It would make life a lot easier if you could buy a reasonably priced, off-the-shelf security system for your fleet the way you can for your home. Unfortunately, IT-based solutions, such as global positioning systems (GPS) or those using radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, are far too expensive if their only purpose is to improve security.

One way around this issue, however, is to invest in and use one of these IT systems to track assets to make your operation more efficient — and gain a secondary security benefit as well.

“You roll an [IT] system out for better tracking and asset efficiency, but the byproduct of all of that is better security because the better you can see something, the better you can secure it,” explains Rick Kessler, president and CEO of Horizon Services Group, the 3PL transportation management division of ocean container carrier Horizon Lines.

“You don't go out and buy [an IT system] like this for security alone. You need to have an ROI strategy in place to pay for it,” he emphasizes.

“It's about improving cargo visibility within the supply chain and securing it, all at the same time,” adds Peggy Chen, principal product director for Oracle, a software developer. “The key is being able to track and capture the movement of containers, trucks or trailers anywhere in the transportation network as they travel from point A to point B, then manage that data in real time to do a variety of things, of which improving cargo security is but one facet.”

VISIBILITY IN REAL TIME

Getting that real-time visibility of cargo containers is where the big benefits — saving dollars and improving security — are gained, explains Charles Raymond, chairman, president and CEO of Horizon Lines.

“For example, roughly 8-million containers entered the U.S. intermodal transportation network last year and that number is expected to double by 2015,” he says. “One of the more troubling aspects of this increase in intermodal traffic is the lack of real-time information that follows these containers.”

According to Raymond, having information on shipments, i.e., who is shipping what to where and why, early in the process and then integrating that information into a real-time tracking system will streamline the entire shipping process.

“Visibility is a powerful enabler,” he says. “Shippers will achieve savings from tighter inventory management. Carriers will obtain better asset management and in-transit control. And the byproduct of that visibility and efficiency is better security.”

Getting better and more detailed visibility of cargo and transportation assets in motion, in real-time isn't as hard as many think, and could take place on a national scale using RFID, GPS or both.

The reason RFID and GPS remain equal players in the security arena revolves around cost and capability. While RFID is the cheaper of the two, Horizon's Kessler cautions that comparing RFID and GPS on price isn't exactly an apples-to-apples situation.

In 2006, Horizon equipped the 7,000 containers in its Alaskan fleet with RFID tags, while installing 30 RFID readers at distribution centers, terminals and key highway routes so those tags could be “pinged” to determine asset location. The process took just six months, and Kessler notes that a similar installation effort using GPS would probably have taken slightly longer and cost 2.5 times more.

“Both [technologies] solve the black hole that shipments can disappear into when they are in motion,” he explains. “However, asset location is determined only when that RFID tag passes a reader, whereas with GPS the satellites can see them almost continuously.”

Although Horizon uses both RFID and GPS to track containers, it uses GPS only for reefer containers carrying high-value freight such as pharmaceuticals. “GPS gives you constant information on the box en route and sends an alert immediately if [the cargo] leaves its pre-determined route, if the doors are opened prematurely, etc.” Kessler says. “The value of full visibility is directly related to the value of the cargo being carried.”

For that reason, Horizon would like to develop a “meshed network” that would allow them to use RFID and GPS together. “The ROI, however, remains the same for both,” he explains. “Visibility gives us (and the customer) more time to prepare for shipment delivery, improves our ability to position empty containers with the least amount of downtime, charge detention fees, and automate check-in/check-out procedures at the container yard gate, thus speeding up that part of the transportation process.”

ROI IS CRUCIAL

Regardless of what technologies are used to beef up security, making sure they pay for themselves remains critical.

“Getting a security benefit on top of an operations benefit is what makes this work,” explains John Rosen, director of product marketing for RFID supplier WhereNet. “Take our marine terminal customers. They want to service as many trucks as possible, while the truckers themselves want to maximize vehicle utilization as much as possible. Our RFID tags help identify where the trucks are in the terminal and how long they've been there, so terminal dispatchers can make better loading and unloading decisions.”

GUARDING THE GATE

The Port of Oakland, for example, recently bought 1,700 active RFID transmitters as part of a contract with WhereNet to distribute them to drayage companies serving the Oakland International Container Terminal (OICT).

When a driver arrives at the terminal and approaches security, explains Rosen, a transmission from the RFID tag is picked up by the WhereNet Real-Time Locating System (RTLS) infrastructure of antennas installed at each marine terminal. The data is automatically cross-referenced with information in the port's trucking database, ensuring that entry is granted only to authorized vehicles.

Other benefits of the system include:

  • Automated data collection of essential information on trucks entering the terminal, allowing existing marine terminal operating systems to perform at peak efficiency with more accurate and timely situational information;

  • Automated verification, thereby reducing errors in critical security checkpoints while expediting the process;

  • The ability to pinpoint truck locations within the terminal using RTLS for facilities monitoring.

Omar Benjamin, the Port of Oakland's executive director, says the benefits of this technology go beyond enhancing security. “Reducing the time involved for the truck identification process will help reduce congestion and emissions and save truck drivers time and fuel. That's good for business, our community and the environment,” he points out.

Bill Allen, executive vp of drayage carrier Total Transportation Services, can testify to the advantages of RTLS. “We've experienced benefits at NYK Logistics' cross-dock facilities in Long Beach, CA, and Norfolk, VA, which use WhereNet's RFID system,” he says. “It has reduced our turn times from 90 to less than 10 minutes, freeing up our drivers to drive rather than wait in line outside the gate.”

FASTER AND SAFER

Similar benefits are being seen in Thailand, where RFID supplier Savi Networks is helping to cut time and costs from the customs clearance process for truckers. Their system also boosts security by automating shipment information from active RFID seals on the trucks as part of the country's Secure Free Zone Project.

The Savi RFID system has allowed Royal Thai Customs to monitor and validate in near real-time more than 11,000 trips of RFID-sealed trailers transporting high-performance hard drives from manufacturing and distribution facilities through inspection points in Bangkok. According to Savi COO Lani Fritts, the ability to electronically validate the security and contents of a truck from origin through government inspection points has made it possible to speed up clearance of shipments destined for the U.S. “This demonstrates that use of advanced technology can provide both compliance and security value while increasing the efficiency of cargo movement,” Fritts says.

KNOCKING DOWN HURDLES

Although cost and standardization remain hurdles for RFID, both are being addressed rapidly, according to Dick Schnacke, vp-industry relations for TransCore, a supplier RFID and GPS. “The devices available today provide good security protection but are pricey and extremely non-uniform,” he says.

However, Schnacke thinks this is likely to change. “Prices will tumble because of vastly better design…and integration and performance will become strong, stable and uniform across the vendor community,” he predicts. “Before long, RFID-based electronic seals should be available at a price and performance point that's interesting to goods owners, insurance companies, ocean carriers, fleet operators and governments.”

“This is a customer base that's been used to seeing the technology flavor of the month for too long now and many have become jaded,” he points out. “But IT has the potential to help solve many operations and security problems in transportation. I have no doubt that it'll be widespread eventually in this sector.”