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A box management ecosystem to solve the empty container dilemma

We need to re-oriente our thinking towards container management, argues Nicholas Press from CEC Systems.

Visibility is a high priority for shippers and carriers alike. Whether it is rate comparison, booking freight, tracking or monitoring a temperature-sensitive container, visibility is a necessity in today’s market. The growing number of technology providers providing visibility such as Traxens, Savi and EyeSeal and the evolution of interoperability of solutions improvements. The goal in much of these improvements is to provide shippers with more accurate, up-to-date location data and better analytics about where and why cargo bottlenecks occur.

While improving visibility is important, for the industry to achieve sustained improvements it needs to recognize that there are many inputs and relationships that surround the movement of containers which are integral to the successful movement of goods globally. There is a bigger picture that is often overlooked, however. That bigger picture is not solely focused on container transaction but rather, a container ecosystem that encompasses the entire lifecycle of containers and tracking devices – from research & development of hardware, the manufacturing process, ownership, maintenance, loading, booking, and tracking, final delivery, the repositioning and storage of the empty containers and, ultimately, the recycling of the containers.

If the industry is going to generate real efficiencies, there must be a move away from siloed management of containers towards a holistic approach.

Container management must be an ongoing evolution that brings four key areas of focus into an ecosystem. Effective management relies on more than just box optimization, it requires the physical, digital, analytics and services to be considered as equal parts of an overall solution. These four areas form a container ecosystem that when viewed and managed together, offer a comprehensive and integrated solution for the efficient use of containers.

Proper management of empty containers, for example, warrants extra attention as empty containers are one of the most significant areas of lost profit. The four areas (physical, digital, analytics, and services) interconnect and as you look to optimize and create new efficiencies in one area, you must also seek the advancement of the other three. Without a level of concurrent progress, the industry is potentially advancing without the strong foundation required to achieve real efficiencies. For example, as we at CEC Systems continue to evolve the collapsible container design, we will continue to develop and evolve the other areas in unison.

Begin with the physical

Let’s start with the design of the container. The global shipping and logistics industry is losing over $30bn annually on storing, handling and distributing empty containers but the general design of the box has not really evolved over the past 40 years. There is a good reason for this as there needs to be an international standard that allows freight to move across borders, but that doesn’t make it optimal in achieving long-term sustainability.

Instead of waiting for international standards to catch up with changing shipping needs, CEC Systems has developed COLLAPSECON – the world’s first semi-automated Collapsible-Economic-Container that enables four empty units to be collapsed and combined to form a single container, thus significantly reducing the cost of storing, handling and distributing empty containers. By utilising containers that collapse and combine, we are able to achieve a greater level of asset utilisation and availability across the global fleet. The result of this is a reduction in waste, bottlenecks, and congestion throughout the global network and a contribution towards a sustainable industry.

Although the container forms the physical part of the empty container issue it would be a mistake to focus only on this part as it does not take into account the other three container management areas. However, by re-orienting our thinking and making the container itself part of the container management ecosystem alongside tracking, analytics, and services, the combined effect is an improvement in operational efficiency and provisions a better return on investment and reduced environmental impact when compared to standard containers.

Add the digital

While the container itself as a physical item is the primary concern, we cannot proceed as an industry from shying away from the benefits digitalization brings. It is all very well and good that we seek to evolve the box itself, but we must in parallel be seeking to make containers as smart as possible.

As part of the ecosystem, the industry should be aiming to provide a new level of efficiency to tracking and optimizing container movements. If the industry desires real efficiencies, technology should allow a participant to monitor not only the container but the pallet, the box, the packet as well as have the ability to drill down to the level of detail to the individual product inside. Tracking should provide real-time and actionable information and through the use of blockchain, ensure the security and accuracy of data throughout the value chain. Trading partners, as well as service providers, will gain better visibility in their supply chains and understand their true costs of operation. This, in turn, can allow them to remove recurring issues from their network.

Achieving improved container management through the use of digital technologies and tracking may sound like a monumental challenge and very expensive, but in today’s digital age, the cost of technology continues to decline and many solutions exist to provide the level of visibility needed within the ecosystem parameters for improved container management.

Analysis and insights

A growing number of technologies such as sensors are not only tracking container location but also temperature, humidity levels and even the number of bumps along the route. In addition, sensors are sending information to improve the accuracy of data that may not have been caught or able to be managed through manual means.

However, big data is useless unless you can pull “actionable” data out of it. For an ecosystem to work a fundamental breakdown of data and information silos across the network is necessary. The knowledge and data provided by these devices and sensors need to be captured, securely stored in the blockchain and transformed into insights. It is not about generating more data, it is about generating knowledge and understanding to support better decision making.

