Per aspera ad astra - through hardships to the stars: that’s Unilode’s business approach in attempting to turn ULDs from passive equipment into smart, self-acting devices: an ambitious step that the Zurich-based container and pallet manager is taking together with Swiss data analyst Nexxiot, and Texas, USA-headquartered OnAsset Intelligence, Inc. The trio’s joint objective: to create the world’s first fully digitalized ULD fleet, thereby lowering costs, increasing operational efficiencies, and benefitting customers.
An objective that soon will become reality, assures Unilode’s CEO Benoît Dumont. “By the end of 2020, about 70 to 80 percent of the 135,000 pallets and containers we move worldwide will be
tagged,” he announced.
Tagged means equipped with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) devices, enabling constant data transfer and the monitoring of shipments during their entire journey from production to delivery. This end-to-end visibility makes cargo transports extremely transparent, lowers costs, ups safety, and benefits all parties involved in the supply chain, states Mr. Dumont. He also stresses that BLEs don’t interfere with cockpit transmissions due to their limited radiation range. “They pose zero risk,” he assures.
Wide range of applications, says OnAsset Inc.
This is confirmed by CEO Adam Crossno of Irving, Texas-headquartered OnAsset Intelligence. Once the digital infrastructure is fully in place, he expects that the Unilode-tailored system will provide a lot more services and benefits, allowing more than just managing Unilode’s assets. This includes information on the estimated time of arrival (ETA) of a consignment, and enables constant visibility as to the condition the goods are in during their journey from A to Z. “An extremely important aspect if you think of perishables, pharmaceuticals or other highly sensitive goods,” says Mr. Crossno.
Further to this, he speaks of extended options such as integrating maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) activities into the system, for example those tool supplies and other ground support needed by Unilode MRO stations or requested by airport terminals and facilities run by ground handling agents.
The Texan high-tech company even goes a step further. “Our service is not limited to static solutions. We are striving to add new features and develop additional capabilities to be introduced in ULD procedures,” Mr. Crossno states. According to him, regulators such as the FAA and EASA have fully approved his company’s track and trace solutions.
Nexxiot aims at creating operational excellence
Nexxiot’s role within the strategic partnership aiming to lift the ULD business to the next level, is to develop a data exchange platform reaching from data collection to the evaluation of the information obtained. Weak spots can be identified and eliminated, and operational excellence created through process transparency and advanced data analytics. “We already have 50,000 devices in use for rail freight transport, which has given us a great deal of experience. Thanks to advanced technology, we can meanwhile also roll out the smart system for air freight traffic,” states Nexxiot CEO, Helmut Kaspers.
Looking beyond today’s horizon, all three experts predict a great future for smart ULDs. According to them, it will not be long before containers are able to operate autonomously, speaking to ground staff and advising them how to best handle a transport box.
They agree that artificial intelligence is only at the beginning of revolutionizing the ULD business, as Unilode’s helmsman Benoît Dumont puts it. “The day is not far off that a smart container tells airport staff autonomously to store it in cold room A, and not in B or C because B is too warm, C is too cold.” Another example not far from being realized are intelligent pallets which send out electronic signals if they were wrongly parked somewhere in a warehouse or on the tarmac.
“I expect, it will be our ULDs spearheading this development,” Mr. Dumont concludes.
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