Air Cargo Tech Summit

Air Cargo Tech Summit 2022 panel discussion

ACTS 2022: Stakeholders don’t see eye-to-eye on tracking, shipment visibility solutions

This story was originally published in Air Cargo Next on June 17, 2022

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Industry stakeholders are considering different solutions regarding the relative importance of active, semi-active and passive tracking devices for airfreight going forward.

While active tracking devices have the advantages of granting real-time visibility into a shipment’s condition, such as its internal temperature, a slew of issues on both the shipping and forwarding end prevent them from being an ideal solution outside certain niches, according to panelists at the recent Air Cargo Tech Summit in Miami.

“Active devices are, for us, cumbersome,” Marcel Fujike, senior vice president, global head products and services air logistics at Kuehne+Nagel, said during a panel discussion.panel. “If you look into the devices that are available in the market, they were never designed for the use case of logistics. They were always designed for something different, and that makes it difficult to really apply these devices in an efficient manner in our industry.”

A slew of issues prevent active trackers from being ideal in airfreight, Fujike said. Many contain lithium batteries, which invites its own set of regulatory issues , he said. Devices can also be lost, resulting in a sunk cost for the forwarder.

“As this is still a niche, it’s hard for our staff on the operations or warehouse level to remember what to do,” he said.

Lost or damaged devices

Meanwhile Hellmann has found methods of contending with the issue of lost devices, according to Henning Pottharst, head of global smart solutions, tracking and innovation at Hellmann Worldwide Logistics.

“We set up everything on a one-way device with the option to use it,” he said. “So in other words, if the customer is not able to collect the devices — and except from pharma, because they are very structured, and automotive as well — they can return it, we can recharge it, and we can use it again.”

Passive devices provide minimal information about the shipment and nothing about the actual condition of a particular package, Pottharst noted. This can lead to finger-pointing in the industry when something is lost or damaged, as it can become difficult to trace responsibility.

On the carrier side, however, the best type of tracking device depends on customer needs.

“Each tracker requires its own infrastructure,” said Marlena Buda, director of business services for corporate and commercial at Atlas Air Worldwide. “If your customers want to use several different types of trackers, then you have several different types of infrastructures you have to set up. Standardizing the trackers and how you collect that is really something that we feel we need to strive for.”

Atlas has not seen favoritism toward either active or passive tracking among shippers, Buda said. Shippers mainly seek visibility.

Smart label tracking solutions

For some, the future of tracking lies in Bluetooth technology, according to Fujike. In fact, Kuehne+Nagel is currently working to replace the standard IATA label with a printed Bluetooth smart label containing its own battery and microchip. After printing, the label is paired to a QR code containing relevant shipment information. These labels currently are used only for geolocation but could eventually go on to perform more active roles, such as temperature tracking, Fujike added.

Hellmann, on the other hand, will continue to use active trackers for the foreseeable future. “The costs are dropping tremendously, and that’s a good thing,” Pottharst said.

Active device prices have fallen 50% since Pottharst entered the industry, and they may soon be lower due to high cargo volumes. In addition, Hellmann makes use of proprietary smart tracking tools like SmartAir!, a web-based platform that gives customers insight into shipments across all their airlines, routes and shipment types.

“From my point of view, it’s just a matter of how to act together to create something that brings more value for the customer,” Pottharst said. “At the end of the day, that’s more visibility and streamlined processes in the warehouses on the supply chain.”

Register for Air Cargo Tech Summit 2023 here and learn more about the Air Cargo Tech Summit here. 

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