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Tibco helps Cyberlogitec contain the 'where’s my container?' problem

Martin Banks Profile picture for user mbanks October 1, 2018
Summary:
Shipping container handling is one of the latest targets for automation, which is where Korean startup, Cyberlogitec, is already staking a claim with the aide of Tibco.

two-mega-container-ships-at-the-port
Providing full tracking information of shipping containers, wherever they are in the world and whatever means of transport is moving them, is a business where every player - from the individual customer waiting for their new purchase through to the banks managing the money that makes the whole process work -hinges around one focal point, the shipping company.

As the vast majority of trade is now carried in containers, on railways and road, but most often on huge container ships, knowing where containers are in the world and where they are headed next is of vital importance. From that comes all the associated data – what it carries, who the customers are, who gets paid what and when for the contents, and so on.

This is the task that South Korean start-up Cyberlogitec has taken upon itself with the objective of providing shipping companies with a replacement for their often aged proprietary legacy systems. Yet in just one year of operation the company has, according to its Head of Terminal Automation, Phil Kang, grown to be number two in the market for automated shipping management solutions.

This might, on first appearances, seem to be a relatively straight forward if somewhat voluminous task; one where the key element was logging the numbers of individual containers, the ships they are on and the ports which make up the current voyage. In practice, however, this is a business where automation is taking hold at a fast rate, and the old legacy managements systems of the shipping companies can no longer cope.

There are now over 9,000 container ships, with the largest able to carry over 21,000 TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) – in practice a small standardised container. The majority of traffic, however, is carried in 40-foot long 2 TEU containers, so each ship arrival at a dock can mean up to, and sometimes over, 10,000 containers per ship. So upwards of 90 million of them are in use, somewhere around the world, everyday.

That is why automation is becoming the pressure point, for the cost of delays can mount up quickly. If it takes too long to unload and reload a vessel, not only can extra handling charges applied by the harbour and handling companies, but there are also penalties that can become due to vessels that cannot unload because all quayside berths are taken.

One automation target are the crane systems. The faster they can unload and load containers the shorter the stay of any vessel in port, and targets such as 70 or more container movements per hour are now the target. This does, of course, mean that the ground services have to match the throughput. And finally, it is imperative that the systems handling the significant amounts of `paperwork’ are also up to the task.

Ironically, as Kang observed, this means that Cyberlogitec’s strongest competition is now coming from the crane manufacturers, for they are ready to source of much of the data generated by the process. This puts them in an excellent position to provide the management services as an add-on. Kang indicated that forming partnerships with the leading crane manufacturers is now a key part of the company’s future plans.

Automating

Automation brings the potential upside of higher container throughput but the downside of far greater pressure on administration and management services keeping up, especially in a global business like shipping and the fact that all the documentation is normally dependent upon some form of language. This means there will be somewhere around the world that will have problems understanding the information being provided.

This is why Cyberlogitec has opted to utilise as much visualisation of the data as possible, and as a consequence has opted to partner with Tibco, and in particular the latter’s Streambase and ActiveSpaces products, both of which are used to provide visualisation capabilities that help in the de-semination of information to the widest range of users.

The company started design work on its tracking management system back in 2012, and started by designing each element from the ground up: what Kang calls "taking care of it from A-Z" . The trouble was that, as users started to exploit the original version they could see the benefits of being able to add more functionality to the system and started to ask for it:

So we made a difficult decision last year. We asked ourselves `can we keep our platform and provide what our customers are demanding from us, and we decided we couldn’t. So we decided to change the architecture to a 100% IoT concept, and ended up with three candidates that could supply a platform: Tibco, Korea Telecom and another, military-related company. Finally we settled on Tibco because our developers chose it as the one which would help us meet our users’ objectives. It also has the scalability that we require out into the future.

The redevelopment process took six months, two of which were taken up with initial negotiations before real development work started. The first implementations of the new version are set to go live during October.

By having an IoT underpinning the system is designed to work with a large number of different real time data feeds from hardware systems, such as the cranes, associated applications and location GPS data. This latter is important for locating containers when the ship is moving. And most of the time the container can be assumed to be where the ship, truck or train transporting it is:

So far, though many companies have tried to tracking the container directly, making devices to attach to the container have failed. The container the environment is very tough, and that is not just on the ship, these units can end up anywhere. It is very hard to make a device that can keep working.

The company also offers a storage planning solution designed to ensure that shipping companies stack the containers on ships in ways that allow the ones needing to unloaded at the next port of call are accessible without having to move others first in order to get at them. This is based on IBM Simplex linear programming tools:

If containers have to be moved in order to get a particular one out that is known as `rehandling’ and rehandling is money for the docks and crane operators, so optimising the loading is a very important to the productivity of the process.

This is the responsibility of the shipping company’s storage planning team rather than the dock handlers or the ship’s captain. The latter is only responsible for ensuring the containers are secure once on board, but not where they are located. Getting it wrong can cost time, and that means money lost by the shipping company in extra payments to the docks, the handlers and even other ships then delayed by the ship still occupying a berth.

Normally the details of the container loading pattern are sent to the storage planning team by EDI at every port and they have to operate on the basis of it being 100% correct. And in most cases this is the truth of it. Kang did intimate, however, that in some regions of the world the on-shore container handling services may not always be up to the mark. To guard against this, shippers still employ people to make visual observations. They stand under the cranes and log the actual container ID numbers as they are moved, where they are moved to and how they move on from the docks.

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