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It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. This was the case in mid-2016 when the global shipping industry faced fear of disruption from new safety regulations imposed by the International Maritime Organization. The weight of every export shipping container had to be verified, and failure to provide an accurate weight declaration would see the cargo remain ashore. Given the large volumes of containers that move through the world-wide logistics chain, there were concerns about where and how containers would be weighed, and how the information would be communicated ahead of already tight cut-off times.
New Zealand tech company BISON foresaw an opportunity and concluded that containers are best weighed at the site where they are loaded. There the payload can be optimized, or dealt with if it is overweight or unbalanced. However, at the time, no such weighing solution existed. Containers would pass via a weighbridge en route to port, or be weighed with handling equipment at the terminal, but neither alternative is ideal if a problem is found with the weight at that late stage. To achieve their goal of weighing containers on site, BISON developed a small, portable weighing system that attaches to the containers and weighs them directly where they stand. The solution has been widely adopted and is now helping shippers in 35 countries. As well as meeting compliance obligations, it is an ideal tool for optimizing container payloads. In the meantime, the new safety regulations have been adopted by the shipping industry and the predicted chaos never eventuated.
While developing their portable container weighing products, BISON observed how data such as weight is often shown on a display and then manually processed to communicate it further. Besides the inefficiency, it also introduces the risk of human error compromising the accuracy of the data. To avoid this inefficiency and risk of error, BISON developed a smartphone App to capture and communicate the weight data from their container weighing equipment. The container weight data can be pushed to a server, or as many users prefer, just simply communicated by email, along with a certificate declaring the container’s verified gross mass.
"The ability to digitize data at the source as it becomes available provides new opportunities for improving safety and efficiency."
Besides the container weight, there is a wealth of additional information that can be acquired at the source, just by putting a smartphone in the hands of the staff on the ground. For example, many organizations like to capture photos of the inside of the containers as they are packed. This is for quality assurance purposes. BISON’s App conveniently collects photos and keeps them attributed to the relevant container, avoiding the menial task of downloading, sorting and filing photos off a digital camera. The App also provides an effective tool for capturing a manifest of the loaded goods, the container ID, tare weight, door seal number, location and much more.
Having learned by doing, BISON is now expanding its smart weighing solutions to other parts of the logistics chain. The Internet of Things is providing never before realized possibilities to connect sensors with users via cloud-based servers, and BISON sees tremendous potential to put this technology into useful applications. BISON is presently testing wireless devices connected to forklifts scales and platform scales in 3PL warehouses, and linking these to an App and Cloud Database. Incoming goods are weighed, and dimensions are measured with a digital tape. The process is faster than conventional manual weight capture and dimensioning, and it reduces the risk of human error from manual data entry. Besides that, the data is available the instant that it is captured so delays are avoided. It only needs to be captured once and is then available throughout the lifecycle of the freight movement. Time and money is saved by not having to shuffle piles of paper dockets.
BISON’s system extends to loading trucks as well as containers, providing a means to manage the cargo items being loaded and the weight of the payload. The loading operation usually involves multiple forklifts, but this poses no problem. The data gathered by each forklift operator updates the manifest stored in the Cloud Database and syncs with each operators’ smart device. The office staff has a clear overview of the loading operation via a web interface to the cloud, and API access provides a means of integration with other information systems.
The ability to digitize data at the source as it becomes available provides new opportunities for improving safety and efficiency. For example, enabling the forklift operator to capture the position on the truck where the cargo is stowed allows the vehicle axle loads to be calculated and checked for overloading. For trailers with mezzanine floors, capturing which deck the cargo is loaded allows the height of the center of gravity to be calculated for ensuring compliance with the vehicle’s static rollover threshold.
Another exciting prospect is realizing value in the data beyond the operational benefits. There are stakeholders for whom the authenticity of a cargo record is important. BISON is using Blockchain technology as a means to realize data provenance. Privacy of the records is maintained, but an immutable fingerprint stored on a distributed ledger can be used to prove the authenticity of the original data when it is later shared with external stakeholders.
BISON’s modus operandi is to create value through innovation by listening and learning. By engaging with people from all roles within an industry, BISON seeks to uncover inefficiencies and pain-points, and develop solutions with real benefits. In keeping with this philosophy, BISON welcomes feedback and comments from this article, to help shape the future tools of our industry.