An ultra-smart chip for maritime transport

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The “Tracking”, the GPS tool that has delighted customers, loss adjusters, and insurers for many years, may soon be superseded by more advanced technology.

 

First used in the 1970s, container shipping has beyond any doubt revolutionised freight by keeping transported goods safe, causing insurance products to adapt to cover this new mode of transport.

Over the years, technology has worked its way into sea freight, offering the ability to locate containers and better manage deadlines. Anyone can, for example, track their cargo by logging on to the website of the shipping company transporting it. Tracking data is updated whenever the cargo is reloaded.

“Smart containers” : a dream come true

A start-up in Marseille that has just developed these miraculous chips to control data and limit damage is already proving of great interest to the main sea freight companies, who are beginning to fit their containers with the technology. The aim of these stakeholders is, on a large scale and at low cost, to equip the international fleet of containers with this emerging technology.

These new chips will serve different purposes on different containers, which fall into two main categories:

  • Traditional cargo containers (“dry” containers measuring 20 or 40 feet, open top containers, etc.)

The chips will enhance the GPS location of non-refrigerated containers, for example, by providing information on whether it has been opened, suffered a collision or been stolen.

  • Refrigerated containers used to transport perishable goods and other products like pharmaceuticals.

They are particularly useful for remotely controlling the temperature, humidity, and ventilation of refrigerated containers. Day or night, sea freight customers will be able to track factors that may have an impact on the transported goods via systems of alerts communicated by satellite.

A chance to save goods

A sea freight company’s nightmare? When a refrigerated container filled with frozen meat or shrimp gets too warm. Despite sea freight companies often covering the cost of compensation, it is not uncommon for the negotiations and legal disputes surrounding these claims to cost in excess of  €100,000.

Data from refrigeration units is already collected (using data loggers), and the temperature recorders used by loaders are increasingly advanced. The data collected in this way means that insurers can launch a more effective appeal.

In addition to providing proof of any defects, this new ultra-smart chip can also trigger alarms in real time and save the container’s goods!

Who owns the data ? 

Very little information is available about who owns the data. The addressees, if they can afford it, should be able to track their dry container in real time. Sharing data temperature data for refrigerated containers with customers will doubtless be extremely limited, as is the case today with data loggers. Initially, companies will use them to improve their quality of service more than anything else. The eventual possibility of sharing this data with customers will no doubt be the subject of a long debate in the future.

Towards fewer claims ? 

This new technology will mean there are fewer claims. As a result, we estimate that insurers who are able to do so may demand that a given product is shipped in smart containers by granting de facto reductions in premiums for the most diligent policyholders.

In 10 or so years from now, when every container has a smart chip, insurers and loss assessors will doubtless wonder how, in the 2000s, we still hadn’t figured out that so many disputes and financial losses could be avoided by a simple microchip and a few carefully placed sensors.

 

Etienne RASTOIN
Transportation and Lifting Loss adjuster – GM Consultant Group