FROM MAGAZINE : Overhauling the ULD space
ULDs are now getting the much needed attention and care with the onset of blockchain technology. Damage control of ULDs is getting better with enhanced technology that shall provide sensory information about the originators of damage and nature of it. Moreover, ULD service providers are enhancing their global footprint as a wider ULD repair network offers an edge to win ULD management contracts.
As per the International Air Transport Association (IATA) around $300 million is wasted in unit load device (ULD) damages every year, which can be avoidable. Last year, there were many idling ULDs which could have been put to use if enhanced technologies were in place.
With the growing demand for air cargo, ULD companies are adding solutions that help the industry with logistics efficiencies. Automated Bluetooth-enabled ULD tracking is now solving the problem of not just missing, lost, or underutilised ULDs, but also finds out container position, accelerations and originators of damage.
Cathay Pacific has successfully concluded trials for next-generation ULD track-and-trace system powered by Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) beacons, in collaboration with leading ULD management provider Unilode Aviation Solutions, and real time asset tracking solutions provider OnAsset Intelligence. The wireless BLE devices that are embedded on ULDs to provide real-time information were tested in the Cathay Pacific Cargo Terminal in Hong Kong.
Benoît Dumont, Chief Executive Officer, Unilode, informed, “The trials focused on end-to-end shipment tracking with real-time information and on the practicality of using wireless devices in the multi-storey, concrete surroundings of the Cathay Pacific Cargo Terminal. Unilode, OnAsset and Cathay Pacific were satisfied with the result of these trials and are now preparing for a proof of concept with actual shipments. At Unilode, we firmly believe that digitalisation opens up unprecedented opportunities to make our industry more efficient and competitive.”
Unilode will also be implementing similar BLE powered ULD tracking system in co-operation with OnAsset Intelligence, its partner in the ULD digitalisation project, for Unilode’s ULD management customers Air Canada, Cargolux and AirBridgeCargo, as well as other airlines and several shippers.
“When building the digital skyway there is no place for proprietary technology as the industry needs interoperability and flexibility, therefore Unilode and OnAsset Intelligence have decided to make the technology protocols fully interoperable with technology provided by other market players,” mentioned Dumont.
Unilode and OnAsset’s ULD tracking technology fulfills the regulatory compliance requirements including Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and is compliant with safety standards. The tag is fully integrated into the ULD design which is the preferred method versus bolt-on solutions.
Dumont pointed out, “Most importantly, the Unilode BLE solution does not rely uniquely on readers being installed in cargo warehouses, mail rooms and similar areas. Instead, Unilode’s BLE technology allows your mobile phone to act as the reader. All you need to do is download an app and switch on Bluetooth on your mobile device and you are done. The initial results have been outright spectacular as the cumbersomestock taking tasks can be reduced to a matter of seconds at any place in the world, not just where you have fixed readers in place.”
In the digital era, smart ULDs are driving the innovation for speeding up maintenance and control while enhancing transparency. Wes Tucker, Executive Vice President, ACL Airshop, said, “Smart ULDs will create more efficiency for customers. The technology enhancements will require employees to have further IT training. That’s part of our game plan.”
ACL has a ULD Control programme for customers in place. “Our recent Bluetooth tracking initiative with CORE Technology lets customers track their assets in real-time,” informed Tucker.
“In fact, we are wedding the Bluetooth technology to our ULD control programme, which ties it all together in our global ULD Leasing Operations Centre in Amsterdam,” added Jos Jacobsen, Managing Director-Europe and Global Leasing, ACL Airshop.
Last year, ACL Airshop signed a deal with CORE Transport Technologies to deploy COREInsight tracking technology onto ULDs owned or leased by ACL. Several airlines are rolling out this technology. “Other airlines are seeking test runs and proof-of-principle efforts. Bluetooth is a good advancement to go along with our ULD Control offerings,” asserts Jacobsen.
Unilode Aviation Solutions has undertaken a proof of technology trial of its Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) beacons along with Cathay Pacific and OnAsset Intelligence in the Cathay Pacific Cargo Terminal in Hong Kong.
Jacobsen remarked, “Our Bluetooth tracking technology allows customers to track where their pallets are at all times, which helps reduce unnecessary waste. We have strategically located repair stations at multiple hubs. We are adding new repair stations in Bogota, Hong Kong, Liege, and Los Angeles. We will do all we can to assist with damages, but sometimes incidents happen which require repairs. We also keep our own huge ULD fleet in good repair.”
