In today’s global trade, handling of container transport and supply chain is not that easy and comes with a plethora of problems. Lack of visibility is one of the main problems that customers face.
Lack of visibility of a shipping container’s location and its condition during a trip may lead not only to unexpected delays but also to possible theft and deterioration of goods especially if these problems are noticed far too late.
Without visibility, shippers cannot expect the fastest, safest and importantly, the most ecological routes for their shipments.
Time saving and product quality are key factors in a well functioning supply chain, and more and more companies are looking to choose solutions that provides visibility of their shipments.
At the same time, more and more technological solutions are being developed to track containers and solve this problem of lack of traceability and security during multimodal transport.
These tracking solutions are starting to be sharply segregated as Smart Containers and Removable Trackers. These two solutions target different stakeholders :
- Smart containers are bought by container owners (often shipping lines) that rent services to freight forwarders or directly to shippers
- Removable trackers are directly sold to freight forwarders or shippers who use them on various trips and containers
Shippers are at the forefront of creating the demand for the deployment of both these solutions even though freight forwarders and shipping lines can also have a strong ROI using these tracking devices to manage their shipments or containers.
Choosing the right tracking solution for your company
So which option should you choose between smart containers and removable trackers?
Below table compares the main characteristics and pros and cons of each of these technologies.
|Technology||Removable Tracker||Smart Container|
|Pros||The tracker generally belongs to the freight forwarder or shipper.||The smart container generally belongs to a container leasing company or a shipping line.|
|Due to their material and simple installation, the cost is often affordable for most companies.||To convert a normal container to a smart container, the installation is complex and must be carried out by experts, which is a bottleneck for quick deployment.
However, once the container is equipped, there’s no more need for installation or removal.
|The deployment in any country is fast thanks to their (nearly) immediate availability.|
|Often inside of the container, the device is less exposed to sea corrosive constraint|
|Technology||Removable Tracker||Smart Container|
|Cons||Tracker installation is easy but requires staff to put it and take it off for each shipment (just like the seal).||There is no tracking device to be sent back to the tracking company|
|Need to send back the tracker to the departure location (unless the company has enough clients and trackers to re-use them directly on the spot)||Costs of installation, maintenance and immobilisation (when not used) are expensive for containers owners which also impacts the service’s price.|
|Fixed outside of the container and completely exposed|
|If not properly tracked and maintained, container could become part of a container fleet and may never be used as a smart container|
Cédric Rosemont, the CEO of Next4 a container tracking solution company provides his company’s point of view in regards to this question.
SFR : Could you briefly present your company ?
CR : Next4 was created two years ago in France by experts in connected electronics and international tracking.
Even though there seems to have been a lot of frustration in the container tracking market, we decided to create a container tracking solution based on current innovative technologies with 3 objectives :
- worldwide coverage and
- a long battery life.
SFR : What can shippers and freight forwarders expect from your solution ?
CR : What we provide is, not only a device, but also a whole solution with a software as a service platform (SaaS) exploiting tracker’s data and external information. Today we offer dynamic ETAs and risks analysis.
Our customers are shippers and their freight forwarders but we also provide an alternative solution for shipping lines.
Regarding our device, it’s a concentration of technology and thanks to intelligent algorithms, it is able to detect not only its presence on the container and door openings but also its loading on ships.
SFR : Why have you chosen a removable solution ?
CR : After careful consideration of the pros and cons of both systems we were convinced that for a fast deployment we had to offer a solution easy to install and set up.
We also know that while container location and transport condition information is required by shippers, freight forwarders and container owners, the most concerned today are the owners whose goods are being transported as they may not always be in direct contact. But with our device they can also keep a track of their goods as required.
Our solution doesn’t require maintenance costs and can be placed on any container in the blink of an eye.
SFR : Surely this kind of solution can represent a significant cost for companies !!
CR : Our technology enables customers to have these advanced technologies at an extra cost of only €20 per monitored shipment. Our devices can be used with more than 10 shipments with a battery life ranging from 2 to 5 years according to usage.
We believe that this price is negligible in regards to the value proposition that is offered. Our customers will be alerted in the event of theft, shocks, damage to goods, or temperature or humidity conditions that are not met, at the earliest possible time during the journey.
Moreover, their supply chain optimization through better control of the ETA will allow them to significantly reduce their WCR.
SFR : Can you assure them they’ll be able to keep track of their goods all along the journey wherever in the world ?
CR : In order to respect our target for an affordable solution, we decided to bet on terrestrial transmission technology which means that our trackers can operate wherever there is a signal and your phone will work. For this, we use IoT dedicated technologies like LTE-M, but we also work on GSM.
We have an agreement with worldwide network operators. Our devices cover more than 85% of land surface and this means more than 98% of the 500 world’s main freight ports are covered by our solution.
As we track worldwide trips, even if the device is in a zone without network, it will reconnect as soon as possible and transmit the transport conditions it has recorded.
SFR : How do you guarantee your clients an effective tracking with an object such as metal containers ? Doesn’t it affect the signal ?
CR : Indeed, containers are real Faraday cages that heavily reduce the signal’s efficiency.
However, Next4 has carefully studied this problem in order to offer a solution as efficient as possible. Our trackers are positioned inside the container but have an external antenna to transmit the data.
Other trackers that are only placed inside the container have an insufficient signal. For those who recall their physics classes, this causes a 20dB loss, which equals to several kilometers between the transmitter and base stations.
SFR : How can your clients reuse the trackers once they have reached their destination ?
CR : Managing a fleet of devices implies reverse logistics. This is why we have designed them to be light and compact. Our regular customers can arrange shipment in boxes of 10 trackers from the container’s final destination with an express return of the package to the point of departure.
These units can be then used again on departing containers.
As part of our offer of fast deployment, Next4 works on a solution to reduce reverse logistic costs or avoid it.
SFR : Can your clients access their trackers’ data ?
CR : Our SaaS platform, N4VIEW, enables our clients to access all data about their past and current shipments. We also provide analytics and history comparison.
Our customers also receive alerts by email for important events and accidents. Our platform has an embedded API that communicates with TMSs and other information systems of the freight forwarders and shippers. Some of our customers have already connected N4VIEW with their CargoWise TMS.
SFR : What does the future hold ? Are you already thinking about improvements of your solution?
CR : In terms of the device itself, our version is already capable of communicating with BLE devices. This means that we already provide a solution that can be interfaced with peripherals like presence beacons or all other sensors based on BLE.
A few months ago, we partnered with a satellite communication provider to improve the worldwide coverage.
These kind of solutions are still expensive but some use cases can require a seamless real-time information.
Concerning the N4VIEW platform, we have engaged computer science research and development to be able to provide predictive analysis using our global database to detect potential impacts on ETAs or damage risks on goods.
Tomorrow, we want to be able to suggest to our customers a route which matches their criterion such as financial impacts, cargo delay, damage risks or carbon footprint.