Welcome. Recently, I have come across a couple of queries posted on forums and have been involved in various discussions about Container Tracking. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with a great team on implementing a new SAP Event Management “Container Shipment Tracking” system end-to-end during a particular project engagement. We normally read whitepapers and have discussions about ships, trucks and rail tracking scenarios, however the tracking of cargo containers seems to be a different challenge altogether. If you ask a shipping container company or global logistics providers or 4PL or 3PL, they advise that: “Container tracking is complex and inevitable in today’s global supply chain intermodal scenario”. Before we get into much detail on this topic, I would like to give you some insight on “How containerisation has emerged and how in today’s world, cargo movements heavily depend on containerization?”
In the earlier days of shipping, wooden boxes, wooden drums, barrels, sacks and so on were used to transport cargo. Transportation of goods was a major challenge due to the non-standard requirements for specific handling of various pieces of equipment, increased loading and unloading time, complex transportation etc. In 1955, Malcom Mclean realised the major challenges in handling cargo from one place to another, and took this as an opportunity to develop a new type of cargo box. He started to work with engineer Keith Tantlinger on a solution to handle the cargo more efficiently and securely. Keith came up with an idea to move cargo in a box-type container, and Malcom then developed this idea further and later his design became globally accepted as the standardized container we are familiar with today. Although we see many different versions and models of these containers, the two geniuses were responsible for ensuring that cargo could be moved safely and securely across the world in box-type containers.
Containerization changed Transportation and Port facilities
Nowadays, you can see that ports, rails, trucks and ships have been designed largely according to the specification of cargo box-type containers. Cargo ships are primarily suited to stacking containers and offer facilities to load and unload containers. Railway cars cater for single and double container stacking. Container trucks are designed to hold single and double containers, and ports usually have their own container terminal facility with modern handling equipment to load and unload the containers. Most ports have built-in container terminal facilities to handle cargo containers enabling the loading or offloading to or from ships, trains and trucks, efficiently and effectively.
"Did you know that one double stack container railcar could replace 300 trucks?"
The port of Shanghai is in the first place in the world to handle 33.62 million TEUs (Twenty-foot equivalent units) of cargo and the port of Singapore sits in second place, handling 32.63 million TEUs of cargo in 2013 as per Forbes Top 10 World Container Ports. Singapore is like a hub and the majority of cargos handled in this port are transhipment containers that are further stacked and then shipped to other Asian and western countries. The handling and tracking of these containers presents a major challenge to the port-based container terminal facilities. There are separate sets of processes executed in the major ports across the world to avoid inconsistencies during loading and unloading onto ships, trucks and railways.
"Did you know that every year approximately 500 million containers move across the globe?"
The BBC Box Project
Under normal circumstances, you would never see the same container twice when loading the goods for a shipment, and it’s highly feasible to assume that we may never see the same container in our lifetime. Let’s consider how a container moves around the world. Our immediate thought goes to the “BBC Box Project” – started because someone had a similar thought to us and created this project to track and trace a container. In 2008, the BBC started this project with the plan to track a container for more than a year. This intermodal container tracking project lasted crossed 50000 miles, where the box tracking started in Southampton, UK and finally ended at the same place having been shipped around the world. An interesting factor here is that the same driver Lee Harfield loaded and unloaded the container in the port of Southampton. You can view the entire route map that the BBC box container traveled.
"Did you know that a container might travel more than 12 countries in a year?"
Container Tracking Challenges
Tracking containers presents a huge challenge for container shipping companies, logistic providers, ports, trucks and warehouses. The following items can be considered standard questions, challenges and issues that might be presented when trying to track the container.
- Is the container a Full Container Load (FCL) or Less Container Load (LCL)?
- Is the container being used correctly according to the contents?
- Is the container requested to be dry or refrigerated?
- Has the wrong container been sent to the warehouse?
- Has an empty container been requested for repositioning following a full container being shipped?
- Is a container sitting in the port or warehouse more than the requested or accepted date?
- Is a reefer container (refrigerated - temperature controlled) requiring any special attention especially relating to overall temperature?
- Are containers lost in sea due to natural causes or have they been stolen?
- Have any containers loaded onto a vessel met with an accident?
- Has the container loaded onto a truck met with an accident or been affected natural causes?
- Has the container seal been broken during transit or transhipments?
- Is the container Gate-In early or has it arrived late at port?
- Is container still at the port without having been loaded onto a booked vessel?
- Does the container contain any hazardous materials?
- Does the container meet the standard of Environmental Protection policy – for example does it require fumigation?
- Has the container been checked in and/or checked out on the requested date by the clients?
- Have unloaded containers been requested for pickup or reloaded onto other consignments?
- Is there a container shortage in a specific country, port, place, warehouse etc.?
- Has a loaned container been returned or extended on agreed time?
- Has container damage notification been sent to the logistic providers or container shipping company?
- Have any port authorities requested container examining or scanning?
- Is the container missing the bill of lading?
- And so on…
All of the above challenges and scenarios can be addressed by the SAP Event Management Track and Trace solution.
How SAP Event Management can help with container tracking?
The following are benefits of how SAP Event Management can help with container tracking:
- The SAP Event Management track and trace solution enables tracking of returnable items end to end
- The ability to track and trace container number, container booking reference (CBR), seal number, bill of lading, carrier name, order number etc.
- Provides a single portal view for all reported, expected, unreported, overdue and unexpected container tracking events
- The ability to search and track a vessel, voyage, latest location, last reported container event etc.
- Trigger an alert to the relevant team when a container is lost or damaged
- Track the container route position with SAP Visual Business Geo-Map Integration
- Publish dashboard granular details or a detailed view about containers through SAP Business Intelligence
- Report events from Non-SAP systems where carriers, freight forwarders or shippers use different systems
- Seamless container ocean booking events, including loading, vessel departure, vessel arrival, unloading and container cancellation
- RFID-enable the container tracking process
- Manage the loading and unloading of returnable transport items
- Track and trace a container ID is one of the parameters in the delivery process in SAP Event Management
- Track and trace a container ID as a separate tracking id in SAP Event Management
- Track and trace containers as a separate tracking scenario in SAP Event Management
- Container ID and SCAC code validation on reported events
- Customer-specific or port-specific container seal number validation on reported events
- Temperature controlled containers can have custom validation and trigger alerts to relevant teams in the event of unexpected events
- Vessel and voyage mismatch validation on reported events for loaded containers and trigger an alert to the relevant team
- Track and trace Less Container Load (LCL) and scenarios such as consolidation of orders