From his desk in Maersk Line’s Copenhagen headquarters, Musaddique Alatoor has a multi-billion dollar view. On his screen is the precise location and operational details of 270,000 refrigerated “reefer” containers, carrying anything from bananas to pharmaceuticals to sashimi-grade tuna.
The system enabling this is RCM, which stands for Remote Container Management. It’s simple technology – a modem, GPS, wireless SIM card and satellite link – deployed on a global scale, and it is changing the concept of supply chain visibility, and the costs and opportunities associated with providing it.
Technology to save millions
“If you think about a basic supply chain, it stretches across the world. It involves trucks, terminals, depots, an ocean carrier and time. There is no end-to-end visibility and very little control, which for refrigerated cargo is very risky,” says Alatoor, an RCM specialist in Maersk Line’s Equipment Management and Repair.
Whether it is 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.
As a result, Maersk Line spends thousands of hours and about USD 200 million every year on physical inspections of its containers before customers use them and continuous monitoring of their functionality during a journey. And since people make mistakes and accidents happen, Maersk Line also pays millions in claims to customers for damaged cargo – most of which is related to the power on the reefer being off for too long.
Connected: Shipping’s digital future
With RCM, all of that changes. Instead of counting on human eyes and hands to inspect and monitor reefers all over the world, the technology does it instead – removing much of these costs, along with many others including the danger associated with people walking among container stacks and handling electricity.
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.
“Our reefer containers are transported about 900,000 times every year. With RCM we remove millions in operational cost and also a lot of the uncertainty that comes with the physical preparation, handling and monitoring of these containers every hour of every day for a supply chain journey that can last more than a month,” says Catja Rasmussen, Head of RCM for Maersk Line.
“This technology gives us total visibility into our operations, our suppliers’ performance and our customers’ supply chains, in real-time. That’s a powerful capability, particularly for sensitive perishable cargo. And no other shipping line has it.”