COMPANY: Triple D Supply Inc., Las Cruces, New Mexico

OPERATION: Flatbed hauling of building materials, military hardware, and dry produce on east-west, coast-to-coast routes.

Don Doak, Owner and general manager

Drivers know what's a go and what's a no on the road. Do they comply? As a former driver and now the guy who reads many after-the-fact trip data reports, Don Doak, owner and general manager of this small but progressive fleet, was well aware of what really happens out there. And he realized that learning the details after a driver came back from an extended run could be expensive.

A user of Caterpillar 3406Es and Cat's Fleet Information software, Doak knew what idling and road speed cost. He determined that an average of 5.6 mpg drops to 5.16 if the engine has been idling 44% of the time it's been running. Trouble is, idling time in summer, when drivers want to keep their cabs air conditioned, runs as high as 45%.

"I'd like to keep it at 30% or lower, but that's hard to do if you don't see the reports until the guy comes in and you can extract the data" from the engine's ECM. For road speed, Doak wants his drivers to run 60 to 69 mph. But if they are hot-footing, he doesn't know until they return and he looks at trip reports and fuel bills.

Wasted fuel adds up when the fleet totals 35 tractors, all late-model Peterbilt 379s that pull aluminum and aluminum/steel Wilson and Ravens flatbeds. Doak is a believer in high-tech communications and has HighwayMaster equipment in each tractor. Was there a way to use this cellular phone-based gear with the ECMs on the Cat engines? Yes.

Caterpillar engineers have enhanced the programming in 3406E electronic control modules to enable "telemetry," the remote gathering of operating data in real-time. Cat claims it's the first to accomplish this with truck diesels, and without using additional electronic hardware outside the engine's standard ECM. Triple D was the first to use telemetry, beginning in late August.

Doak and his dispatchers can now use their desktop PCs to punch up data on any truck at any time. Fleet information software uses the data to generate a variety of reports. The reports can include graphs of road and engine speeds, idling percentages, mile-per-gallon averages, incidents of sudden deceleration, and the like.

Doak looks at a report he printed after taking data on the fly from a tractor that was hundreds of miles away. "He's been out 3,600 miles. We could get all this info if he came back, but he's been out that long without downloading.

Though extraction now can be done any time, "you don't want too much data," Doak explains. Also, line transmission charges can be high. So his system is set up to extract data from a truck every 2,000 miles. This is often enough to get a picture of what the driver is doing.

Is this Big Brother watching? "I don't think so," Doak says. "And if it is, too bad. I have a right to tell him how to drive my truck. There's also a positive side to it. We pay a quarterly bonus if a driver keeps fuel economy above 5.75 mpg. We can help him by continually showing him how he's doing."

Capabilities of telemetry will increase and Doak's all for it and other advances. "As low as rates are and as competitive as it is in trucking," he says, "the guy in the lead on technology is the guy who's going to stay in business."