Smart Shipping Containers: Avoiding Damage, Loss and Theft
Could smart shipping containers be a way of guaranteeing your shipment gets to its destination?
Did you know that cargo theft in the US costs shippers something like $30 billion a year? What about the fact that 10,000 shipping containers a year are lost over the side from ships at sea?
Several million shipping containers – the vast majority of the 12 million that are used annually – will travel around the world from load, to unload safely and successfully. However there is always that nagging problem of theft, loss and cargo damage during the trip, which can sometimes involve a journey of 10,000km or more. The answer to many of these problems may well be in the new technology of ‘smart shipping containers’.
What are smart shipping containers?
According to the Transparency Market Research consultancy, “Each smart container has been tagged with a unique barcode for scanning at entry and exit of the container from the docking point. Transportation management systems (TMS), in combination with cutting edge software and communication networks, monitor shipping routes, times, and logistics.”
Having a barcode can ensure that those in the supply chain can scan the container at each stage of the journey to confirm its contents in a database and then report back to the shipper and receiver that it has successfully begun / ended each phase of its delivery.
But smart sensors can be a sight smarter than merely reporting in at each stage of the journey!
The consultancy reports:
“Smart sensors installed in transport containers also provide detailed information on container temperature, humidity, pressure, and container movement, which is anticipated to save a lot of money during the course of the container movement from one place to other. Smart sensors react to minute changes regarding the environment inside the container, and they respond immediately toward any change, by informing or by sending an alarm to the central monitoring facility located remotely from the smart container. The problem can be diagnosed remotely, and it also provides the exact location and ample amount of time to the crew members to fix the problem inside the container.”
GPS chips can alert the shipper if the container is moving when it should not be – perhaps when it has been stolen. This is one example that can prevent an insurance claim from being made.
Another example of smart containers are internal temperature sensors. The Transparency report again:
“A majority of the capital loss during the marine logistic operations around the globe is accounted by spoilt goods inside the container. Damage to goods inside the container is likely to result in loss of revenue to the logistic companies.”
Containers can travel through a range of weather conditions and climates. In the Caucuses of Asia where many Asia – Europe container trains will travel, temperatures can hit 40 degrees C in summer and minus 20 degrees C in winter. The container may have started its journey in a warm climate before hitting the brutal winter on its journey and then a relatively mild climate in Europe in its destination. These temperatures and extreme temperature changes can damage goods.
Many containers on these routes are insulated and temperature controlled but the systems can go wrong – a sensor within can alert the train operator of the problem and alert them to rectify the issue before cargo is damaged.
Most shipping containers are currently dumb
While the idea of smart shipping containers has been kicked around for a few years, the concept is strong. It is possible to request from a shipping company that these sensors be installed in the shipping container, though there will be a price penalty for this. The shipping container technology company Elebia suggested, “We should additionally note that as this technology becomes more commonplace, implementation costs will steadily fall. So, it will be possible for even small- to medium-sized enterprises to employ these methods in the near future.”
It comes down to customers making the demand on shippers for this to be possible. The more that do the more the technology will be used, and hopefully the more commonplace smart shipping containers will be.