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APL Reaps Double Benefits From Real-Time Visibility

After the shipping company deployed an RFID real-time locating system in its Los Angeles facility, it was voted the "fastest and best overall marine terminal" in the area.
By Bob Violino
Jun 26, 2006APL Ltd. is one of the largest container shipping companies in the United States, with a fleet of containerships serving more than 100 markets in North America, South America, the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East and Africa. A subsidiary of logistics and transportation firm Neptune Orient Lines, APL offers more than 60 weekly shipping services and makes about 300 calls at more than 90 ports worldwide.

With headquarters in Singapore, APL operates out of a North American base in Oakland, Calif. The company offers intermodal transportation, moving freight through ships, trains and trucks. It deploys thousands of containers, as well as the trailer chassis that transport the containers at the ports.

APL is using the WhereNet Real-Time Locating System and marine terminal software to manage its 292-acre Global Gateway South terminal.

To deliver the most efficient level of service to its customers, APL must keep track of the locations of every chassis. That can be a considerable challenge, given the high volume of containers entering and leaving a port on a daily basis. The inability to locate chassis and other assets has plagued many shipping terminals over the years.

To help solve this problem, APL deployed RFID technology at one of its major operations. In May 2005, the company began using WhereNet's active RFID WhereNet Real-Time Locating System (RTLS) and marine terminal software to help manage its 292-acre Global Gateway South terminal. Located at the Port of Los Angeles, the terminal processes 3,500 to 4,000 containers each day

Based in Santa Clara, Calif., WhereNet claims the terminal installation is the largest RTLS deployment in the world—and the first-ever use of active RFID technology in a "wheeled" terminal (one that mainly stores containers on trailer chassis instead of stacking them on the ground).

By storing containers on chassis, APL provides its customers with a "self-service" approach: Truck drivers can enter the facility and pick up containers at their convenience, rather than having to wait for a crane to pull containers from a stack, as they must do at most other marine terminals.

As part of the RTLS deployment at the Global Gateway South terminal, WhereTag transmitters were affixed to more than 35,000 chassis servicing the facility, and also to APL's entire inventory of terminal tractors. APL tagged the tractors to monitor their location and movement, so the terminal's operating system knows as soon as a chassis is disengaged from a tractor. The WhereTag devices "blink" an RF transmission at pre-programmed rates, ranging from five seconds to one hour.

The RTLS system also consists of a device called WherePort, which triggers a WhereTag to transmit the blink pattern. Whenever a WhereTag passes through a WherePort's field, it initiates a faster blink rate to allow the detection of more location points as a tagged asset moves through a certain threshold, such as a shipping and receiving dock door. When the WhereTag sends WherePort-initiated blinks, the tag includes the identification number of the WherePort. APL installed WherePort devices at 12 entry and eight exit gates at the terminal.
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