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Cool tech transforms reefers

Fathom World Reefer Container Technology

Digital technology is helping shippers keep a real-time watch on their temperature-sensitive cargoes while also reducing costs and facilitating more effective data-driven decision making, writes Brian Dixon

Reefer containers play a vital role in moving a wide array of temperature-sensitive products around the globe, ranging from perishable foodstuffs to pharmaceuticals and flowers. However, to be truly effective such units need to be part of a secure and unbroken cold supply chain. To this end, Hamburg Süd has now unveiled its new Remote Container Management (RCM) technology to provide customers with real-time monitoring and increased visibility.

To achieve this, every one of the 380,000 reefers operated by the company and its parent firm Maersk have now been fitted with an ‘RCM device’ that consists of a GPS unit to track the container’s position; a 3G high-temperature SIM card that communicates key data to and from a central IT system; and a GSM antennae. Moreover, the RCM also monitors and records the power status of the refrigeration unit while other sensors collect real-time information on such parameters as temperature, relative humidity and oxygen and CO2 levels.

A journey log

This data can then be accessed by registered customers using a PC, tablet or smartphone via an online application that also provides an overview of the reefer containers they have booked as well as information on ports of departure and destination, container numbers and vessel names. This ‘Journey Log’, the company says, shows all the important events of the reefer transport, such as delivery to the terminal or loading onto and discharging from a ship.

As well as being able view graphical data on the conditions within a container at any given time to ensure the cargo is maintained within the requested set points during each trip, customers can also download all salient information as an Excel list or forward it to other concerned parties, such as the consignment’s recipient. Additionally, the RCM system also provides real-time alarms and notifications of any deviations, with Hamburg Süd’s operations team also being notified if critical limit values are exceeded or not maintained.

This allows the company to take any necessary measures to safeguard the quality of the cargo being shipped. At the same time, the online app also includes a round-the-clock chat function that gives customers immediate access to company experts should they have any questions regarding a shipment.

Integrating technology

Meanwhile, CargoSmart’s new Connected Reefer Solution (CRS) employs artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) technology to provide users with end-to-end information transparency, including enhanced reefer container Pre-Trip Inspection (PTI) support, real-time container status monitoring updates and predictive cargo arrival status. Prior to its general launch this past November, the system was field tested by China COSCO Shipping, with CargoSmart reporting that the shipping line was able to record “substantial savings in reefer container PTI costs” as a result of its deployment.

Part of CargoSmart’s wider Supply-Chain Artificial Intelligence Internet of Things (SAIOT) initiative, the CRS is powered by an IoT device co-developed by CargoSmart and Shanghai Maritime University. Equipped with built-in multiple sensor capabilities to monitor container temperature, humidity, location, environment, motion, tampering, shocks and impact, the system intelligently identifies any deviations or disruptions and then determines whether they were caused by a normal or abnormal operation event.

In the latter scenario, the system triggers ‘a smart alert’ to the carrier or cargo owner for immediate response, thus minimising any risk that might impact cargo value. Indeed, CargoSmart asserts that this feature “successfully reduces 97% of false alarms”, enabling users “to maximise their resource allocation and reduce the time spent on investigating exceptions”.

Furthermore, the CRS system’s AI also enables it to project the latest ETAs based on real-time locations, historical patterns, vessel ETAs, traffic conditions and road regulations. As such, the company calculates that the system can improve the accuracy of door arrival time predictions by more than 40%, resulting in improved delivery status visibility. Additionally, the system also uses an AI algorithm that analyses container usage and maintenance history to “accurately predict the reefer machinery condition and to fulfil strict PTI requirements in advance”.

Described by CargoSmart chief commercial officer Lionel Louie as an example of digital transformation in the shipping industry, he is quoted as saying that the CRS “provides users with a one-stop, hassle-free solution that seamlessly integrates IoT-enabled containers with cloud-based monitoring software and APIs”. Bringing with it “an unprecedented level of real-time cargo status visibility”, it “empowers more accurate and responsive planning” and in so doing “significantly drives down operation costs” for both carriers and shippers alike.

About Author

Brian Dixon is a business and industry journalist with more than 20 years' experience writing about ports and logistics. A member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists, he has covered stories on six continents. He divides his time between the UK and East Asia