Container tracking has significantly improved over the years, driven by the integration of new technologies. Continuous advancements in tracking solutions now enable a high level of precision and reliability in monitoring cargo globally. This transformation is a direct response to the increasing demand from stakeholders in the maritime shipping industry and logistics sector for real-time and accurate information.
This article delves into the various ways in which these innovations are revolutionizing container tracking.
What is the importance of container tracking and related challenges?
Merchant ships transport approximately 226 million containers globally each year.
Given the vast distances covered and the multitude of entities involved in handling these cargo units, knowing the real-time location of each of them is of utmost importance for shippers, importers, shipping lines, logistics companies, and more.
In this context, container tracking software plays a pivotal role in ensuring the availability of accurate information that serves multiple purposes, involving:
- Provide real-time visibility into the location and status of shipments, including their estimated arrival times.
- Facilitate the smooth flow of goods within the logistics chain.
- Ensure timely deliveries of shipments.
- Optimize resource allocation and costs in the logistics process.
- Manage risks associated with the international transportation of goods by identifying unauthorized activities or anomalies (such as bottlenecks due to port congestion), addressing potential disruptions, delays, or other issues, and minimizing the risk of loss, theft, or damage to the cargo.
However, automated container tracking systems come with a set of challenges.
- Compatibility issues of such tools with existing IT infrastructure may pose integration issues with various platforms, diverse technologies, and devices.
- Ensuring the accuracy and reliability of data collected is crucial. Yet, poor internet or satellite connection, signal interference, technical malfunctions, or errors in data transmission can lead to inaccurate information, affecting the overall effectiveness of the tracking system.
- Protecting sensitive data and preventing unauthorized access to tracking systems is a constant challenge. As tracking systems rely on interconnected networks, they are susceptible to cyber threats and breaches.
- Implementing a tracking solution involves significant upfront costs, including the purchase of hardware, software, and ongoing maintenance expenses. Achieving a satisfactory return on investment and justifying the costs can be challenging, especially for smaller businesses.
- The lack of standardized protocols and interoperability between different tracking systems can hinder the seamless exchange of information across the supply chain. This can lead to inefficiencies and difficulties in collaboration among various stakeholders.
How to Track a Ship In Real-Time ?
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What are the positive impacts of new technologies on container tracking?
Fortunately, the container tracking tools market is dynamic, with ongoing breakthroughs progressively addressing some of these challenges over time. Nowadays, users only need to enter the container’s 11-digit identification number or the Bill of Lading/booking number to swiftly access the required information within seconds.
Users can opt for dedicated tools offered by major shipping lines on their respective websites, like Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd, CMA-CGM, Evergreen Line, and MSC, among others. Alternatively, they may choose advanced solutions like MarineTraffic, GoTrack by GoComet, Ocean Insights, CargoSmart, Ocean Network Express, Safecube by Sinay, and more.
Several innovations have spurred significant changes.
Connectivity with the Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G technology
Containers are now equipped with connected sensors that facilitate continuous communication between the unit and the central system, providing real-time data on the container’s location and status. These sensors might be coupled with autonomous vehicles and drones for monitoring in large ports, reducing human intervention.
In fact, IoT devices not only indicate latitude and longitude coordinates but also monitor various parameters such as temperature, humidity, and pressure. This connectivity is of invaluable help for the vessel’s crew and other operators at all ports, during road, rail, or barge transportation, ensuring the cargo is maintained in optimal conditions throughout its journey.
The implementation of 5G technology introduces high-speed connectivity, providing quicker and more reliable data transfers between containers and remote stations. As the network expands, monitoring will increasingly become quicker and more precise.
Geolocation with satellite and GPS technologies
Advanced GPS technologies, coupled with satellite communication, ensure the precise location tracking of a given container at any time and anywhere in the world. This is crucial for calculating the Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) for the container and ensuring the security of goods.
Moreover, geofencing technology creates virtual boundaries and sends alerts if a container strays from its intended route or enters restricted areas. This improves security and prevents theft or unauthorized access.
Data processing and predictions with AI, ML and Big data
The data collected by IoT devices would be ineffective without the proper tools to handle it—sorting, cleaning, formatting, analyzing, and storing. Notably, tracking systems generate a massive amount of data that requires Big data analytics to extract valuable insights. This involves identifying trends, optimizing routes, and enhancing overall logistics chain efficiency.
