Shipping Containers Don’t Have to Disappear Into Thin Air

The worldwide shipping industry has long been a leader in providing tracking information about shipments of ISOs (International Standards Organization) and similar tanks and containers. Using any of the major global intermodal carriers, customers today have an expectation that they can log in to a shipper’s website and get the shipping status of an ISO container, such as whether it has departed or arrived at a particular port or distribution center. Usually all it takes is a shipment tracking number or a container number.

What’s historically been more difficult has been providing updated location information about containers as they are actually in transit – whether by rail, by truck or by sea – including return trips. This is referred to as “full life-cycle tracking”. As a result, customers often lose visibility of key shipments for days and weeks at a time. That logistical blindness causes concerns in today’s lean operating environments where “just in time” inventory is more than a buzzword, as it may be the difference between profit and loss. Such thin margins of error can result in costly plant shutdowns if shipments are late. JIT has its downside too, which is driving customers to seek ways to avoid any possible “bad surprises” of in-transit shipments.

The goal of full life-cycle tracking has always been elusive. The difficulty has typically been due to a series of both technical and business-related factors that include:

• Most technology currently employed for container tracking is infrastructure based – such as RFID or scanning systems contained in yards and facilities – but tanks and containers spend much of their lives outside of controlled areas, sometimes lost in locations unknown.

• Lack of cellular networks on the oceans, or even along many railroad lines. While traversing remote areas without communications coverage, shipments often enter blackout areas where no visibility exists other than a “departed” date or “expected arrival” date.

• Many ISO tanks and containers have no power source – this requires battery operated tracking devices, which often cannot last long enough to track a container through its full life-cycle.

• Battery powered GPS hardware has usually proven too expensive for simple track and trace applications, especially when factoring in frequent battery replacements and high roaming rates.

• The tank and container leasing market is highly competitive, and companies have struggled with how to provide track and trace as a value-added service to their customers without impacting their ability to win business.

The GT0 – Geoforce’s solution for tracking ISOs and other shipping containers worldwide

In 2014, Geoforce introduced the GT0, the “little brother” to the flagship GT1 – the world’s only IECEx/ATEX Zone 0 tracking device. While the GT1’s intrinsically safe certifications and rugged design is ideal for the harsh conditions of the oilfield, there are times when small size and lower cost trump all other requirements. The GT0 is ideal for simple Track and Trace solutions, including providing a twice daily location report from any location worldwide via the Globalstar Satellite Network. Combined with its small size (fits in the palm of a hand), and long battery life, the GT0 is the first global tracking device that delivers on the promise of Full Lifecycle tracking, at a price that allows shipping and leasing companies to remain competitive.

Benefits of full life-cycle container and tank tracking

There are multiple business justifications for tracking containers throughout their full life-cycle:

• Efficient Logistics – provides visibility throughout the supply chain – not just at entry/exit points
• Improved Retrieval/Utilization – many empty tanks and containers are stored in unknown locations, making retrieval and re-use inefficient.
• Safety and Environmental Compliance – Some ISO tanks and containers hold hazardous or regulated cargoes, so detailed records of chain of control are essential.
• Value-Added Service – With so much at stake, full lifecycle Track and Trace can enable some vendors to charge more for rentals/leases, or at least to avoid commoditization.

The ability of the GT0 to provide these benefits is demonstrated in the screen shot below, which shows a series of intermodal rail shipments in the United States. Notice the location reports from remote locations in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada – all represent visibility that is unavailable through a facilities-based, or cellular-based tracking solution.

Geoforce believes “Field Operations don’t have to be Chaotic”. With the capabilities of the GT0, perhaps we should add: “. . . and shipping containers don’t have to disappear into thin air, either.”