Smart shipping container ‘ready to rock’

We had previously heard the roaring predictions of enthusiastic analysts about the rise of the smart container, but what could convince the skeptics is that there is also a large container shipping company that has recently announced that it will actually expand its entire container fleet. equipped with tracking equipment.

Hapag-Lloyd says it is the first shipping company to equip all of its containers, more than 3 million units, with real-time tracking units. The German container shipping company has developed a new device, such as ‘Hapag-Lloyd LIVE’, an IoT (IoT = Internet of Things) product that has been offered for refrigerated containers since 2019, soon also able to be used to monitor ordinary ‘dry containers’ . ‘. This smarting operation will be completed during 2023.

This means that it will quickly be possible to determine exactly where each individual Hapag-Lloyd container is located thanks to GPS data, while the temperature is continuously measured and sudden jerky movements can be signaled. Other types of sensors can also be added later with Bluetooth wireless connections, the company states.

“We will be able to identify delays in the past and automatically inform customers affected by them, thus initiating countermeasures at an early stage,” promised Hapag-Lloyd Coo Maximilian Rothkopf. “We are confident that our real-time tracking approach will not only benefit our customers, but also become a game changer for the entire container freight industry.”


That tracking technology is already much more established in refrigerated containers than in average dry containers is a sector phenomenon, concludes consultant Drewry. About a third of all refrigerated containers are ‘smart’, while only 0.3% of dry containers. If you add all container types together, according to Drewry statistics, 3.6% of it is now smart. The consultant expects that the percentage will multiply over the next five years, so that the market share for smart containers will reach 25% by 2026.

It is not the case that Hapag-Lloyd is alone in making ordinary containers smart. In fact, ten years ago, French competitor CMA CGM invested in Traxens, a Marseille-based company that promised to revolutionize container freight with IoT solutions.

Even a decade earlier, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration had pushed for the introduction of “smart containers” to protect container traffic from terrorism, but Washington was disappointed to find that business is not so good to using such technology, one-two-three. CMA CGM also eventually needed years after 2012 before the first tens of thousands of containers with Traxens technology could actually be put into use. Then one competitor after another also decided to invest in Traxens and start using smart containers from the French technology company: MSC (2018), Maersk (2019) and Cosco (2020).

Despite this, in Drewry’s eyes, these smart containers are still a drop in the ocean for now. No one knows exactly how many sea containers are in circulation on the planet – a few websites make the very broad estimate of ‘between 5 and 170 million’ – but the fact is that the vast majority of them are still not ‘smart’.

At Traxens, it has been the regular ‘dry’ containers, despite Drewry’s general trend, that have paved the way for refrigerated containers. However, CMA CGM announced last February that in addition to the existing smart dry containers based on Traxen’s technology, smart refrigerated containers will now also be marketed.


At almost the same time, Traxens itself announced that it had raised $ 23 million from its investors, including the aforementioned container shipping companies, to acquire Next4, a French competitor focused on producing removable, recyclable container tracking devices. With both fixed and individual units in its portfolio, Traxens says they want to become ‘world leaders in shipping container tracking’.

Traxens has already put the four largest container shipping companies in the world under his belt, but Hapag-Lloyd, number five, has engaged other technology companies for their smart container operations. Nexxiot, a digitization specialist from Zurich, will start installing the necessary technology in the first Hapag containers this summer and states that the project will completely change the benchmarks in shipping. “The location, status and associated processes of dry containers in both the oceans and during domestic transport have been largely untraceable until now,” said Nexxiot CEO Stefan Kalmund. According to him, Hapag-Lloyd will be ‘the first shipping company in the world to offer all customers real-time data and full transparency about any container movement.’

Orbcomm, a US IoT provider that has been contracted to take care of part of the Hapag-Lloyd containers at a later date, is also working on its own, independently of the Hapag order, ‘in order for a refrigerated vessel’ can cause a revolution. The company unveiled a ‘smart’ refrigerated container solution this year, called the ‘CT 3500’, which it says is a response to the ‘Amazon era’, where exact arrival times are no longer a necessity. Among other things, the ‘CT 3500’ technique sounds an alarm if the temperature in the container moves outside an acceptable bandwidth. Shipping companies can also temporarily install the CT 3500 equipment in ‘guest coolers’ that they do not own, for example for a one-time voyage.

Given Traxen’s acquisition of Next4, flexible tracking devices appear to be a trend, and Drewry sees this trend as well. Developers of intelligent containers are facing increasing competition from alternative tracking solutions, such as mobile devices or predictive analytics tools, according to the consulting firm.

Drewry expects the plan to make all Hapag containers ‘smart’ will trigger a one-get-over-the-dam effect in the sector. “This will force other leading airlines to follow suit.”

serious fleet

Previous initiatives to develop a serious fleet of smart dry shipping containers “failed,” Drewry said, “because they depended on the interests of shippers and were discouraged by additional fees and a lack of integration of IoT service offerings from shipping companies.”

During the corona crisis, interest in smart containers increased markedly because shippers needed more information on the progress of their shipments due to increasing delays and more unreliable sailing times. And the need to control the flow of information also increased among the container shipping companies themselves, especially among the major players who developed the ambition to manage the entire logistics chain. Container shipping companies have also been given more funds to invest in the necessary technology due to the large profits they have made during the corona era.

According to Drewry, shipowners still need to pull the clip wider. “To achieve step-by-step change, further investment is needed to integrate smart containers into carrier IoT systems and to facilitate collaboration between industry stakeholders to share data with each other, particularly between container alliances and partners with vessel sharing agreements.”

On the other hand, Drewry expects equipment costs to fall in the coming years thanks to the promotion of technological innovation; an important prerequisite for the major breakthrough of the smart container that the consultant predicts. The sector will soon receive major cost savings for these investments, says Jules Kollmann, Director of Containers & Logistics at ING, in the online analysis ‘Sensor ships: why smart containers are the future of shipping’. Kollmann is fighting for smart containers, in part because of $ 7 billion in cost savings that could be realized thanks to optimizing logistics processes.

Tank container

Numerous commercial companies, governments, and scientists are working on the innovations that Drewry so fervently says. From the Dutch airline Den Hartogh, which internally developed a smart tank container, ‘Smart Tank’, to port authorities in South Korea, which are trying to design a ‘Battery Safe Transport Smart Container’ for transporting lithium batteries safer. And from the Israeli company Loggino, which says it will establish a ‘Contopia’ by connecting all containers worldwide via IoT to Aeler Technologies, a young company from Lausanne (Switzerland) that not only develops tracking equipment, but has designed a complete container. The container, which is not made of steel but of light composite materials, is, says Aeler, smart, well insulated, CO2-saving, aerodynamic and can hold up to 11% more load.

Under the motto ‘Rock the box’, the Aeler container is on a real world tour, which according to the ‘tour poster’ visited Barcelona and San Francisco last spring and lands in Dubai in September. Afterwards, Aeler invites the audience to a fair in Amsterdam, to ‘rock the box with us’.

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