There are currently numerous types of ‘smart containers’ or ‘e-containers’ on the market which allow for the tracking of and provide real-time data on their movements.
The tracking and tracing of containers and trailers is no longer a choice but a necessity. This applies to commercial supply chains, as well as to the transportation of military or diplomatic cargo. National security is also an issue, as relatively few containers entering the US or EU are inspected. It is paramount for good practice and security reasons to monitor containers from loading to unloading, and to have information about the contents of the cargo even before the container is loaded onto the vessel – just as there is a need for the tracking and knowledge of the eventual transshipment.
As many as 96% of all US imports are by sea, arriving at a rate of approximately 17,000 containers per day (6 million per year). Of those, only 2% are physically inspected. In addition, 13 million lorries and railcars cross into the US via the Canadian or Mexican borders per year. Well documented is the volume of drugs illegally smuggled into the US via containers destined for the US which were intercepted en route.
In Europe there have also been incidents of containers bound for EU ports in Northern Europe, having been loaded in EU ports in the Mediterranean, with Customs believing that the shipments have been checked and are secure; what don’t know is that some goods in a container were changed when the ship passed through a North African port.

Current regulations governing containers

In the US, a 24-hour advance manifest rule (AMR) is the tool used to officially inform the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) of the contents of a container 24 hours before it is loaded onto a US-bound ship.
Also in the US, C-TPAT-certified firms are those with green lane access, fewer inspections and lower-risk scores (ARS or automated risk system rating), but both CSI (Container Security Initiative) and C-TPAT are voluntary programmes. Firms engaged in selling goods to the US apply for the certification, or become certified if they are controlled by a US C-TPAT-compliant firm, or are included in a related party importer’s approved C-TPAT supply chain security profile that requires invitation from the US buyer.
The Smart and Secure Trade Lanes (SSTL) initiative, which is the most comprehensive regulation so far, from point of origin to point of destination, across multiple global trade lanes and transportation modes, is a global network based on the US Department of Defense’s Total Asset Visibility Network, deployed in 40 countries and 750 checkpoints. It requires three fundamental capabilities:

1. capturing, storing, monitoring and transmitting essential data associated with ocean-containerised cargo, including but not limited to: line item manifest data, container identification, sealing, shipper, consignee, booking, route planning, physical status, location, origin and bill of lading
2. making the container smart with automated anti-intrusion and tracking sensor systems, physical integrity, status of container, route planning, deviations from plan and tampering events
3. an automated end-to-end security audit trail that may be used by participants in the supply chain as well as international regulatory government bodies or agencies.

Certainly, container tracking needs standards, and much has been talked, discussed and printed about it. However, arguably, the current standards do not adequately cover the inherent and actual risks associated with container transportation and there is still reluctance in the shipping industry to absorb and implement the benefits of modern technology.
In the case of a military supply chain, tracking regulations fall under the control of military logistics departments and authorities. Hence, we could assume that cargo monitoring is at its best. But is it? Tens of thousands of containers per year remain unaccounted for in military deployments and, more importantly, without a proper e-container tracking system, our combatants may suffer the consequences of improper logistics and not be as well protected as they should be.
Solutions may come more from the tracking and monitoring of containers, as opposed to the securing of them. The threat of terrorism can never be eliminated, but it can be mitigated. The defence sector wants to secure and maintain the visibility of its goods, while companies in the commercial sector invest in solutions that provide such visibility. One of these is Zenatek.

The Zenatek Tracking System

The Zenatek Tracking System was designed in line with a strict cost control, with the aim of developing a container tracking device at an affordable price, which could provide most of what is needed by the end user in terms of tracking and monitoring. The Zenatek Tracking System (ZTS) monitors containers in transit anywhere around the world, tracing their tracks while providing real-time information on the exact location of the containers at any time. It also alerts you in the event of any tampering and/or temperature variances, which are communicated to you via GPS/GSM/the internet to your personal computer or mobile. It is a comprehensive service that includes a container tracking device or CTD, which is a one-way-throwaway unit. It does not need to be retrieved at destination, as all the information on the trip has been traced and is already in the system, at your fingertips.
The Zenatek Tracking System uses the Global Positioning System (GPS) to locate the container and transmits that information of the container’s location using the Global System for Mobile communication (GSM). Battery life is guaranteed to provide four months’ service at a rate of one message a day. Notification times and intervals, the number of positions per message and the quantity of messages per day can all be remotely configured and reconfigured, even after the shipment has gone. The device will trigger alarms when the temperature inside the container goes under or over a predetermined threshold, and the device also alerts you when the temperature returns to the threshold nominated by the user.

The Zenatek Tracking Device has a geo-fencing capability, meaning that if the trailer or container is moved to another part of the port the device will wake up and trigger the corresponding alarm. The system also has a capability to send an alert message when the container doors are opened, providing geo-coded proof of delivery information to the consignee, along with the comfort of knowing that the shipment has reached its destination, and that there has been no unauthorised opening of the container doors.
These alerts are sent by the web-based system, designed by Zenatek, via e-mail and short message service (SMS) to the user’s mobile phone. The user can then log in with an encrypted password and user ID, and view the position of the container and the nature of the alert. The system pinpoints the position of the tracking devices to within a few metres anywhere in the world by using multiple mapping solutions via Zenatek’s web-based tracking portal. Each user with a unique password and user ID has access to the ZTS portal which allows them to find both real-time and historic locations of the container or trailer.
In less than a few minutes, the container tracking device is attached to the container doors by two powerful magnets. No tools are needed for installation, including the use of a universal plate adaptor for aluminium containers or reefers. Once the shipment is gone, real-time data on the go is available at your fingertips, right from the first moment of activation.

RFID technologies vs GPS/GSM

The latest trend in tracking is the use of RFID (radio frequency identification) technologies but this requires the acquisition of a costly infrastructure of porticos and hardware, fixed sites and hand-held transceivers, people to use them, training and maintenance. In the case of GPS, satellite costs are limited to the cost of message traffic since the rest of the service is provided by the vendors, making it a much less expensive proposition, especially when compared to infrastructure, maintenance, hand-held readers, personnel costs and so on.
The RFID device could even be counter-productive in the sense that anyone who knows the particular RFID frequency could design a bomb to explode when the corresponding container is inspected at US ports. The security system is, in fact, the detonation trigger.
Satellite signals are not as susceptible to this type of usage. The antenna in the container tracking device is tuned to the correct frequency range and constantly picks up signals from the satellite. The modem understands the message protocol and answers; information is then transferred between the container tracking device and the satellite and, because of the constant communication between them, message protocol must be properly understood in order to be deciphered and trigger a device. The mere presence of a signal is not enough.
Using RFID technology by itself is, in Zenatek’s opinion, inadequate to meet the requirements of global container security. It is hard to understand why big retailers and industry giants seem to prefer it over GPS/GSM systems. However, the tide seems to be turning, and the more one knows or learns about global supply chain security, either military or commercial, the more these giants will have to accept that the future is not RFID but a combination of satellite, cellular and wireless technologies, at an affordable price.

Further information