Imagine If You Could Monitor, Track and Remotely Manage A Fleet of Reefer Containers, Anywhere in the World, with a $25 Device and NO Recurring Monthly Data Plan Cost
Imagine if you could monitor the location and important operational aspects of all your mobile assets: available cargo space, doors open or closed, tire pressures, fuel levels, etc., anywhere in the world when in a terminal, freight yard, warehouse, shipping depot, or even a retail center. Imagine if you could also remotely manage these assets: power them on and off, start a reefer's Pre-Trip Inspection, set a reefer's temperature and humidity set points, put a reefer into Low-Power-Mode when the outside ambient temperature allows for fuel savings, program a reefer's automatic response to changes of cargo probe temperatures and ambient conditions, etc. Imagine if you could do all this with a simple but secure, easy to install, battery-powered device that costs less than $25 (1) and uses ubiquitous Wi-Fi for data communications. Wi-Fi is the most widespread wireless network in the world and is particularly available throughout the global supply chain, at shipping and rail terminals, freight yards, warehouses, depots, and retail centers. No Telco Mobile Data connection, no recurring monthly expense! You could monitor, track and remotely manage your fleet of reefer containers, anywhere in the world, just using readily available Wi-Fi connections.
This amazing microprocessor-based device was conceived and designed principally for highly reliable wireless communications, with all kinds of other HME Sub GHz (2) devices, in the highly metalized environments (HME) of the global supply chain. This was a daunting task and after many months of careful empirical analysis and field research by S2CT (Smart Supply Chain Technologies Ltd.) electromagnetic wave experts, HME Sub GHz was born. This challenge and the importance of the Sub GHz frequency band is attested to by the Wi-Fi Alliance's recent announcement of a new IEEE specification, 802.11ah (3), specifically developed to address these same wireless communications issues for the connected world of the Internet of Things (IoT). Our benchmark was a Fixed-position Asset Monitor, high upon a light pole in a shipping terminal, reliably communicating with Mobile Asset Monitors installed on containers at the bottom and in the middle of a container stack in a shipping terminal. We were successful!
Asset Monitors also connect to and communicate with the cloud, remote servers, indirectly through other wide-area-network (WAN) enabled HME Sub GHz devices or directly through a range of their own optionally integrated WAN capabilities including Wi-Fi and Global Mobile Data Network communications. A comprehensive Asset Monitor description can be found on the S2CT website.
As a microprocessor based device, the Asset Monitor has the computing power to host and run very sophisticated software applications. The Asset Monitor's Basic Software Layer cognitively manages its integrated communications subsystems, its integrated data storage, its battery's energy and its remote hardware and software maintenance. An Asset Monitor's Value-Added Software Layer, with access to Basic Software Layer utilities, can host a range of custom sophisticated software applications that enhance and extend its basic software and manage other devices that it interfaces with, a reefer controller is a great example.
As a reefer controller interface, the Asset Monitor receives instructions from the cloud it is associated with, translates them into instructions that the "target" reefer controller can understand and then passes them to the reefer controller for execution. The Asset Monitor can also retrieve data from the reefer control, either on instruction from the cloud or independently under its program's control, every hour for example. The Asset Monitor's software might independently, every hour, request the container's incoming and exhaust air temperatures from the reefer controller. The Asset Monitor's software then compares the temperatures to determine if they are within the specified limit set from the cloud, generates an "event" alert if the limit was exceeded and, stores the temperatures, the comparison result and the "event" alert, if it was generated, in its data logger. The event alert is "pushed" to the cloud, the fleet manager, at the first opportunity for the Asset Monitor to connect. The fleet manager, somewhere in a remote operations center, and the Asset Monitor seamlessly manage it all. Generally, anything that could be done by a person at the reefer controller's keypad can be done remotely from the cloud. Beyond that, the Asset Monitor "continuously" monitors data from the reefer controller and independently makes adjustments to the reefer's operation or reaches out to the cloud, as it was programmed to do when things go wrong. This is like having the terminal reefer technician travel with the reefer as it moves through its supply chain journey.
A shipping and logistics company already has a Transportation Management System (TMS) installed and being used daily to manage its logistics services and transportation vehicles. The company is eager to extend its system to take advantage of the emerging IoT paradigm, to maximize the efficiencies of their assets and the data-driven collaboration with its supply chain partners. The company begins by developing and deploying a Private Asset Monitoring, Tracking and Remote Management Hybrid Cloud with plug-in analytics and services from its reefer unit and climate control partners, Carrier, Emerson, Star Cool, Thermo King, etc. (⌘), and extensions to an enterprise level IBM Commercial Cloud (⌘), based on S2CT's Hybrid Cloud Architecture. The company's Private Asset Management Cloud becomes a seamless plug-in for its legacy TMS.
