As global trade and overseas manufacturing continue to expand, the volume of containers in transit has surged significantly. This escalation not only complicates the supply chain but also heightens the risk of misplaced containers. Therefore, in the post-pandemic world, container tracking has become indispensable.
When shippers can track containers, they have more control over their supply chains, react quickly when exceptions happen, know their ETAs, and communicate better with stakeholders. They are never left wondering where a container is sitting.
With container tracking more crucial than ever, let’s cover the what and how of shipping container tracking.
What is Container Tracking?
Container tracking, enabled by technology, allows for real-time monitoring of a container's geographical location and status from its point of origin to its destination. This tool empowers shippers to proactively address potential supply chain disruptions. It provides them with instant updates on any anomalies, achieved milestones, or potential threats to the cargo, enabling swift and immediate action.
Thanks to container tracking, shippers know:
- If a container is moving or stationary.
- Whether an exception has occurred.
- If a temperature or humidity level moves beyond the acceptable range (a risk when transporting reefer cargo).
- When light exposure occurs. An open container in transit could indicate a theft in progress.
Container tracking and real-time visibility enable shippers to solve problems as they arise instead of waiting for information that could be very late.
Container Tracking Technology
Real-time container tracking comes in various forms, and it is important to discern which is best for the shipper’s specific cargo and mode of transport.
Live Satellite Tracking of Ocean Vessels
The vessels can be the tracking source, with data coming over live maps and satellite monitoring systems, making tracking a container on a ship easy. Customer-driven monitoring and notifications keep everyone in the loop should a delivery change occur.
Online Container Number Tracking
Tracking the container itself offers greater precision than monitoring the vessel. By ordering Bill of Lading (BOL) numbers for their containers, shippers can access precise and current data, whether the container is at sea, at a port, or moving inland.
Real-Time AIS Tracking
An automated identification system (AIS) uses transceivers on ships to feed information to vessel traffic services (VTS). AIS equipment can provide information such as a vessel's unique identification, course, speed, and position. While the initial purpose of AIS was for maritime authorities, ship owners, and search and rescue units, it has seen ever-growing use as a way to track the location of shipping containers.
GPS Container Tracking
Individual containers can be outfitted with dedicated tracking devices, which utilize GPS or cellular triangulation for location tracking. The data is transmitted to a specific service website for easy access and monitoring.
Third-Party Platform Tracking
A popular approach to container tracking often combines one or more of the methods mentioned above to monitor vessel containers in real time via third-party platforms. These platforms, which may encompass tracking apps, dashboards, and portals, provide a convenient, single-source solution for tracking needs.
Tracking Via API
The most effective tracking method comes from using an application programming interface (API) that integrates with the shippers existing tech stack to better use the tracking information.
With an API, shippers track their shipments by container number, master bill of lading, or auto carrier identification resulting in the ability to track 98% of global shipments via a carrier list.
An API, like VIZION API, has a tremendous amount of benefits, including:
- Instant On, flexible data access with documentation.
- Immediately begin tracking by Container Number or Master Bill of Lading.
- Industry-leading data quality + transparency.
- 99+% Standardization of Raw Carrier Events + AIS Data.
- 7,000+ unique events turned into 60 standardized milestones and ETAs.
Choosing the Right Container Tracking Strategy for Your Operations
Not all container tracking solutions are created equal; several factors are critical considerations when selecting a solution.
Compatibility with carriers is crucial. A solution that only works with some carriers and not others is only marginally effective. Knowing where some containers are but not others does little to give shippers control over their supply chains. An effective solution needs to work industry-wide.
Ease of implementation is an essential consideration. Shippers need to ask themselves if the solution will work with their existing tech stack and the timeline for implementation. A proprietary solution is expensive, requires a dedicated tech team, takes a long time to implement, might not scale with growth, and could be challenging to structure to communicate with other stakeholders’ tech stacks. A simple plug-and-play solution like an API avoids all those issues and immediately works with the shipper’s existing tech.
A container tracking solution is only helpful if the data accuracy and quality are high. Milestones and exceptions that carriers might record differently must be standardized and easily understood. The information used for later analysis needs to provide the shipper with their KPIs and make it easy to identify areas for improvement.
Step-by-Step Tracking Process
For shippers to start and benefit from container tracking, there are several steps to take that will eventually give them unprecedented supply chain control.
- Preparation of tracking requirements: Before starting the process, it is essential to contemplate the requirements that meet the shipper’s needs. Whereas one shipper might only need location information, another might be moving freight that benefits from container conditions information.
- Selection of tracking technology or solution: Once the tracking requirements are known, the shipper should choose a solution that is easy to implement, integrates with their existing tech stack, and will scale with them.
- Implementation of tracking devices or integration with a platform: Implementation is the make-it or break-it moment for the tracking solution. If the shipper has chosen a solution that easily integrates with their existing tech and is quick to implement, they will experience a make-it moment.
- Monitoring container movements and accessing real-time data: The solution has been selected and implemented; now it’s time to view the supply chain in a whole new light. Prepared shippers have more time to focus on operational improvements without having to call carriers for updates continually and then communicate them to other stakeholders. Fewer people now get more done, stakeholder communication is improved, and the term “I don’t know” is rarely heard.
- Resolving tracking issues and managing exceptions: Real-time tracking helps eliminate problems like lost containers and excessive calling for status updates. Exceptions are now known and managed in real time, providing significantly improved outcomes that keep containers on track.
Container Tracking Changes the Game for Shippers
Once shippers can track their containers in real-time, supply chain efficiency increases, customer service improves, and environmentally sensitive cargo is protected. More containers stay on track, and exceptions are more easily managed.
From the start and down the road to container tracking, shippers must contemplate their needs, find a solution that works industry-wide, implements and integrates easily, and provides quality data. Once in place, they should prepare for a sea change within their operations and unprecedented control over their supply chains.
VIZION API is an easy-to-implement container-tracking solution that integrates with shippers’ existing tech stacks and tracks 98% of worldwide shipments. 99% of raw carrier events and AIS data are standardized, making tracking data easily understood and effective. Shipment milestones and exceptions events are easily shared with other stakeholders through push notifications.
Using VIZION API, shippers know the locations and statuses of their containers and take control of their supply chains.
Book a demo with VIZION API today to see how container tracking changes the game for shippers.