Trucks: Savvy solutions

|  October 05, 2008 |

How many times have you jumped in your truck without glancing at the tools in the back, only to later realize several of your most important pieces of handheld equipment are missing or back at the office?

You would probably drive back to get the tools you need, but what if you could track your equipment to prevent losing or misplacing it?

After months of talking with customers about situations such as the one above, Ford developed its Work Solutions productivity options for 2009 models of F-150s, F-Series Super Duty pickups, E-Series and 2010 Transit Connect vans.

“You lose productivity when you lose your tools,” says Bill Frykman, product and business development manager for the Ford Work Solutions program. “We wanted to develop a way to track tools and vehicle performance, while also preventing theft of equipment from the bed of the truck.”

Four components make up Ford Work Solutions: an in-dash computer powered by Microsoft Auto, and developed with Magneti Marelli, Sprint and Garmin; Tool Link, a radio frequency identification (RFID) asset tracking system developed with DeWalt and ThingMagic; Crew Chief, a fleet telematics and diagnostics system; and Cable Lock, a security system developed with Master Lock.

Computing on the go
“The computing and communications device brings the concept of the mobile office to life,” Frykman says. With the BlueTooth enabled on-board computer, you can access a high-speed Internet connection via Sprint’s mobile broadband network if you choose, make voice-activated speakerphone calls or use Windows CE productivity software for word processing, e-mail and spreadsheet functions. An available printer stows inside the large center console on Ford’s 2009 trucks so you can print out estimates or bids.

And if you need to link to your office or home computer, you can do so through LogMeIn’s remote access desktop connectivity.

“Say a contractor uses accounting software. As long as the remote computer is on, you can connect to it remotely from your truck and modify files and print those in the truck,” Frykman explains.

If you want to make a phone call but keep your hands on the wheel, pair your BlueTooth phone with the computer.

Garmin navigation also comes standard on the system. Once connected to the Internet, users can re-route fleets, receive traffic reports (updated every two minutes when you’re in route) or locate points of interest, such as local gas stations and their fuel prices. When selected to do so, Garmin’s server will automatically download the latest fuel prices to the truck’s computer.

Tool Link
“We found contractors had no way to track tools in their vehicles,” says Jennifer Ervin, director of business development, DeWalt. “Tool Link compares a contractor’s populated list of tools (created in the Tool Link program) to what’s actually in the truck.”

Once you decide which tools you want to track, attach one of the durable radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to each tool. The list of tags appears on the in-dash computer, and can be edited or grouped to form categories, such as jobsite tools, hunting or camping gear. When the vehicle starts, Tool Link identifies each tagged item through a pair of RFID antennas mounted in impact-resistant housings inside the pickup bed and then sends information on these tools to the in-dash computer.

Since Tool Link operates through passive generation RFID technology, the tags have no internal power supply so they can’t monitor items remotely. Instead, when Tool Link powers up, the readers in the bed send a message to the computer, identifying which tags are present or not, Ervin explains.

Crew Chief
Crew Chief is a telematics system, reporting where the vehicle is located, where it’s been and how it’s performing, as well as fuel economy and diagnostic trouble codes.

Microlise and Ford provide Ford fleet owners with websites that may be personalized and pulled up on the in-dash computer or from the office, so dispatchers can re-route if necessary.

Additionally, Crew Chief details vehicle performance, such as tire pressure, whether a check engine light is on or if an accident occurred. It also tracks the vehicle’s fuel economy. In fact, Frykman says companies that tested the program were able to improve fuel economy by 25 to 30 percent by monitoring their driving habits through the program.

Cable Lock
Ford and MasterLock created the Cable Lock, a 10-foot braided steel cable to wind around tools to secure them. The cable consists of a clasp at the end, which locks around the frame of an item – such as a compressor – and then it locks onto either another cleat, the end of the cable or onto the truck. The Cable Lock case is located where you’d normally find a tie down, and it uses the same tie down bolts and holes.

Unlike the other Ford Work Solutions, which are geared more toward newer Ford models, the Cable Lock can be installed on any Ford pickup truck from 1997 onward.

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