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Container Handling in Intermodal Nodes - Optimal and Secure

Final Report Summary - CHINOS (Container Handling in Intermodal Nodes - Optimal and Secure)

Presently, shipped goods can only be tracked at a few specific points in their logistics journey, usually at the shipping and receiving ports and at customs points and some trailer parks. But a common occurrence is that a container is found to have been tampered with during its journey, and the full or partial shipment has either gone missing or been damaged. But it is usually extremely difficult to determine at what point during the journey the damage or theft has occurred, and therefore blame or responsibility cannot be apportioned.

There are a few systems on the market that address some of these concerns, but they range from basic mechanical solutions to more sophisticated electronic devices and are virtually without exception proprietary systems that are incompatible with each other and do not comply with the proposed global standards for container identification. There are three critical aspects of container status management, namely identification, seal condition and damage documentation.

The CHINOS project developed a system that aimed to address these issues by encompassing all three 'container status monitoring' parameters into one single system as well as ensuring that the overall system is compatible with the upcoming container traceability standard proposals. The system is also fully electronic which allows for remote identification and monitoring. The data can also be stored and retrieved, either in real time or as historical data for analysis and statistical evaluation purposes.

The system consists of an electronic radio-frequency-identification (RFID) transponder (also referred to as a tag) attached to the container, able to provide positive unambiguous identification of a container. An electronic seal (e-seal) uses the current mechanically robust door seal mechanisms but adds the electronic RFID technology to enable seal identification and additional tamperproof electronic security to the device.

The damage documentation system (DDS), finally, ensures that a container cannot be illegally penetrated in order to access the goods without authorisation. It also serves the purpose of being able to detect accidental handling damage to the container which may have a detrimental effect on the goods inside the container. This offers the possibility of determining the origin and location of any damage and being able to help in apportioning responsibility for it.

The system consists of four main elements:
- automatic container identification unit (ACIU) consisting of container identification system (CIS) and electronic seal system (e-seal),
- damage documentation system (DDS),
- chain event manager (CEM),
- communication controller (CC).

These systems all feed into a database system able to be accessed by authorised users to be able to determine the status of their cargo. During the initial phase of the project, the business processes of the terminals at Bremerhaven (Germany), Graz (Austria), Thessaloniki (Greece), and Warsaw (Poland) were analysed. Furthermore, the CHINOS system consisting of automatic container identification unit using RFID, damage documentation system using high-resolution cameras, chain event manager using a supply chain event management approach, and communication controller integrating the different components was specified and developed. Laboratory tests proved the functionality and interoperability of these subsystems.

Afterwards the complete system was installed at different terminals in Bremerhaven, Thessaloniki, and Warsaw and validated under real-life conditions. Validation was performed in different scenarios including quayside, truck gate and rail operations. The functionality of the damage documentation system was validated as well. The successful tests produced valuable results, which were analysed in the last stage of the project.

First findings showed that the CHINOS system is able to satisfactorily identify and track the containers throughout their transport chain, either at the quayside or transported by rail or truck. At the same time the container seal status can be determined to assure that a seal has not been tampered with and the damage documentation system is able to record the physical condition of the container to check for accidental or malicious damage. The system is able to be accessed remotely by Internet and the chain event manager is able to successfully identify and alert operators in case of discrepancies between scheduled and actual events. Subsequent to the validation tests, a detailed study was performed analysing the benefits which emerge using the new technologies.

The test results clearly show that the components are applicable and beneficial for optimising container chains especially in the transfer nodes. However, it was also noted that the shipping industry is still reluctant in equipping their freight containers with RFID tags and electronic seals on a voluntary basis. Reasons are for example the imbalance of costs and benefits or still missing standards to secure investments (since container shipping is a global business requiring global solutions). The rail fixed reader station was the one that gave less than fully satisfactory results.

In general, nearly all container tags and e-seals were read, but on each test there were a small percentage missed. One other e-seal correlation problem noticed was due to the long read range of the active e-seals. This caused some problems during testing because quantities of unused tags were often located within the operating range of the reader and were read in addition to the correct container seal. In a production situation this could be overcome by reducing the power (and hence the read range) of the e-seals so that they might be read at up to 10 metres instead of the present 100 metres.

CHINOS software applications and hardware components are already available to enter commercial use, as long as users other than CHINOS members are willing to pay in order to acquire the appropriate hardware, software and the right to use it. The reliability of the system is considered very high, as none of the parties involved has recorded any technical failure beyond the testing phase of the applications. To the extent that almost all CHINOS users can benefit from cost savings and their competitiveness could be improved to varying degrees. In their broader definition, the objectives can be achieved in varying degrees.

In the annual cash flows due to the implementation of CHINOS system, four different implementation scenarios were presented, where the degree of workers redundancy due to the introduced automations varies from 25 % to 100 % of the maximum estimated possible human wage substitution at this site. In each of the scenarios, the number of devices employed also varies, which means that the system could also be selectively deployed at some checking points, not the totality, according to the decisions of the company.

Additional information on the CHINOS project can be found at the project's website: see online.

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