The Hybrid Cloud is a multi-tiered, secure, cognitive cloud that reaches down to connected devices in the field, through a company's Private Asset Management Cloud and up to the "Top" Level Enterprise Cloud for global reach across its entire enterprise and its ever-changing global supply chain. The Enterprise Cloud supports asset monitoring hardware deployment and maintenance anywhere across a company's enterprise and supply chain. Once an asset-monitoring device is deployed and installed on an asset, it will send its data to and receive data and instructions from the company's Private Asset Management Network.
This will include hardware maintenance data from all of the connected devices, accumulated in a specialized environment, on the Private Asset Management Cloud, that is continuously being analyzed by a unique "watchdog" application for operational anomalies. Identified problems are communicated to the Enterprise Cloud for final resolution and potential deployment of replacement hardware at the asset's next expected port-of-call.
The Private Asset Management Cloud bidirectionally communicates with every monitoring device on every asset in its network, collecting their data, addressing "events" and alarms, sending and managing Over-the-Air software updates from the Enterprise Cloud and indirectly sending "instructions", through asset monitoring devices, to field equipment they interface with, reefer controllers for example. Asset monitoring devices act as local servers to their attached devices, in this multi-tiered cloud hierarchy, collecting their data, "events" and alarms and helping to manage their operation. The intelligence of the network is the accumulated intelligence of each of its layers — cognitive computing.
Imagine the company has two shipping terminals and a number of reefer containers, primarily moving between the two terminals and its customer's regional freight yards. The company also utilizes a small fleet of chassis and truck cabs to assist in moving containers between these locations.
Each of the reefer containers is equipped with Wi-Fi (3) enabled Mobile Asset Monitors connected directly to each reefer's controller. Each of these "Reefer" Mobile Asset Monitors has been programmed for bidirectional communications with the company's Private Asset Management Cloud and the reefer controller. Both of the company's shipping terminals have enough Wi-Fi enabled Fixed-position Asset Monitors deployed throughout their areas to provide complete HME Sub GHz coverage of each terminal's area of interest. All of the company's chassis and truck cabs are equipped with Wi-Fi enabled Mobile Asset Monitors. A subset of the company's chassis and trucks are "optionally" equipped with Wi-Fi + GNSS + GMDN (4) enabled Mobile Asset Monitors. The Wi-Fi enabled Mobile Asset Monitor estimated cost is $25.00 (1). Optional Wi-Fi + GNSS + GMDN Mobile Asset Monitors estimated cost is $90.00 and will require a Telco Mobile Data Plan for GMDN communications. The cost of a Telco Mobile Data Plan, sized to support the expected mobile data requirements, is estimated to range between $2.00 and $4.00 per month. Twenty of these Telco Mobile Data Plans for 20 assets, at $4.00 per month, would result in a monthly recurring cost of $80.00, annually $960.00.
Note that Mobile Asset Monitors continuously collect and save data from their integrated sensors and connected peripherals and execute their embedded software programs in real-time, real-time data. Real-time communications, on the other hand, is actually opportunistic and is subject to the availability of a connection to the Internet. (Even Satellite Communications is subject to a compatible satellite being overhead when needed.) This company has concluded that real-time data opportunistically communicated, when its assets are in its shipping terminals with reliable HME Sub GHz and Wi-Fi connections, is adequate to meet its business and customer's needs. The company's reefers spend more than 70% of their time in these areas where most asset management and event alerts occur. In most cases event alerts that occur while the container is moving between the terminals are not actually actionable until the reefer gets back to a terminal. Note that Mobile Asset Monitors interfacing with reefer controllers, through their programming, are capable of independent actions in response to event alerts. The Mobile Asset Monitor, after executing an airflow temperature evaluation and determining that an alert condition exists, can issue an instruction to the reefer control to decrease its air temperature by a pre-programmed amount. For those times when "real-time" communications is critical for a cargo or to a customer, reefers with standard Wi-Fi enabled Asset Monitors, can be transported on chassis or with truck cabs with Wi-Fi + GNSS + GMDN (4) enabled Mobile Asset Monitors. In this scenario, when a critical event occurs, the reefer's Mobile Asset Monitor communicates the event alert to the chassis' or truck cab's Wi-Fi + GNSS + GMDN Mobile Asset Monitor, in real-time, and that device attempts to establish a communications connection to send the event alert to the company's Private Asset Management Cloud. This is as real-time as it gets!
