We've all had it happen: You buy a product from a shop and get it home, only to realize that something is wrong when you open the packaging. The item could be broken or have parts missing, or might even have been tampered with in a deliberate act of vandalism. Regardless of what has happened, it’s a frustrating experience at the very least, and possibly dangerous in extreme cases. Money has been spent, and time wasted. Whether you choose to return the product or simply throw it in the bin, you didn’t get what you paid for.
It’s the same with cargo. If the receiving party discovers that the contents of a shipment have been damaged, tampered with, or removed, the ramifications can be significant. More cargo has to be ordered and shipped expedited. Inventory and stock need to be redistributed. And customer relationships are damaged.
As such, it’s vital that cargo owners secure their shipments and be able to trust that they’ll arrive safely at destination. Many procedures are already in place, such as customs seals, but none provides a continuous view of the entire journey. Moreover, the multimodal nature of most journeys makes security complex.
It’s perhaps no surprise, therefore, that cargo theft is increasing annually, with theft from trucks most common, as well as rising from 2018 to 2019.
And that was the case in what might now be considered the good times. As the world reels from the chaos caused by COVID-19, criminals of all types are looking to exploit the situation. Currently, most of the coverage concerns the work of cyberattackers, with sectors from construction companies to financial services being targeted.
However, criminals can and are already exploiting the confusion in more traditional ways. That might include hijacking and holding valued commodities, such as personal protection equipment (PPE), medical supplies and devices to ransom.
Cargo owners need to be able to monitor the chain of custody as shipments move from one part of their supply chain to the other, to ensure they don’t fall victim to these emerging cargo security threats. They must be able to track their assets, receive instant notification whenever there’s a deviation from the planned route, and be alerted if the container's integrity is compromised.
What’s the Solution?
So how do they achieve that, across a journey involving multiple parties and modes of transport? The answer is cargo monitoring. Shippers can track their cargo in real time from load point to final delivery using sensors attached to standardized shipments, such as containers. Any tampering, temperature change, rerouting, or other suspicious behavior is captured and shared with the relevant party. This means that cargo owners can take action, whether to alert local law enforcement agencies or contact the carrier moving the cargo to understand the situation better.
Such action could prevent a complete loss of the entire shipment. At the very least, it will provide the cargo owner with a real-time, accurate update of the cargo's status. Receiving real-time alerts on the cargo's condition means that if the shipment is lost or damaged, the shipper can immediately take steps to mitigate the impact on its customer or its own supply chain. For example, a new shipment could be dispatched so that replacements are only weeks behind, rather than months.
It all comes down to insights permitting timely corrective actions, which in turn build customer trust and loyalty.
A Case Study
A Thai cargo owner needed to get a high-value shipment to Japan quickly, which meant using air freight. It was informed that the plane taking the cargo would fly from Bangkok to Tokyo via Shanghai.
The company wanted to monitor the cargo from load point to final destination, to keep its customers updated on progress and ensure the shipment was secure. While the carrier would provide some updates, these would not always be timely and accurate. The cargo owner, therefore, needed an independent source of data. This led to implementation of a real-time cargo monitoring solution. The business received continual updates on the location and condition of the cargo by attaching sensors to the shipment, ensuring traceability even after takeoff.
Thanks to the real-time cargo-monitoring data, when the shipment appeared to be rerouted to Taiwan, the cargo owner was immediately alerted. Fearing the worst, the company contacted the carrier. Fortunately, the issue was a mistake in the flight plan information given to the cargo owner, rather than a hijacking of the cargo. While this was alarming, the cargo arrived safely and on time at its ultimate destination. The incident highlighted how cargo monitoring sensors gave the cargo owner detailed, real-time information on the cargo's location. With this data, the shipper could take prompt, decisive action to confirm the shipment's status and update end customers accordingly.
Visibility Means Better Security
Increased transparency of shipment location and condition enables cargo owners to take necessary action. It allows shippers to update customers with precise information, strengthening a relationship. And it leads to an understanding of the reason for a deviation from the plan, or what environmental conditions a cargo has been exposed to. Having the ability to understand the cargo's journey on any mode of transport, and collect real-time and historical data, creates holistic visibility into the supply chain and transportation network.
There are solutions, even from carriers themselves, which offer position tracking for individual sections of the journey. However, without the shipment-level monitoring that can be achieved with cargo-monitoring sensors, businesses are effectively leaving their cargo at the mercy of the so-called black box of logistics. This is the gap between the load point and the eventual destination, where the updates are few and far between (and not always accurate or timely). When nothing untoward affects the shipment, this is fine. But with cargo theft and tampering on the rise, this uncertainty is no longer acceptable.
In a world of razor-thin margins and constantly changing variables, cargo owners expect to know where their shipments are, and the condition they’re in, at all times.
Stefan Reidy is founder and CEO of Arviem.
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