CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
October 16, 2019
Forward Thinking

Smart containers see rising prominence in cargo tracking, Drewry says

Growing adoption could include 6.5 percent of global containers by 2023.

Internet of Things (IoT) networking is one of the biggest trends to hit the maritime sector in years, with "smart containers" having the potential to radically boost the utility and value of shipping equipment assets by allowing businesses to track their cargo, a new report says.

Smart containers have increased in prominence in a very short space of time and the pace of adoption is expected to accelerate over the next five years, according to the U.K. shipping consultancy Drewry Shipping Consultants Ltd.

Despite that rising popularity, the adoption of smart containers has a long way to go, since Drewry estimates that at the end of 2018, just 2.5 percent of the global container equipment fleet was fitted with smart technology devices, according to the firm's "Container Census & Leasing Annual Report 2019/20."

A container becomes "smart" when fitted with a telematics device that provides real-time tracking and monitoring, enabling operators to increase turn time of their container equipment and improve utilization rates, Drewry said. The devices also allow beneficial cargo owners (BCOs) to understand the location and status of their cargo, and better control their supply chains.

A growing number of vendors are offering products to support that expanding market, with systems available from startups like Safecube, venture-backed companies like Roambee Corp., and tech firms like Honeywell International Inc. and BlackBerry Ltd.

"There are a number of factors driving this market growth, including growing calls for greater transparency and security across transport value chains," Drewry's director of research products, Martin Dixon, said in a release. "Meanwhile, in shipping there is a demand to know the location of the container and above all the status of that container and the condition of the cargo inside it." 

Despite the low market penetration of the technology, its take-up varies considerably by equipment type, with usage already strong in intermodal and reefer containers, but much lower in the dry box sector, Drewry said. All sectors are forecast to grow quickly in coming years, with thenumber of smart containers in the global fleet on track to triple in the five years to 2023 to reach over 2 million units, representing around 6.5 percent of worldwide box inventories.

That uptake is expected to continue accelerating as technology innovation lowers the cost of devices and enhances their value to beneficial cargo owners (BCOs), the firm said.

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