Smart shipping container ‘ready to rock’

Shipping containers equipped with technology that allows them to be located, temperature controlled and otherwise monitored, Smart containers’, have been considered a promise for the future for some time. There is no breakthrough in the present yet.

Only 0.3% of regular shipping containers are ‘smart’ according to figures from Drewry consulting firm. Drewry expects that the big breakthrough is now really coming and that within now and 5 years 1 in 4 containers will be a ‘smart container’.

Hapag-Lloyd believes it will be the first shipping company to equip all its more than 3 million containers with real-time tracking devices.

The German container shipping company has developed a new device that will allow ‘Hapag-Lloyd LIVE’, an IoT product (IoT=Internet of Things) that has already been offered for reefer containers since 2019, to soon be used to monitor regular ‘dry containers’ as well.

In the course of 2023, this operation will be carried out.

It means that each Hapag-Lloyd container will soon be precisely traceable thanks to GPS data. The temperature will also be continuously monitored. With a Bluetooth wireless connection, other types of sensors can be added later, if necessary, the shipping company says.

According to coo Maximilian Rothkopf of Hapag-Lloyd, delays can be signalled earlier, and customers are automatically notified.

Hapag-Lloyd firmly believes that the real-time tracking approach will not only benefit customers, but also become a game changer for the entire container shipping industry.

It is not only Hapag-Lloyd that is working on making regular containers smart. It was already ten years ago that French competitor CMA CGM invested in Traxens, a Marseille-based company that promised to revolutionize container shipping with IoT solutions.

Another decade earlier, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration had already called for the introduction of “smart containers” to secure container traffic against terrorism, but Washington was frustrated to find that the private sector could not deliver such technology on its own. Even CMA CGM ultimately needed years after 2012 before the first tens of thousands of containers with Traxens technology could be put into operation. Then one competitor after another decided to also invest in Traxens and start using smart containers from the French technology company: MSC (2018), Maersk (2019) and Cosco (2020).

In Drewry’s view, those smart containers are still a drop in the bucket for now. No one knows exactly how many shipping containers are in circulation on the globe – some websites make the very generous estimate of “between 5 and 170 million” – but the fact is, in any case, that most of them are still not “smart.