Operators of container terminals (seaports, inland ports, freight villages, rail/road intermodal terminals) and transport face several challenges that not only put additional burdens on them but also at the same time, offer potential for process optimisation. There were several drivers for this project, namely: commercial (how to cope with continuous rising cargo volumes to be handled), legal/security (how to deal with new security rules and regulations for fighting against terrorism, and the change of responsibilities in the chain), and technological drivers (how best to integrate technologies such as RFID transponders for container identification and electronic seals, combining the benefits of classical bolt seals with RFID capabilities). All these drivers formed a complex area that the CHINOS project set out to support.
At the start of the project, shipped goods could only be tracked during a few specific points in their logistical journey, usually at the shipping and receiving ports, and at customs points and some trailer parks. But a common occurrence was that a container was found to have been tampered with during its journey, and the full or partial shipment had either gone missing or had been damaged. But it was usually extremely difficult to determine at what point during the journey the damage or theft had occurred, and therefore blame or responsibility could not be allocated.
There were a few systems on the market that addressed some of these concerns, but they ranged from basic mechanical solutions to more sophisticated electronic devices and were virtually, without exception, proprietary systems that were incompatible with each other and did not comply with the proposed global standards for container identification. There were three critical aspects of container status management, namely identification, seal condition and damage documentation.
Scientific and technological objectives of the project were:
- Development of methods focussing on the integration of:
- Container identification using RFID;
- Container security information (electronic seal);
- Optical damage documentation (high-resolution cameras) into business processes of intermodal terminals;
- Development of an integrated system for automatic container handling using RFID and optical damage documentation;
- Development of interfaces to existing legacy systems;
- Installation of the CHINOS system at different intermodal terminals throughout Europe;
- Operation of the CHINOS system under real life conditions;
- Validation of functionality, scalability, and portability to other scenarios;
- Dissemination of the project results;
- Contribution to the standardisation process.
The CHINOS project developed a system encompassing all three 'container status monitoring' parameters into one single system as well as ensuring that the overall system was compatible with the upcoming container traceability standard proposals. The system was also fully electronic allowing remote identification and monitoring. The data could also be stored and retrieved, either in real time or as historical data for analysis and statistical evaluation purposes.
The system consisted of an electronic radio-frequency-identification (RFID) transponder (also referred to as a tag) attached to the container, which was able to provide positive unambiguous identification of a container. An electronic seal (e-seal) uses the current mechanically robust door seal mechanisms but added the electronic RFID technology to enable seal identification and additional tamperproof electronic security to the device.
The damage documentation system (DDS), finally, ensured that a container could not be illegally penetrated in order to access the goods without authorisation. It also served the purpose of being able to detect accidental handling damage to the container which may have had a detrimental effect on the goods inside. This offered the possibility of determining the origin and location of any damage and made it able to help in attributing responsibility for it.
The system consisted of four main elements:
- automatic container identification unit (ACIU) consisting of container identification system (CIS) and electronic seal system (e-seal),
- damage documentation system (DDS),
- chain event manager (CEM),
- communication controller (CC).
These elements all feed into a database system able to be accessed by authorised users to be able to determine the status of their cargo. During the initial phase of the project, the business processes of the terminals at Bremerhaven (Germany), Graz (Austria), Thessaloniki (Greece), and Warsaw (Poland) were analysed. Furthermore, the CHINOS system consisting of: an automatic container identification unit using RFID, a damage documentation system using high-resolution cameras, chain event manager using a supply chain event management approach; communication controllers integrating the different components were also specified and developed. Laboratory tests proved the functionality and interoperability of these subsystems.
Afterwards the complete system was installed at different terminals in Bremerhaven, Thessalon
The first findings showed that the CHINOS system was able to satisfactorily identify and track the containers throughout their transport chain, either at the quayside or when transported by rail or truck. At the same time the container seal status could be determined to assure that a seal had not been tampered with and the damage documentation system was able to record the physical condition of the container to check for accidental or malicious damage. The system could be accessed remotely by Internet and the chain event manager was able to successfully identify and alert operators in case of discrepancies between scheduled and actual events. Subsequent to the validation tests, a detailed study was performed analysing the benefits which emerged using the new technologies.
The test results clearly showed that the components were applicable and beneficial for optimising container chains especially in the transfer nodes. However, it was also noted that the shipping industry was still reluctant to equip their freight containers with RFID tags and electronic seals on a voluntary basis. Reasons were for example the imbalance of costs and benefits or still missing standards to secure investments (since container shipping is a global business requiring global solutions). The rail fixed reader station gave unsatisfactory results.
In general, nearly all container tags and e-seals were read, but on each test there was a small percentage which was missed. One other e-seal correlation problem which was noticed was due to the long read range of the active e-seals. This caused some problems during testing because quantities of unused tags were often located within the operating range of the reader and were read additional to the correct container seal. In a production situation this could be overcome by reducing the power (and hence the read range) of the e-seals so that they might be read at up to 10 metres instead of the present 100 metres.
CHINOS software applications and hardware components were already available for commercial use, as long as users other than CHINOS members were willing to pay in order to acquire the appropriate hardware, software and the right to use it. The reliability of the system was considered to be very high, as none of the parties involved had recorded any technical failure beyond the testing phase of the applications. To the extent that almost all CHINOS users could benefit from cost savings and their competitiveness could be improved to varying degrees. In their broader