Gone without a trace.
That’s the fate of at least $223 million in goods stolen from commercial vehicles and warehouses in the United States each year.*
But not this time. “I got a notification that the trucker had pulled off the highway,” says Kevin Ryan, Assistant Manager, Business Operations at Epson America, Inc. “When I checked the GPS, I could see it was an unscheduled location, miles away from any town, in the mountains of eastern California.”
Ryan immediately called the trucking company, and a dispatcher reached the driver. “Why are you stopped? What are you doing there?” The driver said he had stopped for lunch, but it was mid-afternoon. He got back on the road immediately.
“I can’t prove it, but I really think we avoided another theft,” Ryan says.
The happy conclusion to the incident was a direct result of MiFleet, which is a DCS fleet management cloud-based software solution that helped Epson protect its valuable shipments.
Moving a warehouse
Ryan first got involved with MiFleet in January, when planning the move of the Epson warehouse in Carson, California to a new location in Huntington Beach, 24 miles away. “I had about 400 tractor-trailer loads to move in just a few weeks, and I was very worried about losses,” he recalls.
Electronics are especially tempting to cargo thieves, because of their high value and high demand. Ryan reports that Epson America lost a significant amount of product last year, some from shipping containers waiting at ports, some from trucks on the road. Epson’s biggest loss was an entire trailer full of industrial robots, with an estimated worth into the high six figures.
“The problem is that a driver can’t stay with the rig 100% of the time, and so a smash and grab is relatively easy,” says Mike Lawless, EVP of Sales at DCS Business. “In our experience, and backed by evidence, the drivers may be in on the theft.” **
“We’ve always had incidents where thieves would open up a door and take out four or five printers or projectors,” Ryan says. “But starting during the pandemic, they got more and more aggressive, literally taking whole pallets from our trucks.
“Just dealing with the insurance claims can be a challenge,” he adds. The biggest problem, however, is that Epson clients depend on the timely delivery of their products, and every theft means a shipment delayed.
So when Ryan began planning the warehouse move last winter, he decided it was time to try something different.
“We knew there were multiple fleet management solutions available, but after extensive research, we decided to partner with DCS. We were impressed with their hands-on engagement and willingness to customize their software platform to fit our current needs,” Ryan recalls.
Lawless describes the company as an Internet of Things solutions provider, rather than simply a security supplier. DCS, he says, provides Cloud-based monitoring and analysis of business processes via sensors and devices that communicate via 4G, 5G, Wi-Fi and satellite networks. “Our fleet management tool, MiFleet, can report on a vehicle’s location, its fuel consumption, engine diagnostics, idle time, and more.”
There were several challenges to providing Epson with a solution that would protect the move, but might also be scalable for future needs.
“The first was that Epson would not be using their own trucks, so we were not able to tie into a power source in the cab,” Lawless explains. “Then too, our trackers would have to constantly provide location data, so we would know the real-time location of each shipment.” DCS worked with Epson to identify a ruggedized tracking device with an extended battery. It would run for at least three to four days before recharging and could be mounted inside the trailers.
The DCS team also set up a geofencing solution in the MiFleet software, so that if any of the trucks varied from their expected routes, or idled unexpectedly, Epson would get an immediate notification.
Over the month-long move, Epson did not lose a single item, nor were there any alerts or incidents. Still, Ryan says one of the biggest benefits had nothing to do with security.
“We made the move with just three drivers and three trucks, and we wanted to make sure we’d finish at least 15 round trips each day, five for each driver,” he explains. That turned out to be far easier than expected.
“With the MiFleet solution, we knew exactly when a driver would pull into Carson or Huntington Beach. We sent a security guard out into the lot, who directed him to a particular dock, where we had a crew waiting to load or unload. That cut turnaround to 15 minutes or less. Logistically, it was fantastic.”
The move went so well that Epson began working with MiFleet to protect internal shipments.
“We accept product from overseas at the Port of Los Angeles, and then distribute it from there,” Ryan explains. Some goes to Huntington Beach, but Epson’s main warehouse is in Indianapolis, and so product goes from the port to Chicago by rail, and then by truck from Chicago to Indiana. “We also transfer product from warehouse to warehouse as needed.”
It was on a warehouse transfer run from Huntington Beach to Indianapolis that Ryan got the alert about the truck pulling off the highway. By this point Epson was attaching trackers to individual pallets, which they could use to track the truck and trailer or, if a pallet was stolen, the pallet itself after the theft. “We’re also experimenting with door sensors, so we can tell if anyone opens a trailer when that’s not authorized,” Ryan says.
On these runs, too, the warehouse managers know exactly when each truck will arrive and can have a crew standing by to unload it. “We can even go a step farther with the locator and software, so you can send the driver a text with instructions as to which dock to pull into,” Cavallo says.
Expanding to retail deliveries
Epson’s problems with cargo theft have not been limited to internal shipments, and so Epson has reached out to STI Express, its primary carrier, about using MiFleet to track shipments to retailers and other large customers. “They’re very interested in the program, not only to prevent theft but to speed up the processing of each shipment,” Ryan explains.
The trackers themselves, he says, are extremely inexpensive at about $100 each, a tiny fraction of the value of the Epson shipment. “We’re not sure we’ll always get the trackers back from our customers, but even if we lose every one, we’ll be way ahead.”
Ryan says the whole experience has been extremely positive.
“I would absolutely recommend MiFleet, 100 percent. They’ve been easy to work with and super attentive, with no delays in responses, at any time of the day or night.”
“At the end of the day, it’s all about relationships,” Lawless adds. “If I have a client with a problem, I want to help him – and it’s been a real joy working with Kevin.”
“For me, the goal is always to meet our customers’ needs,” Ryan says. “We want to make sure they have a flawless Epson experience. MiFleet is helping us to achieve that.”
* According to the 2022 CargoNet® Supply Chain Risk Trends Analysis, compiled by Verisk.
** See Report finds cargo theft is most often an inside job in Supply Chain Quarterly.