiatives on leased vehicles or temporary logistics providers.
No Last-mile Delivery Confirmation
Most last-mile delivery optimization tools work by tracking vehicles. The thing is, your truck doesn’t drive up to a customer’s doorstep.
You’ve got no idea whether a delivery has been completed or not until the driver scans an invoice or punches in data. It’s not an ideal system for real-time tracking, especially when drivers in a hurry prefer to wrap up paperwork at the end of their day.
Lack of Cargo Tracking – A Logistics Security Threat
While a good GPS vehicle fleet tracker can help you recover a stolen vehicle, there’s no similar guarantee covering the goods. Unless you’re able to act immediately on real-time route deviation alerts, the chances of you recovering stolen goods decrease with every passing minute.
Inability to Track Within the Warehouse
We’re not talking about losing a GPS signal indoors here. Logistics and warehousing are separate legs of the same supply chain. And yet, most supply chain tracking solutions stop where your warehouse begins. When you’re trying to deliver on-time and securely, it’s vital to monitor for choke-points and risk-prone areas not only on the road, but also when you’re parked. Vehicle tracking systems can’t reliably track the movement of your goods when they’re routed through intermediate warehouses or sorting centers, not as easily as end-to-end package tracking would anyway.
Lack of Cargo Condition Monitoring
Sometimes, knowing your vehicle’s location isn’t as important as knowing your cargo’s condition. You wouldn’t worry much about your refrigerated truck taking a spin through the desert if you know the AC is on, right?
Common real-time GPS tracking and fleet management solutions include fuel sensors, ignition sensors, and driving behavior analysis. None of these can tell you with certainty whether your goods are being transported in the right conditions though, leaving you guessing about their integrity through the shipping process.
These drawbacks essentially mean that you need to switch to a solution that is more granular and can track at a package level.
While google maps are one of the most accurate and reliable ways of tracking almost everything, it most certainly isn't the best tool for vehicle tracking. One of the biggest reasons for this is that vehicle tracking isn't about simply tracking the vehicle anymore; it is about knowing everything about your vehicle right from its real-time location and how many breaks the driver took on the way to the condition of the packages traveling on it and details of loading and unloading of the packages.
Google basically relies on crowdsourcing, data aggregation, and past pattern analysis to calculate the ETAs, which completely depends on the availability of data for that particular area, and is purely a prediction rather than a certain ETA, that you need in order to properly monitor your vehicles.
Google Maps may not always be the best way to know the whereabouts of your vehicles, since it relies on crowdsourced data. Additionally, it is not accurate when tracking vehicles in long-distance journeys, given its short-term traffic predictions and inaccurate factoring of traffic signals.
The ETA that Google Maps provides isn't the most dependable thing, owing to the fact that it doesn't take into consideration other things such as fuel stops, halts, and night-time driving. Moreover, if a route isn't frequently traveled on, Google Maps falls short of enough accurate data, which messes up its ETA predictions.
One of the biggest drawbacks of using Google Maps for Vehicle Tracking is that it cannot help you with the Mean Kinetic Temperature (MKT) calculations, which is a big thing to miss out on when you're dealing with a cold chain. MKT tells you the level of sensitivity a particular type of cold chain shows to fluctuations. So, when we say Google Maps doesn't take MKT into account, it basically means that it cannot tell you how your cold chain would respond to different levels and frequencies of temperature fluctuations.
Are There Any Alternatives to Vehicle Tracking Systems in Logistics?
Are GPS vehicle tracking solutions enough for logistics and supply chain optimization?
The short answer is, No.
While accurate real-time GPS tracking is crucial in logistics management and optimization, there’s a whole other dimension that’s only just being explored, but one that fleet managers are eager to embrace — and that’s condition monitoring.
When it comes to sensitive goods like perishables or fragile cargo, it is important to know how it is being handled in real-time. With vehicle tracking devices, you can only collect sensor information about the health of the vehicle, not your shipment.
There are a few options out there to help address this need, and the two most popular options include RFID and hybrid IoT solutions.
RFID-Based Package Tracking Systems
Coupled with robust connectivity and back-end analytics, Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags on packages can help add a layer of granularity to tracking solutions that vehicle-based tracking could never hope to achieve.
By efficiently tagging individual packages, this tracking system can not only accurately track progress through a supply chain, but also plug-in other data such as environmental or conditional information to accurately predict any conditional anomalies.
There are, however, issues with an RFID based package tracking systems, some of which include:
The need for additional infrastructure — such as readers, network connectivity, etc. which isn’t easy to implement at the package-level for in-transit logistics.
The need for expensive hardware — RFID is expensive, not just due to the cost of new hardware, but also because RFID is a proprietary technology and hasn’t reached economies of scale yet.
The need for more power — RFID readers are power-hungry, and unless you’re plugged into a grid or toting a heavy portable power pack, it’s hard to extend their battery life for long-haul shipments.
These, and many other operational issues, have spurred the development of an alternative solution — a hybrid IoT solution — that has the potential to outperform RFID in package-level tracking solutions.
Learn why RFID cannot do item-level tracking in logistics and supply chain.
Package-Level Tracking Using a Hybrid IoT System
A hybrid Internet of Things (IoT) solution leverages technologies like GPS, GSM, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to make end-to-end package level visibility not just reliable, but also cost-effective.
It’s a solution that’s:
Portable – small enough to ride with your shipments, or better yet, in them.
Reliable – accurate data reporting and logging to ensure there are no gaps in your visibility.
Scalable – with low initial deployment costs and manageable operational overheads.
Global - network agnostic, able to transmit information across the globe, regardless of carrier.
Sturdy – able to weather the elements, and enough battery stamina to endure the complete trip.
So, what does it take to track individual packages?
How to Track Packages Using IoT?
To track individual packages using a hybrid Internet of Things (IoT) solution, you need the right portable wireless hardware and software. You also need to:
Get Connected Using a Portable Gps/Gsm/Ble/Wi-Fi Enabled Gateway Hotspot Device
You need a device that will act as a transponder of location and also sense the packages in its vicinity.
Get Granular Using Ble Tags/Beacons for Your Packages
You need beacons to let you know whether your packages are with each other, and their condition.
Build a Plan for the Reverse Logistics of These Iot Devices
Since you are using portable devices as a hotspot and tags (which are wireless too!) for tracking your individual packages, you need to have a reliable reverse logistics network or plan in place, else you could be dealing with the mounting cost of lost devices.
Data Analytics Method for Logistics
To ensure you are not being spammed with alerts, and only get warned about situations where you need to act, the way your software or platform analyzes data and generates alerts is important.
Set up a Logistics Control Tower (In-House or Outsourced)
Even with structured data and trusted warnings, you may not be able to get 100% efficiency on your logistics movements without acting promptly when there is a problem.
Secure Your IoT System
With a large amount of data traveling through cellular networks and residing on clouds, a security breach could be disastrous for your logistics, as sensitive information could be exposed to someone who can use it maliciously. Therefore, there are certain security norms you ought to keep in mind in order to prevent your IoT solution from becoming vulnerable.