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More shipper engagement with carriers offering smart containers is required.
This would bring down the cost of the technology and push it towards ubiquity – although developing interoperability standards will also be key.
On the final day of last week’s TPM conference in Long Beach, Kathryn Delecluse, smart container commercial project manager at MSC, said: “We all know smart containers are the future, but at the moment it is totally customer-orientated because we know that they need it; it is a value-added service.”
Chemical giant BASF conducted a trial project deploying Traxens smart containers and is set to begin a second, more extensive trial soon.
Digital innovation manager Mark Schmitz said: “There is a high need for visibility – the event reporting really helped us to understand how the containers move and allowed us to work with carriers to improve certain lanes.
“Some of this understanding may have been in our data, locked in the EDI post-event messaging, but consolidating that data was such a huge job compared with the one-stop dashboard Traxens offered.”
He declined to reveal the exact cost benefit per shipment, but added: “I would say we want other BCOs involved in this so there is a wider acceptance of the technology in the industry.
“But there was the obvious benefit in the huge amount of time saved. When we were managing a shipment and wanted to know its status, we could call the 3PL, who would call the carrier, who would often then call the port, and so on…
“Think of it like booking a taxi: do I want to spend 15 minutes waiting in the rain to make sure I don’t miss my taxi when it arrives? Or would I rather use a ride-sharing app that lets me track where the taxi is so I know exactly when it will arrive?”
Ms Delecluse explained that MSC currently had just under 3,000 smart boxes out of a box fleet of around 3m teu.
“The technology will get lower in cost the more units we build. Paying for something is always difficult, but when you see the benefits you can make sure that cost is minimal,” she said.
“We will have 50,000 smart boxes by the end of March 2020. At the moment, a customer makes a booking for a smart container and it’s up to us to make it happen.
“We have depots around the world certified to install the technology on the dry boxes. Once a booking is made, we drill the unit into a dry box at the nearest depot. It is then up to Traxens to talk to the customer about what data they want.”
She said the reason MSC had invested in Traxens – it joined CMA CGM as a shareholder – rather than another smart container developer was that “it had the best integration of data”.
Thomas Nouvian, deputy commercial director, said Traxens was now looking for other carriers to deploy its technology.
“Today we are working with MSC and CMA CGM and we are in deep discussions with other prominent top six carriers.
“I can only work if shipping lines partner with me, so we must expand the number of lines we partner with,” he said, although he added that the creation of industry-wide interoperability standards would also allow other platforms to be developed.
“What happens when an MSC smart container is loaded on a Maersk Line vessel, for example? They have two different systems, so we need interoperability to handle that, and we are taking the helm on developing this through chairing the group that is working on these box standards.”
And Mr Schmitz called on other shippers to help this push to interoperability.
“It is really important that the industry works to develop these standards, but it is also going to need flexibility from BCOs – but we hope that these standards will be finalised over the next 12-24 months.”