Generally, Mobile Asset Monitors on reefer containers retrieve data from reefer controllers and send it to the company's Private Asset Management Cloud where it is analyzed, saved and presented to the fleet manager. Cloud analytics significantly enhance the value of the data from each reefer with relational data from other reefers and other company databases. Analytics can significantly reduce the volume of data that company personnel must deal with to judge what's actionable.
The best way to appreciate this Private Asset Management Cloud and its value to the terminal is to explore what a fleet manager might see and do from the Asset Management Cloud Graphical User Interface (GUI). S2CT believes that a GUI must be very responsive, no more than three clicks from what the user wants to see and do. S2CT also believes that the same, secure, GUI must run on a desktop computer, a mobile tablet and even a mobile Smartphone, all in collaboration with one another. We have observed, over several years of working in this industry, that it is quite common for a fleet manager working in an office at the terminal will want to coordinate closely with personnel on the ground, in the terminal. A highly responsive, collaborative GUI is a key to that success.
In our scenario, the fleet manager in Long Beach prepared and sent a reefer container, S2CT 910605 5, carrying frozen cargo, to the Port of Seattle and is reviewing its trip data as the cargo is unloaded in the Seattle terminal.
The terminal's Transportation Management System executed a Ship Order and organized the transport of specific cargo from its warehouse in Long Beach to the Port of Seattle where it will be reorganized for transport to other locations, by other carriers. Long Beach warehouse personnel, following the Ship Order, organize the shipment by consolidating boxes destine for the same end customer onto pallets.
Many of the boxes had a Cargo Monitor placed inside them at the request of their end customers. The warehouse's Fixed-position Asset Monitor, in its packing and loading area, associates and records which Cargo Monitor is inserted into each box. The pallets are readied for loading into reefer container S2CT 901605 5 when it arrives at the warehouse's loading dock. The fleet manager and warehouse personnel can use the Cargo Monitor signal pings to help keep track of the boxes and pallets as they are loaded into the container and make their way to their final destinations. Ultimately, it's the end-customers that retrieve data from the sensors integrated into the Cargo Monitors in their boxes to be assured that their cargo was handled appropriately throughout its journey. This is a valued service for many cargo types.
The fleet manager initiated a reefer controller Pre-Trip Inspection (PTI) when the container was in the terminal's staging area. The fleet manager assigned a chassis from its chassis fleet to carry the reefer container from the staging area to the warehouse loading area and to the Port of Seattle. The selected chassis has a Wi-Fi enabled Mobile Asset Monitor installed with HME Sub GHz Tire Pressure Sensors on each of its tires. The fleet manager selects this particular chassis based on its operating status, available with adequate tire pressure in each of its tires, and an assignment that did not require mission critical real-time communications between Long Beach and Seattle. The fleet manager could have alternatively selected a chassis from the terminal's fleet that was equipped with a Wi-Fi+GNSS+GMDN (4) enabled Mobile Asset Monitor, a Communications Hub (5). If he had, the Mobile Asset Monitor on the reefer container could have continued to send its data and, more importantly, real-time alert messages as it traveled from Long Beach to Seattle through the chassis' GMDN connection. Also note that the chassis cab's driver's smartphone could be setup to securely communicate with the Wi-Fi enabled Mobile Asset Monitors and provide real-time event alert communications when needed. The PTI test was successfully executed and completed before the container was moved from the terminal's reefer staging area to the warehouse's loading dock on the selected terminal chassis.
The terminal is covered with a mesh of Fixed-position Asset Monitors, some with just HME Sub GHz communications capabilities to assist in data communications and asset location triangulation. These very simple Fixed-position Asset Monitors can cost under $15.00 (1). Most Fixed-position Asset Monitors are "Long-Range" Wi-Fi (3) enabled, 100+ bidirectional meters. The Mobile Asset Monitors installed on the company's reefer containers communicate with these Fixed-position Asset Monitors using their highly reliable HME Sub GHz to form a ground-level ad hoc communications network. Fixed-position Asset Monitors are also used to triangulate on Mobile Asset Monitor HME Sub GHz signals to determine where they are, within the coverage area, on-demand or continuously. Fixed-position Asset Monitors communicate with one another and the terminal's Asset Management Cloud using their Wi-Fi communications subsystems. Note that the S2CT terminal network architecture includes a Super Wi-Fi provision for very-long-range connections, up to 10 kilometers, for Wi-Max style back-haul from other terminals and remote terminal staging areas.