In an environment where everyone is almost competing for similar services, each needs to have an edge. Jacobsen commented: "The ULD control programmes are built by the ULD control experts at ACL Airshop for ULD controllers. This is at the core of our company’s DNA. Our ULD Control software and logistics programmes let our customers manage their ULD equipment anywhere at any time, and our solutions overall are very customizable. We can tailor this airline-by-airline, since we are not poolers of ULDs.”
ACL Airshop offers repair software solution in which one can easily report the amount of damages, locate where damages occur and account for the total cost of ownership through an interface with any third-party software. ACL’s web-based ULD tracking system shows historical ULD data that assists with upcoming shortages or overstock.
Meanwhile, Jettainer, the outsourced ULD management subsidiary of Lufthansa Cargo AG, has started testing its enhanced digital container that enables the maintenance and repair processes of ULDs to be better planned and accelerated. And how? These revised smart ULDs offer enhanced functions that registers and records shocks, accelerations, damages, air pressure, temperature fluctuations, and container position.
Carsten Hernig, managing director, Jettainer, said, "The technical possibilities of the digital container enables us to reduce the time and financial expenditure for repair measures. With our 90,000 units in use worldwide, this has enormous potential. At the same time, the new containers also increase our ability to identify the originators of the damage. And that helps us to motivate people to implement a more responsible handling of the ULDs.”
The new device records sensory events like how the damage took place and the nature of the said damage. The new device falls into an extreme energy-saving mode, and only wakes up in real-time when relevant processes are recorded. Around 100 ULDs will be equipped with the new device to help intensively verify its functionality and data quality.
A global repair network of outsourced ULD management and repair companies helps airlines to concentrate repair activities close to where their operations are. It allows equipment repair at different places in addition to the airlines’ hub. This saves the airlines from the practice of airlifting damaged ULDs back to their hub for repair, and reduces the repair turnaround time. ULD outsourcing companies are expanding their repair and maintenance network as it serves as a comprehensive business model to win ULD management contracts.
Steve Townes, Chairman, ACL Airshop, said: “In less than 3 years of new efforts, we have more than doubled the geographic footprint of ACL Airshop with stations now at more than half of the world’s top 100 airports. We have added repair stations, enhanced other facilities, expanded our supply chain, invested in new technologies, and we’re even building a new cargo products factory in South Carolina USA. All of this is aimed at improved efficiency and logistics coverage for our customers.”
2017 was the best year for ACL in its 35 years of operations. ACL Airshop has around 215 airlines customers, and offers repairs, and leasing services at 40 of the world’s top 50 air cargo hub airports. “We have couple of new prospects who are intrigued in what we are doing to grow our business like adding new stations and new technologies,” said Townes.
For Unilode Aviation Solutions, one of the key strategies is to develop more MRO facilities for containers, pallets and galley carts. Unilode has certified repair stations at 50 airports, which is the largest network in the world. It opened an MRO facility in Cincinnati last year, to primarily support DHL for ULD repairs and assembly. It is now winning more DHL volume globally. Next in line is an MRO facility in São Paulo (GRU), Brazil, and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.
Dumont highlighted, “Unilode’s service offering in the ULD space is unique as Unilode owns and manages the world’s largest ULD fleet of around 120,000 ULDs, and has the largest global network of ULD repair stations. With this asset and network background, the company can offer various ULD management business models, namely shared asset pooling, fully dedicated ULD fleets or hybrid fleets (i.e. pooled pallets and dedicated containers), supported by Unilode’s repair network. This combination offers excellent cost saving and environmental benefits for all Unilode customers.”
To ensure correct safety and proper handling of ULDs, a new code of conduct has been prepared by ULD Care, a Canadian non-profit organisation that is committed to establish regulations and awareness for adequate handling of ULDs within the global transport chains. Started as a committee of IATA in 1971, ULD Care has been working independently since 2011. Unilode and Jettainer are among the first signees of the new code of conduct that aims to help reduce preventable damages to air freight containers and pallets.
The ‘Ten Rules for ULDs’ published by ULD Care lists recommendations on proper loading, adequate transport and the exclusive use of intact containers. ULDs are largely responsible for load securing and for ensuring flight safety. Technologies are ensuring that ULDs be treated as an important component of the air cargo industry.
In addition, the ULD solutions providers have their own training programmes. JettCare programme of Jettainer helps impart training to several thousand ground handling employees worldwide in a specially designed "ULD-X-Perts" training course. Unilode also collaborates closely with ground handlers around the world to improve ULD handling practices.
Despite the ULD care awareness programmes, the damage sustained by ULDs is huge which can only we averted with newer innovative technologies.