Automatic vehicle location boosts efficiency

Michael D. Feinman P.E., New England Power Service Co.

Automatic vehicle location technology is now being used by National Grid USA’s (formerly New England Electric System) retail companies to not only improve operating efficiency and customer service, but also to enhance the safety of its mobile work force.

All AVL systems require three basic components: a device to calculate position, a method of communicating position data to the user and a method of displaying the data in a useable form. The OuterLink system provides a satellite transceiver to receive GPS satellite transmissions, calculate position, and transmit position data. A geostationary satellite is used to relay position data to an earth station, which processes and formats the data for delivery to a retail company server through a telnet connection. Software displays the location data on geographic based maps.

Real-time vehicle position data is distributed to authorized users over the retail companies’ wide area network. Position data is updated every two minutes, but can be shorter or longer, if desired. Vehicle position data also is stored in an Oracle database. The database is used to generate reports to help supervisors manage operations more efficiently.

In addition to the satellite transceiver, a “Code Blue” (emergency) switch is installed in each AVL equipped vehicle. When engaged, this switch sends an immediate emergency signal that triggers audio and visual alarms to users running the AVL application software.

Benefits of automatic vehicle location

The enterprise-wide AVL system used by the retail companies allows company radio and switching dispatchers, supervisors and managers to know where AVL-equipped mobile assets are, anywhere in North America. This knowledge provides the opportunity to enhance safety, and improve operating efficiency and customer service, as follows:

  • Employee safety-Dispatchers can quickly identify and locate immediately AVL “Code Blue: equipped vehicles in an emergency situation.
  • Response time-Dispatchers know the location of every vehicle so they are able to send the closest one to the job site. This improves response time, customer service and productivity, and reduces fuel consumption, vehicle wear and tear, and maintenance costs.
  • Service restoration-Restoring customers to service as quickly as possible following large storms or natural disasters is a top priority, and coordinating mobile assets is critical to accomplishing this. AVL will enable the retail companies to coordinate restoration crews better than before. In addition, large restoration efforts often involve the use of outside (non-company) crews, so reducing restoration times by just a few hours can save tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars per storm. The system also provides the ability for dispatchers to locate company crews when they assist other utilities.
  • Equipment delivery-Dispatchers can locate delivery vehicles, and provide detailed directions via radio if a driver in unfamiliar territory becomes lost. Crews waiting for equipment can be kept informed of the location of delivery trucks and estimated time of arrival of supplies.

National Grid USA’s retail companies are confident that AVL will result in additional safety and operational benefits as dispatchers, managers and supervisors become more familiar with its use, and when AVL is integrated with other systems such as AM/FM/GIS, and field force automation.

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