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Can RFID be used as a standard for sea container identification?

Use Cases | By PR RFID & Wireless IoT Global | 11 December 2015

The arguments against it are that it’s too expensive, that there are no application standards – there won’t be an industry consensus in the near future

Equipping sea containers around the world with RFID tags is seen as unachievable by the majority of stakeholders: it is too expensive, there are no application standards – this has been the general opinion for many years. Shipping companies and terminal operators would have to come to an industry agreement to achieve the widespread introduction of container tags or electronic seals – and this does not seem possible. The shipping companies, who often own the containers, gain no immediate benefit from using RFID. On the other hand, the terminal operators and the logistics providers could benefit.

The view of terminal operators: if RFID is employed, it should be done consistently

Terminal operators can benefit from regular container identification on their premises. Covering certain port operations with RFID would be beneficial in every way and for numerous processes, ranging from faster processing at the gate, the automatic logging of the container ID, comparison with the shipping documents, and the tracking of containers in the port area to new services at the terminal, says Torsten Neubert, HPC Hamburg Port Consulting. “Port terminal operators feel that RFID technology is only worthwhile if the RFID container is used as a standard. This would require the RFID tag to be at the container right from the start. But the main question remains, who programmes the tag with the transport-related information?”

Freight carriers are demanding an RFID security seal for faster container handling

The association of Hamburg freight carriers are asking for RFID security seals as an alternative marker: “We want to persuade freight carriers to use RFID seals for goods export”, says Managing Director Stefan Sass. Combined with increased OCR-Gate use at the terminal, RFID seals could accelerate the container handling at the gate because there would be no more need for manual testing. “Up to now, there has been a visual inspection of the container seal at the OCR Gate, which is very time consuming. Checking the label and the papers can take several minutes for each container”, continues Stefan Sass.

You can only persuade people through efficiency

As Sass sees it, the terminal operators need to drive the standardisation of RFID. Then freight carriers or shipping companies would be responsible for equipping the container with RFID bolt seals. At the Port of Hamburg, the RFID bolt seal is currently in the preliminary phase of testing (planned for 2015), as the funding has not yet been clarified. “We have set our hopes on gaining important information about the testing efficiency – we have to convince everyone.”

Who bears the cost, and who makes the first move?

“Standards are still highly relevant in open chains. Many shipping stakeholders are reluctant to use RFID because their investment and the possible benefits are a long way from each other”, says Prof. Dr. Thorsten Blecker of the Technical University Hamburg-Harburg (TUHH). Terminal operators need to invest in the RFID infrastructure, but the benefits of this technology always go to the logistics stakeholders, for example, the freight carriers/3PLs or consignors. “But they are not willing to invest for their own benefit.” Shipping companies are under severe economic pressure and are unlikely to invest in RFID or only in a very limited way.

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To get things started, it is crucial to come to an industry understanding. Business investment would definitely pay off – providing there are no “free riders”, explains Prof. Blecker, meaning companies that profit but don’t invest. RFID seals would most likely be applied for security reasons. RFID seals have significant advantages relating to compliance with safety and security regulations – when you compare them with mechanical seals (bolt seals for example), they automatically identify and log unauthorised container openings instead of using manual controls.

The standards are there, but harmonization is necessary

“Global standards have existed for years for both electronic seals and container tags and they are technically viable. We have already proved that”, says Dr. Nils Meyer-Larsen, ISL. The container tag specification has already been clearly defined. There is still a lot to be done relating to the design of the E-seals, which readers to use and whether active or passive systems should be used, says Meyer-Larsen: “The products on the market are diverse, many of which are proprietary solutions and the number of providers in the market is small. Although terminal operators want to use e-seals because of their potential to improve processes, planning their use is not an easy job: “In order for the terminal operator’s investment in RFID readers and their infrastructure to pay off, a large number of containers would need to be tagged worldwide within one to two years to significantly reduce the volume of manual processes. There is real potential here.”

ISO standards for using RFID on containers – two identification alternatives

In 2009 and 2007 global standards were set for container tags and electronic RFID seals. ISO 18185 applies for the seal and ISO 10891 for the container tag.

RFID container seals ISO 18185-1 for e-seals

The ISO 18185 belongs to the ISO 18000 standard “RFID for Item Management” and includes the technical standards and the application standards for e-seals and their associated systems. The ISO specifies that the freight container seals are “read only” and “non-reusable”, providing electronic evidence about whether the seal has been opened without authorisation. According to ISO, an electronic seal in accordance with ISO 18185 or any other subsequent international standard can be used in combination with a container tag to optimal effect.

RFID container tag ISO/TS 10891 for licence plate tags

The ISO/TS 10891 standard for licence plate tags provides specifications and test methods for RFID devices for the automatic identification of containers in supply chains. This considers the requirements of the harsh environmental conditions to which they are exposed during transport by sea, by road and by train. ISO specifies the licence plate tag as a fix-mounted, read-only tag that remains on the container during its entire lifecycle. The data contents are limited to the physical identification and the description of the container. The ISO/TS 10891 specifies both – the technical specifications and the physical mounting of the tag on the container.

Last modified on Friday, 11 December 2015 09:58
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