Move Over Smartphones, Smart Shipping Containers are Here

Robert Brice
Wed, Mar 30, 2016
Smart containers give companies visibility into inventory at sea.
Smart containers give companies visibility into inventory at sea.

Turning physical objects and actions into digital information helps warehouse and inventory management teams maintain control and oversight of products shipped around the globe. Employees working stockrooms and shipping docks often use mobile devices to report procedures as they happen. These days, business assets can take part in supply chain logistics management data collection as well.

In 2015, French liner CMA CGM became one of the first organizations in the shipping industry to implement smart containers into its supply chain, according to Logistics Management. The company used technology from a startup called TRAXENS to monitor the location of its cargo, even while it was out to sea.

As shipping assets become smarter, businesses will have to explore the possibility of investing in equipment that can report its own information and integrate into the existing company infrastructure.

More Information About Supply Chain
Mobile data collection technology was a game-changer. Starting with barcode software that allowed workers to report information with a simple button push, the ability to instantly convert procedures and inventory into information available to all system users eliminated a lot of visibility gaps from the supply chain. Smart shipping containers are designed to cover the few remaining seams.

The technology used by CMA CGN allows managers to check in with cargo wherever and whenever it is. The connected monitors in each shipping container can collect data and report progress. The complete visibility is more than useful, and thanks to advances in the technology, the option becomes more affordable to many organizations.

Supply Chain Digest said the new technology will help create a cohesive chain of custody. Distribution partners and other invested parties can see exactly where actions took place or a mistake was made. This should prevent supply chain disputes and help companies show compliance with government regulations.

The Future of Smart Containers
Smart containers do more than just report location. Motherboard described the multiple datasets sensors connected to the Internet are able to monitor and send to supervisors.

Smart shipping containers can measure temperature and humidity. Sensors can also detect movement, to prevent jostling of fragile inventory or to alert supervisors to signs of break-in and tampering. Managers can check on this data at their leisure or organizations can program the smart containers to send automatic alarms at signs of trouble.

Right now, the battery life of the equipment lasts years and there are options to plug into a larger power supply. Once the technology becomes more convenient, warehouse managers can expect to see the Internet of Things not only in large shipping containers, but connected to smaller crates, pallets and stockroom shelves.

Tracking the Shipping Assets Themselves
Smart machines help ensure inventory reaches consumers in the best condition possible. Effective data collection solutions, however, not only prevent the merchandise from going missing or getting stolen, it protects the business assets themselves.

Theft expands into every corner of the supply chain. Inbound Logistics said many criminals target inventory like food and pallets, instead of going for big ticket items like electronics. There is a black market for most materials, and the plastics used in pallets and crates are fairly valuable. Gaining better oversight of assets safeguards them against theft and prevents managers from overlooking risky employee habits.

DC Velocity shared comments from a marketer at a plastic pallet manufacturer who said clients that misplace their shipping assets usually do so because of carelessness, not theft. It's not uncommon for businesses with multiple locations to misplace materials. Luckily, better data collection solutions protect organizations from simple internal mistakes.

Solutions for Small Businesses
Smart containers and pallets should become more cost-efficient as the technology improves. In the meantime, however, businesses can make use of similar visibility strategies using information labels and mobile data collection solutions.

An RFgen customer case study detailed how a winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, used pre-printed pallet ID tags to track asset use along with order picking. The combined datasets gave managers exactly what they needed to make sure warehouse operations got the best use out of available assets and orders were completed on time. In the end, tasks were performed faster and more efficiently.

No matter what data collection devices a company employs, whether they are smart machines or handheld computing assets, business leaders need to maintain a centralized business software solution to unify information capturing, monitoring and management.

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