How telematics is helping Raider Express succeed.
Mike Eggleton is a results-oriented kind of guy. When he wanted to start a family business, he pulled his son, Michael, aside and handed him some items.
“On the day he graduated from Texas Tech, my former partner and I handed Michael a briefcase with operating authority, insurance, and a key to a small office on Produce Row in Houston and said, ‘Here, just do what we tell you to do, and we’ll start this company’,” Mike remembers.
The results poured in. Today Raider Express operates 310 tractors—mostly Volvos—and has more than 600 refrigerated trailers. Their drivers run long hauls, driving produce from Texas to the Western beef patch, then beef to the Bronx or New Jersey. They load bananas or other imported produce from the New Jersey docks and haul that back to the Midwest—Iowa or Illinois—before picking up pork and bringing that back to Texas.
The Eggletons built Raider Express by gathering information and paying attention to details. “The more we know about every single part of our business, the better we’ll be able to talk to our customers about their challenges,” Mike, now President of Raider Express, says.
The livestream truck
Today, there is a whole industry comprised of gathering information and paying attention to details. It’s called data analytics. Raider Express is an enthusiastic early adopter. They are, in fact, trying to push the envelope.
“We want to take connectivity to another level,” Mike says. “What we’re really looking for is a livestream truck. Absolutely real-time. We want to know everything that truck is doing. We want to know why the fuel economy is at a certain level when it should be at a different level. We want to know if there’s a problem with the transmission or with some particular part of the engine. We want to catch those things right away. We don’t want a truck running around for a month with a problem that is causing fuel economy degradation. We don’t want to wait for that to show up in the reports. We want to know today.”
Connectivity has a growing presence in the trucking industry. At Raider Express, the guy in charge of making sense of the information flow running back to the fleet from the trucks is another Eggleton, Dan, who came to work for the family business when he graduated from Texas Tech in 2001.
Dan, now the company CFO, says that as far back as a decade ago, telematics on trucks allowed fleets to look at aggregate fuel consumption numbers on a daily basis. But, if a truck wasn’t equipped with telematics, they might have to wait until the next time that truck was hooked up to a computer—sometimes as long as three or four months—to understand its fuel consumption patterns.
“We’d have a one-page summary saying this truck burned this number of gallons,” Dan says. “We had no capacity for any kind of real predictability or really useful trending data.”
50,000 data points a day
That wasn’t enough to a family who built their business gathering information and paying attention to details.
“Today we get on average about 50,000 messages a day, coming in from every truck in the fleet that’s active on our data program with Remote Diagnostics. Sometimes that’s five to ten messages an hour on a truck. That gives us a very, very, very good, up-to-date, and clear view of how the truck is performing.”
Through Volvo’s web-based monitoring platform, Raider Express intakes fault codes and 35 different engine sensor values. They receive fuel consumption figures broken into categories. They can draw wind speeds and weather conditions. All of the data comes in a constant stream, creating a picture of how each truck is performing in nearly real-time. The data from one truck can eventually populate 760 fields in an analytic program, either to illustrate historic trends or predict future likelihoods.
“That frequency is an absolute game-changer,” Dan says. “Not just from a tractor performance perspective, either. It’s transcended into safety predictability, operating predictability—every aspect of our operation somehow ties back to receiving that data at that frequency. It’s incredible.”
A continual blood pressure check
It all started with fuel consumption. The Eggletons became obsessed with fuel efficiency after their young and growing company plowed into 2008, when the economy faltered and gas prices skyrocketed. “Fanatical” is the way Mike Eggleton describes his relationship with fuel consumption after that.
“We spend a million dollars a month on fuel. If we can save ten or twenty percent, that’s a pretty nice paycheck,” Mike says.
Using Volvo ASIST allows Raider Express to diagnose patterns in fuel consumption almost as quickly as the changes occur. But Dan realized that the 50,000 messages the company receives every day from their trucks was creating a robust and continual health check on each truck.
Changes in fuel consumption, of course, often signal deeper processes at work. “Pretty much anything that is going down the path of not performing as it should be is going to reflect in the fuel consumption of the truck,” Dan says. “It’s kind of like getting your blood pressure checked. It starts throwing out hints, ok something’s going on here.”
Better data has allowed Raider Express to minimize downtime by anticipating repairs before they become time-loss issues and keeping drivers on the road. Better data means better safety, too. By examining the trends and the likelihood that certain events are going to happen—based on information from, say, tire monitors, or a muffler—Raider Express is able to intervene earlier and create safer conditions for the driver and everybody else on the road.
Getting the data jump
If other fleets are not deriving the benefit from data analytics that Raider Express is, Dan suggests it might be because they’re working with the wrong dealer.
“We have a few trucks from other manufacturers that have telematics units in them, but the consistency of the data, the frequency of it is nowhere near what we have from Volvo’s integrated unit. It’s maybe 10 percent what we get from Volvo Trucks,” Dan says. “It’s a night and day difference.”
Dan’s believes not embracing data and figuring out how to use it to optimize operations is a death knell for fleets. He’s looking down the road and seeing a supply chain that is only going to get more efficient, only going to demand shorter transit times. He sees diminishing room for error and time wasted on available truck hours and driver time.
“The data that we get from our Volvo trucks is absolutely the single most crucial factor to us going forward and being able to grow and being able to meet our customers’ needs,” Dan says.
Information for growth
Even if he leaves it to his son to make sense of the 50,000 messages pouring in every day, the idea of more information always made sense to Mike. “I’ve been in this business for fifty years, and it’s always baffled me why we would be comfortable sending our truck off to some part of the country not really knowing what it’s doing,” Mike says.
“Do we really know how productive that truck is being? Do we really know how long it is sitting at one particular customer? Do we really know that the lane we’re operating is most efficient maybe it’s not the highest revenue per mile but maybe the revenue per hour is better. The more we know about every single part of our business, the better we’ll be able to talk to our customers about the challenges.”
It’s not just the data, Mike says, that keeps him buying Volvo trucks. He’s a fan of their reliability and the comfort and safety they provide drivers. Acutely aware of the nationwide driver shortage, Raider Express operates a driver training school to recruit new drivers into their fleet. The Volvo VNLs they put trainees in are a convincing piece of equipment.
But the relationship with the Volvo dealers and the Volvo Uptime Center lie at the core of the relationship, according to Mike. Today’s trucks, he says, are pretty reliable, but things do still happen. When they do, it might be an issue that’s never happened in your fleet before, occurring on a truck that’s half a continent away.
“But with all the data going through the Uptime Center, somebody else has had that same problem somewhere else in the country. The Uptime Center can match your problem with somebody else’s and come up with a fix pretty quickly,” Mike says. “When that truck is in the shop you’re not going to pay for a lot of R&D on what the problem is. You’re going to have a quick solution done responsibly.”
Gathering information and paying attention to details has worked well for the Eggletons. This year they will build a new 20,000 square-foot office facility with a 12-bay shop and 12 to 14 acres of cement for parking rigs. And, despite the cutting-edge data crunching, Raider Express is still a family business.
“Working with your sons is fulfilling. It’s not without problems. We sometimes argue but at the end of the day things get resolved or my wife handles the problem,” Mike says. “But it guarantees the continuity of the company. The boys already talk about their sons coming in and running the company, so I don’t have to think the work I’ve done in this business is going to go away. It’s going to go on.”
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