CNS 2019: Unilode rolling out tracking tags to collect real-time ULD data

MIAMI – In an ongoing project to make unit load devices (ULDs) more useful for the track-and-trace demands of e-commerce, Don Jacobs, chief commercial officer and managing director for Unilode’s Americas segment, said yesterday at the CNS Partnership Conference that it has begun rolling out a new Bluetooth-equipped tag to provide real-time data to mobile devices on the status of the ULD’s contents.

“The key priority for us was providing position data so you know where the ULDs are, but we also added technology to capture other data, such as humidity, light, shock and temperature,” Jacobs said. The new capabilities, he added, will make Unilode’s 135,000 ULDs the “world’s first fully digitalized ULD fleet.”

The multi-sensor tracking tag, which is attached to the inside of each ULD and transmits a signal to a tag on the outside of the container, comes from a collaboration with OnAsset Intelligence, which created the high-tech hardware, software developer Nexiot to provide data analytics capabilities, and ULD manufacturers Safran, PalNet and Nordisk. “It’s not just a plan,” Jacobs said. “It’s what we’re doing right now.”

Currently, Unilode is in Phase 1 of a three-phase project to retrofit all of its containers with this technology over the next two years. Unilode is working with the manufacturers to add the tags to the containers as they are pulled out of service for regular maintenance. Phase 1 will involve the first 40,000 containers in its fleet over the next several months, Jacobs said.

While Bluetooth devices have been on the market for some time, Unilode touted the analytics and scale behind its new project. Co-presenter Joeseph Jensen said the tags, which have a battery life of five years each, give e-commerce customers a digital window inside the ULD while it’s in transit, and that the data can be used to predict times when the cargo is most at risk or to make ULD flows more efficient.

“We can actually communicate safely with the cargo while it’s flying on its journey” inside the containers, Jensen explained. For instance, he cited the increasing shipments of South American flowers that are flown to Amsterdam. If the temperature rises or light is detected, the system sends immediate alerts to shippers and forwarders in case any of the main metrics begin to change.

The network is also designed to be readable by virtually any mobile device networks, using non-proprietary technology such as standard Bluetooth protocols, Jensen said.

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