The reefer container was loaded with its cargo and its Mobile Asset Monitor registered the arrival of each of its Cargo Monitors, as the warehouse registered their departures. Cloud and Asset Monitor Software, working together and using unique heuristics and algorithms, can reliably figure these things out.
The reefer was remotely started by the fleet manager and when its temperature and humidity reached the prescribed settings, the reefer was cleared to depart the terminal for Seattle. In this particular scenario, the container's reefer controller's and chassis' Wi-Fi enabled Mobile Asset Monitors lose their connection with the Long Beach terminal as soon as they get beyond the range of the terminal's Wi-Fi network. Both Mobile Asset Monitors continue to collect and store data from their connected peripherals, the reefer's controller and the chassis' tire pressure sensors, in real-time. Both Mobile Asset Monitors send their respective accumulated data when they connect again to an available Wi-Fi Access Point such as the terminal Wi-Fi network at the Port of Seattle. Note that the S2CT architecture fully protects Asset Monitor "Data" with its ultra-secure DNA security (6) so that no data is ever sent from any device to any other device without DNA authentication, and then always in dynamic cloud key encrypted form.
The following screenshot illustrates what the fleet manager might view on his desktop computer after the reefer container arrives at the terminal in Seattle and all of the data that was accumulated in the Mobile Asset Monitor data loggers is uploaded to the Long Beach Private Asset Management Cloud using the Seattle Terminal's Wi-Fi Network. The fleet manager is now reviewing the reefer's trip data from the point when the PTI was executed, across its journey, to its current unloading. The fleet manager reviews the information associated with the Start Reefer data-marker by clicking on it, causing its dialog box to appear. Note that the parameters with an ( R ) next to them in the chart dialog indicate they were set remotely.
The fleet manager can also observe, from the chart, the reefer's Outside Ambient Temperature and the reefer cargo area's Humidity and Temperature. The data was retrieved from reefer controller and stored in the Asset Monitor data logger, at programmed intervals throughout the trip. Most of this data was communicated back to the Long Beach Private Asset Management Cloud after the reefer arrived in the Seattle terminal and connected with its Wi-Fi network. The fleet manager can see that Long Beach terminal personnel closed the reefer's door after the reefer was started. This was observed by a Near-Field Magnetic Inductance (8) Contactless Door Sensor installed in the container. The fleet manager can see that the reefer reached 0 °C after about 2 hours and the temperature set point after about 4 hours. A Gate Alert was posted when the reefer container exited the terminal, passing through the terminal's gate. The fleet manager can see that an Air Exchange Alert posted before the reefer reached its temperature and humidity set points.
Air Exchange Alerts are posted when the temperature of the incoming cold air is greater than the temperature of the exhaust air leaving the cargo area by an amount set by terminal operations, greater than 5 °C for example. Mobile Asset Monitors are programmed to evaluate these air temperatures after the reefer has settled into its normal operation and sometimes this evaluation occurs prematurely. The fleet manager will eventually review the Air Exchange Alert data-marker information but is not very concerned in the absence of later Air Exchange Alerts in the trip data which would be there if the alert was serious. The fleet manager also knows that this "operational" alert was saved in the reefer container's Maintenance Database in the Private Asset Management Cloud, where it is further evaluated with other reefer specific and general maintenance data, historical and recent, by a watchdog software application. All alerts are also reported to the terminal's maintenance department for their review and action, if required.
The fleet manager observes that a Defrost Alert occurred about 20 hours into the trip. The fleet manager can review this data-marker information but it appears that when the Defrost Temperature did not rise to its normal prescribed level, the Mobile Asset Monitor's software made whatever adjustment that was necessary. Again, this operational alert was sent to the Maintenance Database for evaluation and to the terminal's maintenance department for awareness.
