The Future of the Cargo Container and Shipping Industry
The ongoing cargo container crisis shows little signs of easing but perhaps it is a signal to the industry that innovation is sorely needed. The supply shortages all around the world may be a blessing in disguise, as it is forcing companies to re-evaluate old ways of management. In these difficult times, it is now time for reinvention.
Here are three ways the cargo container industry is embracing innovation for the better.
According to Grand View Research, the blockchain technology market is expected to enjoy a significant compound annual growth rate of 86% from 2022 to 2030. Undoubtedly, the blockchain industry is making waves across various sectors, and the cargo container and shipping industry is no exception.
A.P. Moller-Maersk (AMKBF) recently co-developed its own TradeLens blockchain with IBM to better optimise cargo logistics. The cutting-edge technology ensures better control over the containers and there are now 250 ports and 20 ocean carriers using this technology. In 2021 alone, it handled 1 billion shipments and around 30 million containers.
Artificial Intelligence and Smart Technology
Increasing automation through the employment of artificial intelligence can play a major role in easing the shipping crisis. The use of sensors and cameras installed on board a ship can generate data and open up communication between fleets and ports. The sensors provide live updates to the ports, allowing them to advise ships to slow their approach and delay their arrival, thereby reducing the incidences of idling ships waiting to enter ports. Over time, the collected data can also be used to predict and prevent future incidents.
Trials have already been rolled out for automated cranes and vessels, such as the pilot of the automated driverless container trucks by Cosco Shipping Ports Limited. Recently, PSA Singapore and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) signed a research collaboration agreement to jointly develop a ‘large-scale fleet management solution’ for automated guided vehicles (AGVs) at Tuas mega port. This port will be the largest fully automated container terminal in a single location with an annual handling capacity of 65 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs).
Smart containers – containers equipped with sensors to collect real-time data – is another way technology is making a difference. Collecting data through smart containers provides us with highly accurate information that optimises fleet management, reducing excessive wastage of fuel through less repositioning. Often, energy is wasted through the shipping and repositioning of empty containers, where estimates suggest up to $20 billion a year is wasted on this unnecessary fuel consumption.
While smart containers are not the norm yet, many are recognising its value and are preparing to enter this arena. In April 2020, Swiss startup SkyCell raised $62 million to build temperature-controlled smart containers specifically for pharmaceutical goods.
Foldable Shipping Containers
According to Drewry estimates, almost 27 per cent of the 862 million crates measured in 20-foot equivalent units that pass through the world’s ports in 2021 are empty. This incurs costs of close to $20 billion, according to Boston Consulting Group, with many empty containers taking up unnecessary space in already crowded holding areas, adding to delays along supply chains.
To combat this problem, many are introducing the concept of foldable shipping containers. In 2013, 4Fold’s 40-foot metal boxes became the first foldable units to be certified as having met the standards required by shipping lines, terminals and rail companies. To date, more than 15 carriers and shippers are testing these containers which can be folded into a quarter of their volume, greatly reducing shipping container sizes.
With the increased flexibility in controlling shipping container sizes, the possibilities for its application are endless. No longer will one have to use small shipping containers to conserve space; instead, foldable shipping containers will be the trail-blazer in more versatile and flexible management of shipping fleets.
Embracing the Future
Change is necessary to thrive; to remain stagnant is to become entrenched in outdated modes of thinking and problems. The shipping container industry is gradually embracing change to overcome its current crises, and the possibilities for innovation and enhancements are endless.