Containerised cargo has been the backbone of international trade development and continues to play a leading role by shaping and defining the relevant dynamics.”

Embracing the massive potential of technology, the shipping industry is transforming with the digital wave too. Smart containers are taking the industry into the future. Read on to know about this technology and how it would revolutionise an entire industry…

smart containers at a terminal

What are Smart Containers?

 Just like smartphones, smart containers are containers that are smart. Any normal container can be a smart container — by just fitting internet-connected devices and interconnected sensors that collect, collate and transmit container data. These sensors and devices act like traditional data loggers, but you can view all the information (near) real-time anywhere across the globe at any time. 

Smart containers help track important data like:

  • container geolocation,
  • temperature fluctuations,
  • geofencing and predictive ETA,
  • shock detection,
  • door open/close status,
  • late in/out site,
  • any unusual activity, etc.

 At present, MAERSK, MSC and CMA have deployed smart containers (developed by Marseille-based start-up, TRAXENS).

Why Use Smart Containers?

As the world looks for more efficient ways of enhancing productivity and reducing error and effort, adopting innovative technologies become necessary. “The need to capture inefficiencies, understand delays and look at the big picture by aggregating data is the force that will drive further advancements toward fully transparent supply chains.”

 The best solution for this is a system that provides a structured information flow by simple, standardised procedures to move goods in the supply chain in a more methodical way. Smart containers are the missing link required in the digitisation of the shipping industry — making its advantages felt at both the micro and macro level.

 

Advantages of Smart Containers

Automatic Data Capture

 Real-time information, which is otherwise impossible to capture, can now be collected and used to keep a watch on the container and cargo. By automating the way how data is collected and handled, smart containers eliminate the cumbersome process of traditional data handling, thus reducing error too.

Monitor Cargo Quality

With sensors constantly collecting and monitoring data like temperature, humidity, door status, and even location — you can keep a check on the container and the cargo inside. This is especially useful for containers carrying perishable cargo like fruits, food products, etc.

Easy Accessibility with (near) Real-time Data

As the container is connected with the internet, you can access your container’s location from anywhere at any time. You can also keep a check on ETA, transit areas, or any unexpected alerts like unscheduled deviation, unexpected door opening etc.

Secure and Transparent Data

As data is collected electronically, it is encrypted from end-to-end — which means that it cannot be tampered with and is fraud-resistant. It also enables secure and transparent document sharing among supply chain stockholders.

  

Impact of Smart Containers on the Supply Chain

Smart containers provide smart data for smart supply chains.

 By collecting (near) real-time data and bringing everything under one cloud-like system (cue: big data), shipping companies and related stockholders have ready access to the necessary information about the container and can optimise supply chain operations from anywhere. They can help synchronise the computer representation of the supply chain, speeding up accuracy. 

Smart containers put an end to black spots and speculations.

With 24/7 visibility and real-time notifications of your shipment, you can get notified about unexpected events like an accidental door opening, shocks, late in/out site, etc. The data collected over time about your container can be analysed and implemented for better predictability of supply chain, and concrete planning — thus enhancing decision making on suppliers, packaging, inventory, delivery, etc. Trust-worthy data exchange will illuminate weaknesses in the current supply chain processes and help eradicate them.

Smart containers optimise investments and reduce costs.

By giving the power to manage logistics assets from anywhere in the world, smart containers are transforming multi-modal supply chains by giving better control over finances. This shows a direct improvement in the international supply chain performance, hence, facilitating trade, reducing losses and boosting economic growth at a global level. 

Potential Use Cases of Smart Containers

Smart containers monitoring can be used for several purposes by supply chain stakeholders like:

Consignors and Consignees

The shipper and the recipient, both, require timely and accurate information about the shipment. But, in the current process, they have limited or no information about the transportation process, due to which they cannot take any action in case of emergencies during transit.

Smart containers can allow them to have active information about the container in a timely way, which can help them increase their profits by:

  • helping them make effective decisions,
  • optimising supply chain (packaging costs, out-of-stock scenarios, insurance fees),
  • avoiding any negative incidents (cargo loss, quality deterioration),
  • providing increased cargo security, better service and on-time deliveries.

Vessel Crew

The crew on-board are responsible for keeping a check on the containers and maintaining them throughout. They should be able to tell the number of empty/full containers, the time when they were loaded, whether each container (reefer) is working correctly, and constantly check whether the temperature inside is right or not. This leads to an overload of work, miscalculation and human error.

Smart containers can improve these operations by automating these processes — enabling the crew to monitor these factors remotely and analyse available data more efficiently, allowing smooth management and functioning. 

Container Owners

The shipping container owners want to have information about their containers’ location, and their container inventory in general. Smart containers can enable them to trace their containers, monitor them during transit and docking — hence, improving fleet management.

Depot Operators

They are responsible for reporting the number of containers available at their location, overseeing container arrival and related operations. Smart containers can help them manage the process by keeping an online inventory that gets updated real-time.

Port Authorities

They are responsible for necessary infrastructure and its maintenance within a port like bridges, depots, terminals, etc. For that, they need high-level statistics about the containers moving through their region as a basis for communication with the government or for comparison with other ports. Currently, they can just make assumptions about the data.

 But now, the data procured from smart containers can be used to reduce container congestions and manage traffic flow in the ports. Authorities can also optimise all the related information and use it to make informed decisions. 

Smart Containers are Here to Stay

With the rapid advancement of technology, shipping digitalization is an inevitable trend. Bringing together an array of technologies — Internet of things (IoT), Big Data, Blockchain and Data pipelines — smart containers are the future already. By improving the autonomy of the devices, along with streamlining the operational and maintenance processes, these smart containers are the dawn of a new age in the shipping industry. 

Look out for them. They are here to stay!