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  September 16th, 2016 | Written by

Smart Containers, Smarter Data, Smarter Industry

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  • Innovators are changing the way we look at shipping containers.
  • The internet of things is connecting containers, pallets, and equipment.
  • Data provides logistics decision makers a clearer view of their supply chains.

It doesn’t take much to see and experience the rapid advancement of technology in the world. Personal technologies are getting smaller, smarter, and overall more efficient but that’s not to say that technological advancement is stopping at consumer level. Far from it. Technology for the freight industry is getting a rather serious overhaul, encompassing many different levels of the industry.

While some of these changes might be slow to start, we’re approaching a precipice, a tipping point, in which the rate of technological growth will begin to accelerate. A report recently released by Lux Research, a research and advisory firm that focuses on emerging technologies, highlights a number of the technological changes that the freight industry is undergoing currently.

Smart Containers

Containers have always been the crux of the ocean freight industry, the cornerstone for the operation. Yet from their creation, we’ve yet to see many, if any, changes to the basic steel box. Recently a number of innovators and startups are changing the way we look at containers. Staxxon and Holland, for example are taking it a step further and reexamining the container itself. They are looking at a collapsible container which, when emptied, can be collapsed to save space in the event of an empty return.

The Internet of Things

This is, perhaps, one of the most reported and most important advancements for the freight industry. The internet of things (IoT) is allowing for a veritable network created not from computers as we know them, but of things, like containers, pallets, and equipment. Embedded with an array of sensors and tracking technology such as GPS and RFID chips, these things allow manufacturers, carriers, and shippers to monitor temperature, vibration, losses and location of their cargo more accurately.

Better Data: Smarter Moves

While the physical technology is progressing by leaps and bounds, so too is the information available for logistics. With better tracking and more information with each container, logistics decision makers are able to get a clearer view of their supply chain, from front to back. This level of transparency not only means a higher degree of customer service, but also allows for optimization of the supply chain, cutting away nasty snarls, tangles, and snares that would otherwise slow the operation down.

More Computing Power Means More Control

3PLs, carriers, shipping marketplaces, logistics technology companies are all taking advantage of better computing processes, offering shippers a wide array of digital tools which allows them a wide degree of control over their supply chain. Some of the more influential companies in this area include iContainers, Freight Filter, CargoSphere, and Freightos, that automate freight booking on cloud-based systems; ShipBob, Flexport, and Shipwise, that integrate data and create logistics dashboards; Shipster and Shyp, that offer pickup and packaging services; Transporteca and VeriTread that provide geo-specific heavy haul rates; Xeneta, that lets shippers compare ocean freight rates; and Shippo and ShipHawk, that help shippers calculate shipping costs.

While the freight industry has been rather slow to change it’s ways, change is coming. As the new technology begins to take hold, we’ll soon see a complete overhaul in the way companies view logistics and freight management.

It’s Not All Roses For Everyone

Though I am a technology lover and feel that tech can help all industries advance greatly, I do realize that all don’t agree that tech will disrupt or change our industry. Many feel that it is just an enabler and that human service is what makes the difference. While I don’t disagree, I do feel that our human powers alone can’t make the definite improvements and changes. Coupled with tech, we can for sure change the industry to something much better. We just need an open mind.

Katherine Barrios is chief marketing officer at Xeneta, a company which provides a database of ocean freight rates.