Deploying smart containers enhances supply chain visibility and enables shipping lines to reduce problems encountered by cargo in transit
CMA CGM and MSC are increasing the efficiency of their supply chains through using ‘smart containers’ – a concept set to grow on the back of potential regulation, customs authority involvement and the increased appetite for creating value-added services.
Each carrier is equipping 50,000 containers with technology from French company Traxens. This consists of a tracking and environment monitoring device permanently fitted to the box, which records data including GPS position, temperature, impact, movement and the door opening. The shipping lines access the data generated via Traxens’ web portal hub or through API.
Traxens maritime business unit deputy director Thomas Nouvian said “Use of this data leads to lead-time reduction and an understanding where on the journey the container is losing time – a classic example is a missed transhipment.”
Detecting a missed transhipment allows shipping lines and beneficiary cargo owners (BCO) to take corrective action.
Highlighting another benefit, Mr Nouvian said “It provides information on cargo quality. There are three big areas when it comes to sensitive cargo: temperature, humidity and shocks.” Examples of container shocks include detecting when a container has been dropped from height.
Elsewhere, monitoring when containers have been opened in unexpected locations can alert shipping lines and BCOs to potential security breaches.
Mr Nouvian said “Getting the right container to the right customer at the right time and place is very challenging and means carriers can build up massive inventories in some places and slack off in others. It is also a big headache to count the number of containers in one place. Using a smart container means they know at a click of a button the exact number of containers in different depots and can better capitalise moving their inventory of containers.”
Developing smart box usage
The shipping lines using the smart containers are considering deploying this technology. Mr Nouvian said MSC was looking at implementing smart containers for dangerous goods. “It would give them much closer visibility of this cargo as they will get data about any potential deviation from normal, in terms of temperature, gas or humidity level,” said Mr Nouvian.
Mr Nouvian believes smart container use will grow. “We believe a very large percentage of the container fleet will become smart as the cost of technology goes down.”
Traxens is in talks with customs authorities around the world to implement the ‘green lane’ concept whereby the container is processed quicker as customs can access the smart container data.
Mr Nouvian said “This is still a concept for now, but a strong belief of ours is that the smart container will become mandatory for some commodities (such as dangerous cargo) and some origins.”
A further driver is that using smart containers helps carriers provide a value-added service and not just sell a commodity. MSC is developing a dedicated smart container service where the shipping line’s teams can use the data and proactively inform BCOs if there are any problems.
The appetite for using smart containers looks set to grow and to this end, Traxens expects to add to its customers. It is speaking with a third shipping line which it hopes to start working with later this year or next year.