Tracking for Speed and Security

Jan. 19, 2007
Real-time visibility into exact locations of containers and cargo has neverbeen as important as today with increased movement of cargo from offshore,

Real-time visibility into exact locations of containers and cargo has neverbeen as important as today with increased movement of cargo from offshore, the need to move it quickly to finaldestinations and new security requirements. Today's wireless technology provides critical visibility into supply chainactivities, delivering benefits to carriers,shippers and customers.

"Customer service is our most important business principle," notes NathanielSeeds, v.p. of port operations for Americas for APL Ltd. ( "Atour 300-acre Los Angeles Global Gateway South, that means service to truckers." That service is achieved by takingcontainers from APL ships, and puttingmany of them on a chassis instead ofstacking them on the ground, so they'reready to be hooked up and moved whenthe tractor arrives.

A wholly-owned subsidiary of Singapore's Neptune Orient Lines (NOL),APL is a major supplier of worldwidecontainer transportation services. The LosAngeles operation is one of three APL facilities on the West Coast. With what'stermed a "wheeled approach" to containerstorage, truckers can quickly move intothe yard, go directly to the container on itschassis, and move it on to its next destination. Not only are truckers more productive, but there is an increase in throughputfor the containers, as well.

Key to the system is the ability to precisely track and locate the chassis in realtime. In order to do so, APL employsWhereNet's (Santa Clara, Calif., active RFID, realtime locating system (RTLS) and marine terminal software. As containers are lifted from APL ships and loaded onto a chassis, an International Longshore and Warehouse Union clerk relates the container with the chassis and yard tractorinto the APL database. A driver then moves the load to the yard where it is disconnected.

Because the tractor is sensor equipped,its specific location is known. When thechassis is disconnected the precise parking stall is immediately located. TheWhereTag attached to the chassis alsotransmits its location data every few minutes. As customer delivery truckers arrive, they know immediately and exactlywhere their loads are and can swiftlymove to them, hook them up and movethem out.

The RTLS is accurate to within oneparking space. It replaced an older system used by APL in the mid-1990's."We had a locating system that employed state-of-the-art technology at thetime," explains Seeds. "It even incorporated GPS (global positioning system).The problem was that it was necessary to drive down the rows and take readings from the trailers. If a trailer waspulled in and parked behind the persontaking the readings, it might be hours before they returned for another reading."The new system has cut misplaced containers by 70%.

The locating system works only withinthe APL yard. There are more than 80 locating access points and WherePort devices at 12 entry and eight exit gates. Thesoftware automatically recognizes thechassis as it enters or exits the yard, withits exact location pinpointed by theWhereTag transmitters.

For truckers as for APL, the entire system has been a success. Most recently theCalifornia Trucking Association namedthe Global Gateway South, the Fastestand Best Overall Marine Terminal at thePorts of Los Angeles/Long Beach.

For tracking trailers, Qualcomm (SanDiego, offers tracking ability whether the trailers are tethered or not. The first carrier to use themanufacturer's TrailerTRACS solutionfor tracking its assets into Mexico is P.A.M. Transportation Services. The application was developed by Qualcomm'sMexican partner, Corporación Nacionalde Radiotdeterminación (CNR). It worksin Canada as well.

On an hourly basis CNR monitorstrailer positions via a nationwide two-way satellite wireless link and providesthe data in real time to U.S. carriers.TrailerTRACS not only indicates the location and status of trailers, it can monitor temperature in refrigerated trailers.The tethered trailer system offers otherbenefits through its visibility of drops,hooks and in-transit location of assets aswell as positive identification on everyconnect and disconnect. The data canalso be used to identify underused, lost ordetained trailers.

Qualcomm now offers its T2 Untethered TrailerTRACS Asset ManagementSystem that reports the location and status of trailers, whether they are attachedto a tractor or not. For high-value andhigh-risk freight, the solution issuesalerts as trailers move into or out of user-defined geo-fencing. When trailers arenot connected to an external powersource, an optional solar charging system can help keep batteries charged.

Asset-tracking works indoors aswell. At the Lehigh Valley (Pa.) Careerand Technical Institute, a local positioning system (LPS) monitors forkliftmovements within the 17,000 sq.-ft. distribution center (DC). The DC serves asa training center for future warehouseand distribution workers. Its construction was funded by the State of Pennsylvania and Lehigh County in partnershipwith UPS.

Marketed by Sky-Trax Inc. (NewCastle, Del.,, theLPS is made up of vehicle-mountedunits that view overhead markers tocompute the precise positions of forklifts. The data is relayed by a wirelessLAN to a central computer that recordsmovements and presents a map displaying vehicle locations.

The collision alert system utilizes location data, monitoring forklift activity indesignated zones within the DC. It signals whether the vehicles are safely awayfrom pedestrians (green zone), approaching (yellow zone) or in the immediatearea (red zone).

Photos courtesy of APL

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