While the global supply chain has been transformed by software solutions and tech innovation, many of the systems that drive modern ports haven’t been updated since the start of the 20th century. Now, several major shifts in technology are revolutionizing portside drayage.
Intermodal container transport redefined the way ports operate by allowing product to be easily transferred between ships, trains, and trucks. However, these exchanges are still among the more complex transitions that product needs to make on its journey from the factory to the consumer’s front door. Today, new technology is making these transitions easier, faster, and more consistent.
Here are some of the ways that modern drayage is transforming the way goods go through port:
Companies that offer intermodal shipping services typically use containers that fall into two categories: general purpose and specific purpose. These containers are made from aluminum or stainless steel and are sold in 20, 40, and 45-foot models. To enable easy transfers, containers are built to be uniform and can’t deviate too much in shape or size.
Standard multimodal containers have been relatively similar for decades. Strict size and shape limits, combined with other regulations, have kept container innovation to a minimum. Now, however, new tracking and sensor technology is changing the status quo.
Smart sensors allow for real-time monitoring of a container’s location, internal conditions, and general physical integrity. This data is stored in the cloud and can be accessed from anywhere. For a sensitive product such as perishable food, sensors allow shippers to ensure that their product is properly refrigerated and processed on schedule to prevent spoilage.
Meanwhile, advanced tracking allows 3PL companies to anticipate and allocate resources to process and transfer product more effectively. Sensors and GPS trackers collect data as containers are processed. Then, using analytics software, 3PL companies can leverage this data to modify operations.
Blockchain for Advanced Intermodality
Blockchain technology is on everyone’s mind these days, so it’s no surprise that it’s now being used to track and document freight.
Shipping and logistics companies are beginning to use blockchain to keep a record of bills of lading and shipment transfer histories. The objective of introducing blockchain to this process is to make transfers more transparent and easier to access while preserving operational security.
The Blockchain in Transport Alliance is currently working to set standards across the industry to improve port procedures. Their objective is to “lead, develop and embrace a common framework and standards from which the industry participants can build revolutionary applications.” By promoting secure decentralization, blockchain advocates in transport hope to connect a network of hubs using applications that streamline the movement of goods along intermodal pathways.
Better Management Software
Any extra time product spends sitting still between transport modes is costly for logistics professionals. With millions of containers going through ports annually, backups happen frequently, and these can result in substantial setbacks.
In response, top 3PL companies are reinventing the software used to track product and plan for its movement. New, more advanced warehouse management software cleans up processes for pairing per diem schedules with port schedules — then matching driver schedules to ensure they’re ready when the load arrives.
In addition, IoT devices connected to the cloud allow for big data collection that can be analyzed to help coordinate transportation modes to maximize efficiency and limit loss.
Legacy WMS systems traditionally couldn’t handle the less-than-case quantities that have to be managed for complete modern fulfillment solutions. With the rising popularity of less-than-truck loads — and the emerging popularity of less-than-container international shipping — software upgrades are needed to keep up with demand.