Tracking for Speed and Security

Feb. 14, 2007
Real-time visibility into exact locations of containers and cargo has never been as important as today with increased movement of cargo from offshore,

Real-time visibility into exact locations of containers and cargo has never been as important as today with increased movement of cargo from offshore, the need to move it quickly to final destinations and new security requirements. Today’s wireless technology provides critical visibility into supply chain activities, delivering benefits to carriers, shippers and customers.

"Customer service is our most important business principle,” notes Nathaniel Seeds, v.p. of port operations for Americas for APL Ltd. “At our 300-acre Los Angeles Global Gateway South, that means service to truckers.” That service is achieved by taking containers from APL ships, and putting many of them on a chassis instead of stacking them on the ground, so they’re ready to be hooked up and moved when the tractor arrives.

A wholly-owned subsidiary of Singapore’s Neptune Orient Lines (NOL), APL is a major supplier of worldwide container transportation services. The Los Angeles operation is one of three APL facilities on the West Coast. With what’s termed a “wheeled approach” to container storage, truckers can quickly move into the yard, go directly to the container on its chassis, and move it on to its next destination. Not only are truckers more productive, but there is an increase in throughput for the containers, as well.

Key to the system is the ability to precisely track and locate the chassis in real time. In order to do so, APL employs WhereNet’s (Santa Clara, Calif.) active RFID, real-time 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 tractor into 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 the chassis is disconnected the precise parking stall is immediately located. The WhereTag attached to the chassis also transmits its location data every few minutes. As customer delivery truckers arrive, they know immediately and exactly where their loads are and can swiftly move to them, hook them up and move them out.

The RTLS is accurate to within one parking 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 the time,” 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 was pulled in and parked behind the person taking 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 within the APL yard. There are more than 80 locating access points and WherePort devices at 12 entry and eight exit gates. The software automatically recognizes the chassis as it enters or exits the yard, with its exact location pinpointed by the WhereTag transmitters.

For truckers as for APL, the entire system has been a success. Most recently the California Trucking Association named the Global Gateway South, the Fastest and Best Overall Marine Terminal at the Ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach.

For tracking trailers, Qualcomm (San Diego) offers tracking ability whether the trailers are tethered or not. The first carrier to use the manufacturer’s TrailerTRACS solution for tracking its assets into Mexico is P.A.M. Transportation Services. The application was developed by Qualcomm’s Mexican partner, Corporación Nacional de Radiotdeterminación (CNR). It works in Canada as well.

On an hourly basis CNR monitors trailer positions via a nationwide two-way satellite wireless link and provides the 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 other benefits through its visibility of drops, hooks and in-transit location of assets as well as positive identification on every connect and disconnect. The data can also be used to identify underused, lost or detained trailers.

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

Asset-tracking works indoors as well. At the Lehigh Valley (Pa.) Career and Technical Institute, a local positioning system (LPS) monitors forklift movements within the 17,000 sq.-ft. distribution center (DC). The DC serves as a training center for future warehouse and distribution workers. Its construction was funded by the State of Pennsylvania and Lehigh County in partnership with UPS.

Marketed by Sky-Trax Inc. (New Castle, Del.), the LPS is made up of vehicle-mounted units that view overhead markers to compute the precise positions of forklifts. The data is relayed by a wireless LAN to a central computer that records movements and presents a map displaying vehicle locations.

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

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