Commentary | IT Matters: Logistics & Supply Chain Technology

Cargo Becomes Intelligent So Do Ports

Tags: Ports, Global Logistics, Import, Export, Supply Chain

Dominique Lebreton is Director, Audits, Projects, and Marketing, MGI

We have entered a new era for goods tracking right across the supply chain. Thanks to new technologies, cargo becomes intelligent and can be tracked wherever it is located in the world.

Today, supply chain players need high-performing IT systems that go beyond the functions offered by Port Community Systems—IT systems linking port professionals to manage the flow of goods through the port.

These professionals can include terminal operators, shipping agents, ship owners, customs brokers, freight forwarders, road, rail, and river carriers as well as Customs, Port Authority, veterinary inspection bodies, plant health inspection bodies, and other government agencies. The available functions and the professionals linked vary from one port to another.

Ports represent key nodes in the cargo flow, and supply chain players need real-time information on cargo, wherever it is located, to anticipate operations and make the right decisions. Time is money and goods have to spend as little time as possible in the port.

For shippers, goods must arrive on time at destination in a just-in-time manner. At export, cargo must leave the port when planned so that the consignee gets it on time. If cargo is being delayed, the exporter country’s competitiveness is at stake.

What is happening before cargo arrives at the port terminal, whether it be at import before it is unloaded from the vessel or at export before it is loaded on vessel, can slow down port operations if the administrative and customs procedures have not been done on time.

Many professionals from the private and public sector are interacting in the cargo journey. All these players represent a link in the cargo supply chain and must be connected to an efficient IT system that orchestrates and streamlines flows of goods and data to be more productive and competitive. What is happening at every stage, or what is not and should have been done, can be known thanks to new technologies integrated in an efficient IT system.

Here are some examples:

  • Connection to smart containers. Embedded tags deliver information on the container’s location, logistics status, and condition. The integration of this information in intelligent cargo systems will help make delivery and container collection from terminals more reliable and will help anticipate customs operations to secure shipments.
  • Global positioning or geofencing. Using GPS from lorries can create alerts. For instance, lorries will receive a message informing them during delivery whether the port is expecting the container they are transporting and during charging whether the goods have been customs cleared and all fees paid to leave the maritime terminal.
  • Smart objects and intelligent cargo. RFID tags on pallets or QR codes on products can communicate information to intelligent IT systems and vice versa. For example, a recent e-port project with a Chinese port aims to ensure that European products, such as luxury or high-value goods, for Chinese consumers, are not counterfeit. The QR code is added by the exporter on goods when being prepared for shipment, then information is added to the QR code by an intelligent IT system, such as port of departure, container number and seals, and the customs declaration. When scanning the QR code with a mobile phone, Chinese consumers can then be sure that the product was shipped from a European port and it is not a counterfeit.

Developing port infrastructure and connection to the hinterland is one of the pillars of port competitiveness. Having all supply chain players connected to an intelligent cargo system is the second pillar since it will help maximize the use of port infrastructure and keep everyone informed on the “where is my cargo?” question. Accessing and sharing information on cargo through new technologies will not only smooth flows but it will also secure them.

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