Shipping fresh produce can be a high risk exercise for exporters.
Whether it’s frozen poultry, pineapples or bananas, perishable commodities are time sensitive and require precise temperature and atmospheric conditions.
If the power goes off on the reefer or a malfunction occurs and it is not discovered quickly enough in the terminal, on the truck or ship, an entire container of goods can be spoiled.
By outfitting its fleet of reefer containers with “smart” technology, Maersk Line is reducing risk in customer supply chains.
The company is also saving itself millions of dollars in costs while representing the cutting edge technology and innovation in shipping.
“Maersk Line’s innovative projects such as Remote Container Management, StarCare as well as our ‘young’ fleet means that we are equipped to help our customers overcome longer transit times to reach a wider range of markets,” says Juando Bautista, Maersk Line’s Global Head of Fruit & Vegetable Cargo.
Maersk Line has bought about 50,000 new reefer units in the past year. This brings the average age of its reefer fleet to 7.9 years, over four years “younger” than the industry average.
“Our reefer units are equipped with Remote Container Management (RCM) which enables more visibility over the contents of each container, resulting in greater cargo care,” says Mr Bautista.
What is RCM and how does it work?
RCM provides greater visibility and control over the conditions in each individual reefer container.
“Greater control and visibility ensure we are moving our customer’s cargo at the precisely correct environment resulting in cargo arriving in optimal condition,” Mr Bautista says.
To run RCM, changes were made to ML vessels’ communication infrastructure, where EVC (Enhanced Vessel Communication) allows satellite data communication while on-board and complements the onshore GSM communication network.
Through GSM-enabled modems the system provides Maersk Line with full visibility of its refrigerated containers (reefers) and their cargo throughout the supply chain, as well as providing data to support performance improvement.
Each unit uses a remote container device (RCD) that has a 3G High Temperature SIM card, a GPS unit, an RFID radio and two GSM antennas that are mounted on the vessel in order to communicate wirelessly with the reefer modem.
The antennas are connected with a VSAT dome that transfers the data via satellite to shore. The RCD can operate with two-way connectivity.
What are the benefits to customers?
“RCM gives customers the peace of mind they need by ensuring that cargo is transported at precisely optimal condition,” Mr Bautista explains.
“Specific commodities need to be shipped at exact conditions,” he says.
“With RCM, we can mitigate any issues that arise as we are alerted if there is any deviation from optimal conditions. When transporting fresh produce, cargo care, and the expertise that is required to handle these goods are the most important.”
Maersk Line’s innovative reefer technologies allows fresh produce to withstand the longer transit times.
“For example, one of my Australian sweet potato customers has engaged Maersk Line to help him ship his product into the United Kingdom,” Mr Bautista says.
New StarCare technology
To ensure greater cargo care Maersk Line has also introduced new StarCare technology for its fleet.
“StarCare allows Maersk Line to maintain the correct blend of oxygen and carbon dioxide within each container,” says Mr Bautista.
“This is especially useful for avocados and bananas which continue to respire after harvest.
“StarCare and our remote container management (RCM) systems ensure perishable goods are transported at the precise optimum environment, resulting is higher quality cargo when it reaches the destination.”
From its headquarters in Copenhagen Maersk Line is able to track the precise location and operational details of 270,000 refrigerated “reefer” containers, carrying anything from bananas to pharmaceuticals to sashimi-grade tuna.
If the conditions inside the container change or the reefer malfunctions, an alarm instantly appears on the screens of the RCM teams on shore.
In the same instant, the alarm, which describes the problem and the level of urgency, also goes to the closest local repair vendor. Automatic follow-ups are sent as needed until each alarm is resolved.
Maersk Line’s reefer containers are transported about 900,000 times every year.
With RCM the company saves millions of dollars in operational costs.
And the technology gives them total visibility into its operations as well as its suppliers’ performance and customers’ supply chains – in real-time – and no other shipping line has it.
“We realise the contents of a container is more than just cargo … we tell our customers ‘they’re the fruits of your labour’ and we will ensure they arrive in the best possible condition,” Mr Bautista says.