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4/6/2005
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RFID Helps To Track Cargo Containers

Marine terminal operator SSA Marine is testing a new cargo-container tracking system to more accurately track shipping containers as they move through ports.

Marine terminal operator SSA Marine is testing a new cargo-container tracking system to see if it will help the 225-year-old company more accurately and efficiently track shipping containers as they flow through its California ports.

Currently, when cargo containers are unloaded from ships, workers must go to each container to log the container's identification number. The cargo containers are often stacked five high and six lanes wide throughout hundreds of acres of land. Ed DeNike, chief operating officer of SSA terminals at SSA Marine, which had $1.2 billion in annual revenue last year, says 10% to 20% of the container IDs aren't copied correctly, which causes the company to lose track of containers.

"We have two or three people working every day to find containers," DeNike says. "You need technology to help automate the process."

The company began testing a system from WhereNet Corp. at the end of 2004 that uses active RFID tags on container-handling equipment such as cranes to track their location. An optical character-recognition system installed on the cranes captures an identification number from the side of a cargo container. That ID number and the location of the cargo-handling equipment is wirelessly transmitted to business-intelligence applications, which pinpoint the location and status of each container.

DeNike says the Marine Terminal Solution from WhereNet should help the terminal keep track of cargo containers and reduce the costly errors that result from lost containers as they move through the port.

One of the trickiest parts of the test so far was setting up the cameras on each of the cranes so they can read the ID numbers, DeNike says. "You have to fit them just right. We just completed the testing of the cameras."

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