Members of the ecosystem should be able to analyse their networks at both the macro and micro levels to create transparency, support continuous improvement, and create value for the stakeholders with their investments.

The result being, better analysis, actionable insights, accountability, and greater efficiencies. Not just for the operator or shipper, but for the industry as a whole.

Services to support the ecosystem

Adding to the physical, digital and analytics aspects, in terms of services, we can break this into three different components. There is the maintenance of existing assets, the continuous development of underlying technologies and the support services to enable functionality and operations. These services can include the management of containers, research & development, inspection, repair, requisite training and in the case of collapsible containers, collapsing as a service.

This is incredibly important to understand, as the ecosystem is about more than just a physical container and digital technologies. It’s about ensuring containers and other hardware such as tracking devices and underlying technologies are treated as assets, not commodities. If consideration is not provided then assets become useless before the end of their potential life span. Beyond lost revenue and poor service, the result is the need to build more units at additional financial and environmental costs.

We at CEC Systems envision these supporting services for the ecosystem that is similar to how aircraft are maintained… just far less complicated and life critical. As the fleet owner, we will look to develop our own maintenance services over time but we also will rely on partners in regions to ensure the ecosystem is maintained and users see the greatest benefit.

Not only do these services extend to a deeper level of customer service (satisfaction) but they also prolong the life and utilization of the hardware across the ecosystem, making them a more profitable investment for shippers and carriers alike.

How the ecosystem naturally begets sustainability

In the container management ecosystem, there needs to be greater attention paid not just to what happens when a container is built and used for the movement of goods, but throughout the containers entire life cycle. In particular, as we discussed it above, there needs to be a move away from market dumping/asset write off towards treating containers, other hardware, and software as important assets like ships and ports. In case of containers, for example, that means one needs to consider how containers are made, where materials are sourced from, what materials are used, what quality assurance processes are considered, how they are repaired, how they are used and in the end, how they are properly disposed of.

While they may not be able to be used on the seas, they can be modified for other purposes such as emergency accommodation to support disaster relief or short-term accommodation for those without a home (and in some cases, entire Apartment Communities built out of old containers). There are plenty of options for the faithful box but as part of the physical area of the container management ecosystem, we will end up with thousands of containers spread throughout the world. Where possible, recycling of these assets should be placed as a top priority.

In conclusion

Creating and supporting a container ecosystem creates a holistic approach to container shipping in a way that hasn’t been considered before. In terms of organizational health, the ability to collapse and store four containers in the space of one will go a long way towards saving companies money. By investing in the life cycle of these containers, fewer resources will be poured into making new ones which will also protect both the environment and the profit margin. The hardware and software that goes into managing containers will provide a new level of visibility throughout the supply chain increasing both agility and efficiency. The service offering created through this arrangement not only helps to support the container ecosystem but will also serve to deepen and, subsequently, strengthen the working relationships between collaborating partners.

By re-orienting our thinking towards a container management ecosystem consisting of the physical, tracking, analytics, and services, the combined effect will be a long-term improvement in operational efficiency, better return on investment and reduced environmental impact.

Source: Splash 247

Blue Innovation – The box is now a “Smart Box”

The world of transport is no stranger to the continuous advances in tracking technologies. Since the invention of the global positioning systems and their implementation in the transport sector in the ‘90s, the need to monitor the placement of individual containers during a shipment has become more common. This was advantageous both to the clients sending the units as well as the shipping lines managing the processes. All parties involved could essentially reap the benefits of tracking shipments during deep and short sea shipping crossings.

In today’s climate, simply tracking the “global position” of the container isn’t enough. It now involves the incorporation of alternative functions designed to benefit the customers. The (now) outdated security seal of the containers has morphed from simply being an evidentiary device aimed to deter theft into an in-situ electronic system that detects vandalism activities. Moreover, just like mobile phones, the E-seal has outgrown its original goal. It has diversified so much that it can be considered appealing for its added value functionalities just as much as for its original purpose.

Some of these added extras include the internal and external control of temperature; a warning notification preceding an attempt to compromise the equipment; humidity control and monitoring inside the unit;  status updates and warnings during intermodal transfers or at physical access points; systems of impact detections on the unit; constant real-time monitoring and easy access through the internet or a mobile device; possibility to customize notifications in case of speeding or access points checks; history of the unit route; the possibility to open doors at defined access points; as well as enabling the opening of the unit when pre-set date and location parameters are met. All these added value functionalities have transformed the traditional container into a more intelligent, accessible and traceable unit that makes integrating data for the best logistic control of those involved in the movement of the merchandise possible.

