TT Talk - Tools of the container trade

There continue to be improvements in efficiency and simplification arising from the SOLAS VGM requirements. Aggregating some of these with initiatives in other aspects of the supply chain could deliver exponential advance in safety.

The onset of the requirement to obtain and communicate verified gross mass (VGM) for all packed containers carried by sea has necessarily spawned numerous good ideas, whether process improvements or physical kit. TT Club has sought to reflect some of these within its dedicated microsite, without seeking either to endorse any of the solution providers or, indeed, to be comprehensive.

The VGM requirement has necessarily spawned numerous good ideas

Many of the providers listed are, quite reasonably, seeking to supply equipment or services that are compliant with the national and international requirements for VGM in relation to weight alone. Some have broader application, such as the awareness e-learning compiled by Exis Technologies that links through to the more extensive work in relation to the safe handling and packing of CTUs, in compliance with the CTU Code.

Others, while primarily focused on the capture and communication of mass information, have additional safety or operational efficiency benefits, such as the providers of twistlock load sensing technologies. These can not only also identify eccentric packing of cargo, but also other matters such as equipment life-cycle monitoring.

Another interesting development has been the launch in July 2016 of the BoxTech Technical Characteristics Database by Bureau International des Containers (BIC). It is reported that the database now holds the details of some three million containers and is accessed by over 700 shipper users. It may be expected that these numbers will continue to grow rapidly, with at least 120 container owners/operators now engaged in loading unit information.

Consider BoxTech

The BoxTech database was launched with support from shippers, carriers, leasing companies and container owners following the introduction of new SOLAS mandatory requirements in relation to VGM. There is no charge for ocean carriers and container leasing companies to upload fleet details to the database. This development represents a significant coming-together of the industry on a project aimed at improving safety, while at the same time helping everyone in the supply chain operate more efficiently. With the more efficient and timely sharing of data that is required for safety purpose, the offering is compelling.

With the more efficient and timely sharing of data that is required for safety purpose, the offering is compelling

The database specifically supports 'Method 2' shippers in identifying the tare mass of specific container units. Such a shipper needs to obtain the tare mass in order to sum the mass of cargo, dunnaging and securing materials to reach the VGM value in accordance with the SOLAS requirements. A single on-line source obviates the need to interrogate multiple shipping line sites or reliance on manual processes to record what is etched on the container itself. However, in addition to those benefitting from automated access to tare mass for SOLAS VGM declarations, many users are also signing-up for easy access to container size and type, and other technical characteristics.

Simple to use, the BoxTech database provides fast, automated access to reliable data. It is available to use either via a website or an API (application programming interface), which provides the option to integrate data directly into users' systems. Either method helps to improve efficiency by enabling shippers, forwarders, terminals, carriers and leasing companies, as well as rail operators, hauliers and others, to avoid the unnecessary manual administration related to sourcing and capturing details such as container tare mass, size and payload.

While the database was developed, in close partnership with container owners, operators and shippers, to meet stakeholder needs and minimize disruption as the new SOLAS requirements came into force, there is potential for broader supply chain benefits, both in terms of safety and improved efficiency.

Consider the future

BIC already is the custodian of much information in relation to containers, within the scope of the International Convention for Safe Containers 1972 as amended (CSC). As the world in general and the unit load shipping industry in particular engages increasingly with digitisation, the possibilities to transform the humble metal box are substantial. Significant strides have been made in recent years in relation to tracking and monitoring through the supply chain. The drivers for such developments have been diverse, including regulatory (such as temperature monitoring of foodstuffs) and economic (asset protection). It would be conceivable that the concatenation of such technologies and this database could enrich the understanding of the history for each container. For example, creating and maintaining a digital CSC plate could valuably evidence both safety and regulatory compliance.

With digitisation, the possibilities to transform the humble metal box are substantial

BIC may be congratulated on the creation of the BoxTech database; the more carrier and lessor fleets that are captured in the system, the more the shippers are attracted to this single source. Thinking beyond SOLAS and outside the box to extend what is captured could be an important part in delivering further safety and efficiency through the industry.

We hope that you have found the above interesting. If you would like further information, or have any comments, please email us, or take this opportunity to forward to any colleagues who you may feel would be interested.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Peregrine Storrs-Fox

Risk Management Director, TT Club

Staff Author

TT Club