Where’s my container?
Date: Friday, September 27, 2019
Source: American Shipper
Ports, terminal operators and shipping lines are striving to improve the flow of information.
“Logistics is probably one of the last industries to be disrupted,” according to Steven Jan Van Hengel, senior manager of the Port of Rotterdam Authority.
The Netherlands port is the largest in Europe and has been investing in digitization for the past three to four years, Hengel said during a panel discussion on ports’ physical and digital infrastructures at the CSCMP Edge 2019 conference in Anaheim, CA, this week.
“If your customers want something,” he said, “you have to try and meet those needs.”
Hengel noted, however, “the scale of the challenge is quite big.”
Still, he believes the port authority can “play a central role between shippers, freight forwarders, carriers and terminals and be an intermediary between all the supply chain players.”
“A lot of parties are executing their own initiatives. We think we can accelerate those developments by playing a neutral role,” Hengel said.
He said the Port of Rotterdam is using data to improve efficiency. “We are also combining all the data … to really build this one central point of truth on what is happening around one vessel calling Rotterdam.”
And shippers are demanding visibility and routing optimization, Hengel said, noting that Maersk and IBM have expanded their TradeLens blockchain platform to include other carriers.
“We’ve also seen some other interest from other ports that have the same challenges” and want what he called “a more global tool.”
Don Snyder, acting managing director of commercial operations for the Port of Long Beach, agreed, “There’s demand for: ‘Where’s my container? When’s it going to arrive at the yard?’”
The Port of Long Beach has “combined different data points to more or less get the first version of transparency from port to inland.”
Long Beach also is investing billions of dollars in the physical infrastructure.
“We’re putting a little over $1.5 billion into improving our road infrastructure so trucks can get in and out between the port and the distribution centers,” Snyder said.
He said 35% to 40% of cargo goes by rail and the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are working together to improve rail traffic flow.
“We’ve built some real nice rail yards to load containers on and off trains, on and off the ships. The problem is the terminal operators operate in one set of rules and functions and the railroads are just a completely different animal. So what we’re doing, the two ports, we have a billion-dollar project coming up setting up staging areas that the terminals can quickly turn railcars around and take them on and off containers and put them in the staging area so when the railroads are ready to grab them, they can move,” Snyder said.
The Port of Long Beach is investing another $1.5 billion in terminal improvements needed to handle larger container ships. “They handle a lot differently. You have to have the water depths so the vessel can get in. There is a replacing of cranes with taller or new cranes or old cranes being raised,” he said. “A lot of terminals are adding extra berth structure so larger ships can be handled.”
Snyder said Long Beach also is working on information flow. “That information is mission critical for that physical movement of cargo.”
He said Long Beach is looking at a number of potential solutions, including the Port of Los Angeles’ Port Optimizer.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions with Rotterdam. Maersk Line has a system. There are a number of systems out there. What we’re trying to get an understanding of is what the cargo interests want and what do the different supply chain partners need in order to move cargo along. So stay tuned,” Snyder said.
Scott Schoenfeld is the general manager of Fenix Marine Services in California’s San Pedro Bay.
“My job as a marine terminal operator is to move a container essentially one mile. But at the same time, I’m trying to pull together all the disparate items and issues between the infrastructure, ensuring that it’s properly sized and placed and the people are properly placed and organized, planned and dispatched and they’re where we need them,” Schoenfeld said.
“What’s the future of digitization within the port and infrastructure? It’s going to be an interesting time because lots of different folks are working on making that communication more seamless when passing off that baton,” he said.
Fenix has partnered with Blume Global “on a system whereby we don’t necessarily have to communicate which containers are available at any one time,” Schoenfeld said. “We’ll ensure that your handoff is seamless. … We’ll take the responsibility to make sure that you get the container and the cargo that you wanted.”
He agreed that information flow needs to be improved.
“In many cases, we don’t have direct relationships between those folks that want that information and those who have it. In most cases, I don’t have direct relationships with my BCOs,” Schoenfeld said. “It’s the same thing with the railroad. We don’t have a contractual relationship with the railroad to be able to hand that baton off. They come to my terminal, and we load containers onto their railcars. But they’re not my customer and I’m not their customer.
“We’re now wondering whether or not we should be extending our reach and our control of the cargo all the way to the dock or to the warehouse,” he said. “Thinking about terminal operators, because we are the handoff point between the steamship line, a BCO, a trucker, railroad, it’s a natural place for us to have a lot more of that control.”
Schoenfeld said he does “think consolidation of individual IT systems, consolidation between the individual terminal operators will promote a little bit more of a longer reach.”
Snyder noted that a central control can provide “a lot of latent improvement in productivity, both how you utilize the land and how the product flows to the customer.”