DCSA provides education on ‘smart containers’

The Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) on Tuesday published what it says are the first internet of things (IoT) connectivity interface standards for shipping containers.

“This release is an important step in enabling mass deployment of smart containers and forms the foundation of a group of standards that will address the industry’s most critical container use cases,” said DCSA CEO Thomas Bagge. “Once implemented, our IoT standards will enable, for example, reefer container tracking, monitoring and controlling along the entire container journey, with no connectivity blind spots. This will provide more value to the end customer while increasing the efficiency of container operations.

“Equally as important, we’re giving the industry a framework for interoperability that will allow stakeholders to create innovative IoT solutions that can be leveraged by any industry stakeholder, market supplier or service provider,” Bagge said.

Bagge said IoT-enabled containers have “vast potential.”

“Our goal is that the standards delivered by DCSA will enable broad-scale deployment of IoT-enabled containers. In the coming years, these containers will unlock a treasure trove of data that can be captured and delivered back to shippers, carriers and stakeholders,” he said. “In terms of efficiency, not only will this provide transparency along the entire container journey, it will enable faster response to issues as they come up.

“It will also enable services to be created that harness the data to provide a slew of innovative capabilities. In addition to temperature, humidity, levels of CO2 and oxygen monitoring and shock detection, you’ll be able to know if the container has been opened. You will be able to detect things like fires better and respond to them much quicker. You’ll also be able to make people liable for negligence and a host of other things no one has yet imagined,” Bagge said.

Based in Amsterdam, the nonprofit DCSA was launched in April 2019 to create common information technology standards. Its nine members — CMA CGM, Evergreen Marine, Hapag-Lloyd, HMM, Maersk, MSC, ONE, Yang Ming and ZIM — make up about 70% of global container ship capacity.

The IoT standards can be implemented by vessel operators and owners as well as ports, terminals, container yards, inland logistics providers and other third parties to ensure interoperability between smart container solutions at the radio interface level, DCSA said.

“With these standards in place, carriers and supply chain participants will be one step closer to providing customers with an uninterrupted flow of relevant information regarding the whereabouts of containers and the status of their contents at any point along the container journey,” it said in Tuesday’s announcement.

Bagge said of the 41 million containers in circulation today, only a tiny percentage are considered “smart.”

“The industry is just starting on smart container deployment, so DCSA’s standards have come at the right time,” he said. “COVID-19 may slow down adoption in the short term, but the demand for visibility has been highlighted by shippers and freight forwarders for more than a decade. Ultimately, the container owners must make investment decisions to fulfill the demand. DCSA simply provides the necessary data and interface standards upon which such investments can be made more confidently.”

The DCSA standards can ensure investment in the right IoT solutions, Bagge said. “And without standards, the technology landscape is fragmented and end-to-end interoperability is virtually impossible. Shippers end up with blind spots in the shipment journey where they can’t track or remotely control their containers. IoT will enable the containers to send out an alert when something is off.”

DCSA’s IoT Standard for Gateway Connectivity Interfaces, which can be downloaded for free, includes radio standards for gateways on vessels, on land, at event locations and in hand-held devices.

“These DCSA IoT standards provide an initial set of connectivity recommendations that are vendor and platform agnostic to reduce investment risk, increase operational efficiency and enable innovation,” it said. “Ultimately DCSA IoT standards will allow carriers and other supply chain participants to focus on providing more valuable services and a better experience to their customers.”

Bagge said the standards are free because DCSA wants them to “benefit the whole industry and enable a greatly enhanced customer experience. That’s what our member carriers set out to do when they established DCSA. Standards are the most useful when they are widely adopted because they eliminate waste, inefficiencies and enable interoperability across the industry to open up opportunities for innovation.”

The new standards are the first of three planned IoT standards releases addressing the connectivity requirements for reefer and dry containers, as well as the radio frequency identification registration of these containers. Future releases will focus on data structure and handling, physical device specifications as well as security and access management.

With the guidelines, Bagge said, “adoption is straightforward — simply select IoT gateways that support the radio interfaces specified in the DCSA standards to ensure basic connectivity capabilities for interoperability. For future standards releases, implementation efforts will vary depending on how far each company has progressed in its IoT deployment.”

DCSA will be conducting webinars in June to provide an overview of the IoT standards.

Last month DCSA promoted the use of a standardized industry e-bill of lading, saying that eliminating paper from the shipping transaction would make every aspect of container shipping better, faster, cheaper, more secure and environmentally friendly.

In March it issued a guide designed to facilitate vessel readiness to comply with the International Maritime Organization Resolution MSC.428(98) on Maritime Cyber Risk Management in Safety Management Systems.

Bagge said it will release the data structure and handling standards in December. The third IoT standards release is planned for 2021.