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Smart shipping containers on the Silk Road

CIMC’s smart shipping containers report location and status in real time. Find out how Telenor Connexion keeps CIMC containers connected around the world.

Intelligent containers are set to play an increasingly important role in supporting new levels of efficiency, safety and transparency. For shipping container manufacturers, smart containers create opportunities to differentiate and expand offerings to the end customer.

White paper: Intelligent shipping containers on the Silk Road

This case study examines how China International Marine Containers (Group) Ltd. (CIMC) has developed the smart shipping container to support the logistics needs of Industry 4.0.

Smart shipping containers – transport in transition

Shipping containers are the most widely utilised transport method in the world. Responsible for more than 80% of global transportation of trade goods, the standardised TEU (twenty-foot equivalent) container became increasingly popular after World War II, and their use continues to grow today.

While no one knows exactly how many containers are currently in use, a conservative estimate would be that there are 28 to 31 million traveling around the globe today. Two to three million additional containers are produced and deployed each year.

With more and more containers in transit, it is increasingly complex to keep track of an individual container and the status of its contents. At the same time, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers all need to increase profitability through better stock control and loss prevention.

Regulation and consumer demands create additional pressures. For example, to ensure quality, pharmaceuticals and fresh produce companies need to assure their goods are being safely transported in cold chain at specific temperatures. The solution to all these challenges may be found in intelligent containers.

Making smarter shipping containers

There has historically been a low degree of differentiation between container manufacturers. Since the late 1990s, the industry has transitioned from being highly fragmented to considerably consolidated. Chinese manufacturers now dominate the market, accounting for more than 97% of global container production volume (Source: Berg Insight).

Mobile technology advances mean that connectivity for individual containers can now be provided at a reasonable cost. Internet of Things (IoT) technology, coupled with this mobile connectivity, has made it possible for containers to become intelligent. These advancements are enabling logistics equipment manufacturers such as CIMC to differentiate by providing a wider range of value-added services, fitting customers’ needs for more advanced traceability, control and security.

Smart containers on the new Silk Road

The ancient Silk Road was not one single highway, but a number of routes linking China to Europe, initially forged by traders using pack animals and carts. Those hard-worn paths are still in use today, though the caravans have been replaced with TEU shipping containers travelling along road, rail and waterways.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) now accounts for approximately 12% of worldwide merchandise trade (Source: World Trade Organization). The continuing importance of the old Silk Road in transporting those goods is reflected in China’s One Belt One Road Initiative, introduced in 2013 in order to accelerate economic growth from the Asia Pacific region through Central and Eastern Europe.

This development strategy (renamed The Belt and Road Initiative in 2016) was proposed by the Chinese government to bridge economic and technological gaps, with a focus on connectivity and cooperation between China and Eurasian countries in the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) and along the Maritime Silk Road (MSR).

As goods travel from China across multiple countries and continents, it has historically been difficult to track shipments or to control and guarantee transport of more sensitive goods with requirements such as an unbroken cold chain. Loss and theft, along with customs and port authority processes can also slow down shipments.

In order to find new solutions to these long-standing problems, CIMC established its CIMC HiTech subsidiary to develop and deploy intelligent technologies for integration into the parent company’s products. While it initially focused exclusively on smart shipping containers, CIMC HiTech is now expanding its focus to address all logistics equipment.

Why choose mobile connectivity?

The Telenor Connexion solution is cost efficient when connecting a large number of products, providing reliable connectivity with an excellent service level.

  • Easy integration into customer processes
  • Low total cost of ownership
  • Global scalability
  • Global coverage for moving assets and vehicles
  • Ideal for big fleets of assets
  • No manual installation on site
  • Connectivity pre-integrated in the factory
  • Secure end-to-end connections based on global standards
  • No interaction needed with local network

CIMC HiTech aims to help customers transform from traditional logistics firms to businesses that use big data in effective ways. Cooperation between key players in the logistics chain will build a connected ecosystem of smart containers and other smart equipment, which will enable the transformation CIMC HiTech envisions.

To accelerate transformation, CIMC HiTech founded the Global Smart Container Alliance together with Telenor, Huawei, ZTE, AuEase and many more innovative companies across the industry value chain, along with logistics standards organisations. The aim of the Alliance is to combine knowledge and information from relevant partners, to establish a market standard, and to promote smart containers.

Real tracing across the entire Silk Road and Belt

In the spring of 2018, the first CIMC HiTech smart shipping container connected by Telenor Connexion made the voyage along the Silk Road, transported by truck, train and ship.

Smart shipping containers along the Silk Road

The connected container – inside the IoT solution

To make the smart container a reality, CIMC HiTech needed an easy, stable and global connectivity solution provided over a mobile/cellular network. When connecting objects moving across oceans and countries, reliable coverage is critical – in urban as well as in rural areas. In order to provide continuous connectivity for customers, global reach is needed, which means the connectivity provider’s roaming capabilities are crucial. Other key requirements include capabilities for tracking location and quality of service to ensure that assets do not go dark and disappear.

As containers have production and lifecycles which span more than a decade, CIMC HiTech was looking for an IoT connectivity technology that could guarantee longevity, stability and reliability. Connected containers need future-proof SIM cards and modules that support bidirectional communication for over-the-air (OTA) updates, which helps avoid the need for costly replacement in the field. In reality, this means that connectivity via a mobile network is the only possible technology for connecting a shipping container.

After evaluating several suppliers, CIMC HiTech chose the Telenor Connexion Global Connectivity solution, which provides a single SIM card solution from one reliable partner – regardless of the country in which connectivity is needed. Other benefits include a secure connection, near-real time visibility of usage and a comprehensive overview of information for asset control.

With help of AuEase, Telenor Connexion’s partner in China, CIMC HiTech offers an end-to-end, onestop, smart logistics solution to end customers. This solution covers business innovation, pre-sales technical support and product life cycle management. In addition, CIMC HiTech has access to 24/7 customer support from IoT experts at Telenor Connexion, including a dedicated Support Operations Center (SOC) team which works with local support in China from AuEase.

Future plans

Currently, CIMC HiTech offers connectivity as an add-on feature, but in the future they plan to make connectivity standard with all their shipping containers. Together with the Global Smart Container Alliance, CIMC HiTech plan to support more customers with connected containers and a big databased cloud platform.

As a long-term strategic initiative, CIMC HiTech’s dedication to smart containers is aligned with the development of China’s One Belt One Road strategic policy and will result in a growing number of applications in various fields requiring further support and services from Telenor Connexion.

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