The chart's trip data shows that the reefer container's diesel power generator fuel level fell to 20% of its full capacity as the container neared the end of its journey. This was consistent with the projected fuel consumption and reported as the container began its trip, in the Start Reefer data-marker dialog box. This data is again sent to the Maintenance Database where it is further evaluated with other container specific maintenance data to determine if there is any change relative to the container's past performance. Very likely, terminal operations set multiple fuel level alerts for descending percent remaining fuel levels with increasing severities as the fuel level approaches empty. This particular fuel level alert was expected, as the container neared its final destination, so it is largely informational, no action required.
Shortly afterward, the reefer container arrived in the Seattle terminal and reestablished a connection with the Long Beach Private Asset Management Cloud. Seattle terminal personnel turned the reefer off and the container's door was opened to begin the unloading process. This door-open was observed by the container's Near-Field Magnetic Inductance Contactless Door Sensor. The chart shows that the container's cargo area temperature increases over the next few hours, approaching the outside ambient temperature, as the cargo was being unloaded.
All of this was done with these simple, but powerful, Fixed-position and Mobile Asset Monitors, no Telco Mobile Data Plan required. This basic solution has "no" recurring cost other than the cost for a company to develop, deploy and operate the solution over time. We leave it for each of our clients to determine which Asset Monitor version best suits their needs and budgets and the needs of their customers.
This is truly a remarkable logistics and supply chain IoT solution. No logistics company, shipper or terminal can afford to be without it. All of this technology is available today from Smart Supply Chain Technologies and its ever growing partner Ecosystem (9).
(1) All currency in this article is in USD.
(2) HME Sub GHz is an Adaptive / Cognitive Communications Protocol designed specifically to achieve highly reliable wireless communications in highly metalized environments such as shipping terminals with thousands of stacked metal containers. HME Sub GHz is based on 433 MHz Radio Frequency, which is proven optimal for communications in these same highly metalized environments.
(3) Mobile Asset Monitors are typically deployed with Wi-Fi 802.11g subsystems that operate in the 2.4 GHz frequency band. Fixed-position Asset Monitors are typically deployed with 802.11n subsystems that operate in the 2.4 GHz frequency band and are compatible with 802.11g Wi-Fi and support MIMO, "multiple inputs and multiple outputs". The Wi-Fi Alliance recently announced a new IEEE specification, 802.11ah, developed explicitly for the Internet of Things (IoT). It's aimed at connecting everything in the IoT environment, any device that can be connected to a Wi-Fi access point. 802.11ah operates in the 900 MHz frequency band, which helps to cut down power consumption, extend transmission range, improve propagation (the ability to transmit in the presence of and through many tradition Wi-Fi barriers). It is expected that the range of 802.11ah will be twice that of modern Wi-Fi standards (i.e., 500 meters in case of the 802.11n) and up to one kilometer. Actual data-rates supported by the 802.11ah will not be too high: the tech uses 802.11a/g spec with up to 26 channels that provide up to 100 Kb/s throughput.
(4) GNSS stands for Global Navigation Satellite System and GMDN stands for Global Mobile Data Network.
(5) S2CT Communications Hubs are devices whose primary function is to manage secure wireless communications between a local-area-network of devices and the global wide-area-network. S2CT Communications Hubs inherently support HME Sub GHz for local-area-network communications and Global Mobile Data Network (2G,3G,4G, 4G LTE, ...) and Wi-Fi for wide-area-network communications. S2CT Communications Hubs also inherently support Global Navigation Satellite System geospatial position acquisition.
(6) DNA is a hybrid PPK security concept for devices to authenticate themselves before communicating data between themselves that is based on devices randomly changing their private keys continuously over time and sharing the new key with devices they have previously been associated with.
(7) Secure Private Data Sharing Network is a dynamically managed, ad hoc, network of registered private servers that, using DNA Security, securely share selected data.
(8) Near-Field Magnetic Inductance is very similar to the technology that Samsung and others use for secure wireless payment transactions. Fundamentally, two magnetic fields intersect to form a continuity. In this use model, one field emanates from one device and a second field emanates from a second device. When these fields intersect they form a continuity that allows the devices to communicate with one another. Here, one device provides its ID to a second device. The second device, using some methods, verifies that the ID is authorized for communications and associates it in its communications network for future communications.
(9) S2CT and its partners are shipping elements of its solution today, software and hardware. S2CT is in the business of helping companies to develop, build, deploy and even operate their Supply Chain IoT Solution, any piece or all of it! All pricing and cost data in this paper are estimates and for reference use only, S2CT and its partners make no warranty for the pricing or services described in this article.
(⌘) All company names are trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of their respective holders. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by them.