In 2016 the TRAXENS company in charge of creating hi-tech devices for real-time monitoring has joined forces with CMA CGM to develop a device that complies with many of the aforementioned functions in order to generate Big Data for the different stages of the intermodal transport operations and to improve services for their customers. The device can provide updates on the location, temperature, humidity levels, vibrations, impacts, attempted theft, customs clearance status among others with the additional ability to remotely control functions.

Recently the MSC shipping company has joined the TRAXENS – CMA CGM alliance and has already begun the incorporation of 50,000 “Smart containers” in its operations to offer better visibility, control and monitoring of data for its customers. Moreover, since 2016, Maersk in conjunction with a US-based startup SensorTransport has worked on the development of a Remote Container Management System which offers similar services.

The way transport operations are carried out is constantly evolving, and with the help of the technological inventions, it shows no sign of slowing down. The Smart Containers are proof of that. They not only create significant added value to the customers, but they have (and will continue to do so) greatly contributed to the future of transport, logistics and blockchain through the contribution of Big Data. It will surely be fascinating to see what other solutions transport companies come up with in the coming decades to further modernise and perfect the intermodal supply chain.

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Written by:

  • Vanessa Bexiga, Operations Manager (Escola Europea – Intermodal Transport)

How Smart Start-Ups Are Changing Maritime

The role of smart start-ups in driving the development of the maritime sector should not be understated, especially with regard to intelligent applications powered by the Internet of Things (IoT).

As highlighted by a recent competition to form the world’s first digital shipping company, launched by IoT specialist Loginno, there is a demand for companies who can bring new solutions to the table.

The Start-Up Space

Of the multitude of start-ups vying for opportunities within the space of IoT and Big Data, many are part of projects designed to leverage their potential for industry-shifting innovation.

These initiatives are often supported by major companies, and in February 2019 satellite communications provider Inmarsat revealed its partnership with two start-up programmes focused on IoT and the optimization of data.

The need for “fresh perspectives”, as argued by Inmarsat’s Senior Director of Digital Incubation Ali Grey, can be served best by new businesses currently breaking into the sector and shaking its very foundation.

IoT is widely viewed as a key pivot for the industry and target for those wishing to instigate serious change; ABI Research has predicted that IoT applications will be able to track over 500 million different assets by 2023, highlighting its potential.

Solutions for Ports

If IoT is tipped to make waves across the global economy, what kind of impact is this movement likely to have on ports, and what role will be played by start-up organizations?

Maciej Kranz of Cisco Systems describes digitization, and especially IoT, as “powerful enablers that forward-thinking port operators are using in order to improve efficiencies”: the benefits of implementing IoT applications to support cargo-handling processes are various.

One of the areas in which IoT can be leveraged most usefully is the management of port traffic, as the data collected from ships, containers and other vehicles entering and exiting ports can produce a holistic overview of cargo movement that provides a transparent and visible basis for optimization.

IoT is also a technology which complements other advanced systems used by port and terminal operators, functioning alongside automated equipment and TOS systems to allow more effective communication between machines and humans, or even machines and other machines.

Although major companies will often be enlisted to oversee the implementation of advanced technologies, which have to be integrated into port operations without causing serious disruption, start-ups will play an important part in delivering new solutions.

Speaking about the position occupied by start-ups at Smart Ports and Supply Chain Technologies 2018, former Managing Director of Port XL Mare Straetmans emphasized the necessity for collaboration between corporations and emerging businesses.

The Future of IoT Innovation

While start-ups are important components of the rapidly growing IoT ecosystem, development is also being driven by academic bodies and government groups exploring its applications for a broad range of industries, including container shipping.

Autonomous shipping, which is quickly transforming from a futuristic fantasy into a reality, is a good example of the technical platform provided by IoT solutions.

A joint-venture involving the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute and Aalto Universityis seeking to deploy IoT-powered sensor technology as means of ensuring the safe navigation of autonomous vessels, an innovation which is already being trialled.

However, educational bodies and public institutions are also choosing to collaborate with start-ups on groundbreaking projects like this, with solution provider Fleetrange contributing to this initiative by developing techniques for autonomous navigation.

It is evident then that the insight provided by these young, energetic and, above all else, innovative companies, as well as their ability to cut through the noise of the industry, is fostering an environment that is adapting to evolving demands and becoming increasingly modern. It seems likely that success will follow.

Source: Port Technology