On another hand, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) algorithms are pivotal in analyzing historical data for predictive analytics. By identifying patterns, they can anticipate potential delays, disruptions, or issues in shipments, develop predictive models, and forecast the arrival time of containers. This proactive approach helps prevent issues from reaching critical points and enhances logistics processes’ efficiency by taking appropriate measures.
Beyond textual and numerical data (container number, characteristics, shipping date, origin/destination ports, cargo contents, vessel name, etc.), AI-powered image recognition technologies facilitate visual inspections of containers, ensuring proper loading and preventing damage to goods during transportation. These solutions and processes streamline quality control, further enhancing efficiency.
For businesses with specific requirements, opting for a customized container tracking solution can be an attractive alternative compared to basic applications on carriers’ websites or cumbersome and expensive tools.
Developers can leverage Sinay’s container tracking API to craft tailored software that is user-friendly, scalable, and incorporates the necessary features, data, and parameters. This solution seamlessly integrates with the company’s information system.
On a broader scope, integrating the container tracking system with larger SCM platforms offers end-to-end visibility to all stakeholders, fostering greater collaboration and efficiency.
Reliability with Blockchain technology
For users of container tracking software or applications, reliability is paramount. Blockchain technology ensures a secure and transparent record of container movements. It can be leveraged to establish an immutable history of the container’s journey, encompassing details such as origin, destination, route, and handling at various transshipment points. This tamper-proof ledger minimizes the risk of fraud, guarantees authenticity, and optimizes the entire supply chain.
RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification)
RFID, or Radio-Frequency Identification, stands at the forefront of technological innovation, revolutionizing the landscape of container tracking and logistics. This wireless technology employs electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects.
In the realm of container tracking, RFID plays a pivotal role by providing real-time visibility and traceability throughout the supply chain. These RFID tags, equipped with unique identifiers, communicate with RFID readers, enabling efficient and accurate data capture without the need for direct line-of-sight.
How can shipping stakeholders reap the benefits of container tracking improvements?
Container tracking is essential for shipping lines, and their agents, shippers, freight forwarders, third-party logistics providers, port operators, customs authorities, and consumers. The ability to trace the movement and status of containers, and to anticipate the timely delivery of goods significantly contributes to a streamlined and responsive logistics network and fosters agility during the whole transportation process for all involved parties.
The integration of cutting-edge technologies is revolutionizing the approach to container monitoring, offering numerous benefits to all stakeholders.
- Increased visibility into the location and status of the cargo, extending to a broader view from door to door. This enables stakeholders to make more informed decisions about their shipments and promptly identify and resolve potential issues.
- Improved operational efficiency, including route optimization, reduced delays, streamlined port handling, and secure inland transportation. These optimizations contribute to smoother overall logistics.
- Cost reduction is achieved through more precise and timely information, enhancing the efficiency of operations planning and management. Additionally, businesses benefit from lower insurance premiums and a decrease in claims.
- Enhanced customer satisfaction is realized through real-time updates on shipment status, accessible through a user-friendly mobile app or the ocean carrier’s website. This not only alleviates anxiety and frustration but also fosters trust and loyalty.
The utilization of new technologies in container tracking is still in its early stages, yet it is already having a significant impact on transport and logistics operations. In the coming years, the landscape of container tracking will be shaped by the growing influence of e-commerce, escalating demand for enhanced visibility, security, and traceability, an increased emphasis on sustainability, and the rising complexity of global supply chains.
The deployment of 5G networks and the utilization of sophisticated sensors enable more precise real-time monitoring of a growing array of parameters. This facilitates the collection of data from diverse sources. For instance, with an increased focus on sustainability within the whole maritime industry, tracking systems may incorporate features for monitoring ecological factors related to the transportation of goods, such as carbon emissions and energy consumption. By tracking containers, companies gain a deeper understanding of the environmental impact of their shipments and purchases and can identify opportunities to reduce emissions. Furthermore, when associated with cameras and AI, the detection of anomalies and identification of potential security threats become easier.
Companies that adopt the innovative and robust solutions that are expected to develop can expect even greater benefits in terms of efficiency, security, transparency, cost savings, and customer satisfaction.
Frequently Asked Questions About New Technologies in Container Tracking
RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) enables automated and accurate identification of containers throughout the supply chain. This wireless technology minimizes manual intervention, reduces errors, and enhances the visibility of container movements, contributing to a more efficient logistics process.