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Northwest Masonry Company Expects Rock-Solid Benefits From RFID

Mutual Materials is gaining efficiency via an RFID-based solution from Zonar to track the movements, inspections and performance of 43 vehicles in four states and Canada.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 15, 2014

Mutual Materials, a Pacific Northwest manufacturer and hauler of stones, bricks and other masonry products used for landscaping and construction purposes, is monitoring the locations and conditions of its vehicles via an RFID-based solution provided by electronic fleet-management technology company Zonar. The solution consists of passive low-frequency (LF) RFID tags on vehicles, trailers and moffets (truck-mounted forklifts), as well as Zonar's Android-based tablets with built-in RFID readers that capture tag IDs and enable users to input vehicle inspection data or report problems. The collected data is then forwarded to Zonar's hosted server via a cellular connection.

Mutual Materials is a family-run operation with customers throughout the Northwest United States, as well as in British Columbia and Japan. The company's 42 trucks, along with one leased truck, deliver 671,000 tons of material annually and complete 43,000 deliveries. The relatively small vehicle fleet is operated by approximately 90 drivers, in consecutive shifts, to ensure that freight is moving a maximum amount of time. In addition, during its off-season (winter), the firm hauls roofing and other material for a separate set of customers.

A driver uses a Zonar 2020 tablet to read a passive 125 kHz RFID tag, known as a Zone Tag, affixed to a vehicle.
Because the trucks cover a wide geographic area with multiple drivers (a truck, during a single month, may typically be operated by about 20 drivers), tracking information regarding each vehicle, including its condition and location, can be a monumental task. Complicating matters further, the company maintains 12 manufacturing sites, 16 local branches and three distribution facilities. Until 2005, each of the company's drivers filled out paper forms, stored on the truck, in order to track the number of hours they worked, as well as vehicle inspections and any problems regarding the truck. At the end of the week, each driver sent this paperwork to the company's office in Kent, Wash., to be input into the system.

If a vehicle experienced a problem requiring urgent attention, says Tim Johnson, the company's fleet manager, a separate form had to be filled out as well. This form was immediately sent to the maintenance staff, which led to duplicate efforts.

The company acquired a Qualcomm onboard electronic log system to allow drivers to use a keypad on the onboard device to input their ID number and create a record of their driving hours with that vehicle. The firm also installed Oracle Transportation Management (OTM) software in 2012, which is used in the offices, to monitor the dispatching of vehicles and predicted deliveries. Information stored in the OTM software could be shared with customers.

However, the onboard electronic and OTM systems were not integrated, so drivers were still required to manually report the inspections and truck-related problems they found. By using an onboard system integrated with the OTM, Johnson explains, a driver could relay information in real time to Mutual Materials, which could then communicate shipment location and delivery information to its customers. In addition, by integrating data from the truck and driver to the OTM, the firm could reroute drivers based on live updates—such as a behind-schedule or ahead-of-schedule status.

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