Container Tracking: The Solution to Shipment Visibility


Staff Content Writer

December 11, 2019 • 5 minutes read

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The advancement of technology has raised the expectations of consumers and businesses when it comes to transparency and access to information. When consumers place orders on Uber Eats, they expect to see the real-time status of their orders, allowing them to plan their activities in advance. When they ship their items on Amazon, they can easily track their parcels by simply going to Amazon’s website. Likewise, different parties, such as shippers, carriers, freight forwarders, and consignees, of the supply chain also need access to real-time information about their shipments to take precautionary measures or react to unexpected incidents with more time. After all, the loss caused by delayed shipment in the B2B sector is often significantly larger than that in the B2C sector.

It goes without saying that container tracking is certainly much more complex than mere food delivery tracking; however, it might not be clear as to why the B2B sector has not been able to successfully utilize tracking as efficiently as the B2C sector does. In today’s post, we will clear things up by exploring some topics of container tracking:

How exactly does container tracking work?
What are the challenges of successfully implementing container tracking?
How do different parties benefit from it?

How does Container Tracking Work?

Traditionally, container tracking was actually manually done by operators. As the container goes through different stages of a supply chain, operators manually update the status of shipment for others’ references. Unfortunately, the information provided by the operators might not be accurate and is definitely not real-time. However, developments in IoT technology shifted the status quo by introducing a process of automated data collection, transmission, processing, and distribution. How exactly does it work then?

Internet of Things makes container tracking easier

With the advancement of the Internet of Things (IoT), more companies have come up with their own methods of container tracking to provide better customer experiences. Essentially, container tracking is composed of several devices and systems.

A sensor or transmitter, which might interact with satellites to generate the precise location of cargo, is attached to the exterior of the container and is activated as the container moves along the chain. The transmitters will then send the generated signals to the receivers that eventually relay the information to the supply chain management systems that analyze the information and distribute it to the end devices, such as phones or computers, for different parties to know the conditions and locations of the containers. As you may have noticed, the mechanism of container tracking is quite similar to that of GPS. As a matter of fact, GPS and GSM are parts of the solutions to container tracking. Other solutions involve the use of BlueTooth devices, radio frequency identification, and other wireless devices.

The mechanism of the container explained above seems to be quite easy to implement. The reality is that successfully executing container tracking is much harder than it sounds.

Challenges of Container Tracking

There are several challenges when it comes to container tracking.

  • Shipping cargo requires coordination among various parties Shipping often involves several parties. First, a trucking company must transfer the cargo from the warehouse or the company to the port of origin. Then, the carrier will load the cargo and deliver it to the port of destination. Sometimes, it is even possible that the cargo will first arrive at an intermediary destination for different reasons, such as consolidation or deconsolidation, before reaching the final destination. After its arrival, the cargo will be handed to another trucking company that delivers it to the receiver. For container tracking to work perfectly, all the parties involved in this process must use or be connected to the same system, which rarely happens. As a matter of fact, the branch offices of a large shipping enterprise might not even use the same kind of software. To integrate all different systems certainly costs much funds and efforts to accomplish, which does not seem to be a good investment. After all, the main objective of carriers is to deliver the shipment within the agreed time instead of providing real-time information.
  • Different container tracking solutions have their own challenges and drawbacks Each type of container tracking method has its own challenges. For example, GPS-enabled container tracking is more expensive and power-consuming than wireless container tracking. However, wireless container tracking requires better infrastructure compared to GPS-enabled container tracking. GPS-enabled container tracking requires that the tracking device must not be blocked by or contained in anything as this will interrupt the transmission of information. On the other hand, wireless container tracking is more complicated than the GPS-enabled one since it needs to look for other ways to relay the information. At the current rate of technological development, these obstacles will soon be removed and different parties will eventually be able to make the most container tracking.

How do different parties benefit from container tracking?

As the data of container tracking becomes more refined and accurate, both shippers and freight forwarders can benefit from it as discussed below.

  • For Shippers It is obvious that shippers are the direct beneficiaries of container tracking. If a shipper works directly with a carrier, having access to real-time information of their shipment allows them to coordinate with the consignees or buyers to react to unforeseen accidents with more time. Moreover, depending on the agreed incoterms, shippers are sometimes responsible for paying the demurrage and detention charges if the containers are either not picked up or returned by the consignees in time. Without container tracking, shippers might not be able to inform the consignees and eventually pay for unwanted costs.
  • For Freight Forwarders Container tracking allows freight forwarders to deliver better customer experience. The quality of customer services has become an important differentiating factor for freight forwarders. As a matter of fact, providing fantastic customer experience not only allows freight forwarders to retain current customers but also generate extra revenues as customers might refer their business to other potential customers. How does that have to do with container tracking? You might ask. If container tracking is integrated into the freight management system used by freight forwarders, they will be able to optimize their freight management process with the real-time information of container tracking, reassure their customers, and eventually improve their customer experiences.

Better Shipment Visibility

The advancement of technology has made everyone’s life simpler. Consumers and buyers now expect everything to be more efficient and transparent. Being able to provide real-time shipment visibility becomes an important competitive advantage for service providers, such as freight forwarders and retailers, and will perhaps be taken for granted in the near future. Hence, forwarders must work together to increase traceability and visibility of freight to provide the best resources for their clients.

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