Visibility in the air



A strip of packaging tape and a few practised steps is all it takes, and within seconds the orange-coloured plastic chip is knotted into place in the net above the pallet. A pallet loader whizzes by to transport the consignment to the Cargolux Boeing 747-400F waiting on the apron of Luxembourg Findel Airport with its characteristic nose door flipped upwards. The freighter’s destination is Indianapolis in the US. The consignor of this particular pallet is a pharmaceutical company and from now until the shipment is delivered, the company’s logistics experts will be able to track the progress of their shipment – all thanks to the orange-colored plastic chip, the DB SCHENKERsmartbox air.

“Our customers’ supply chains are changing and the time frames for deliveries are growing ever shorter,” says Eleftherios Skountridakis. As Global Key Account Manager, he is responsible for providing support to the company whose pallet can be seen disappearing into the hold of the 747 on this windy spring evening. Luxembourg, landlocked in the heart of Europe, is an important hub for the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry. As a result, the 41-year-old has a lot of business dealings in this tiny Grand Duchy.

Skountridakis has gained almost 15 years of experience working with pharmaceutical and healthcare companies. He says, “In a highly regulated sector like this, it is vital to transport goods under the proper conditions to avoid any loss of quality.” This can be guaranteed all the more when customers place their trust in the “Premium” range of products from DB Schenker and Cargolux – providing them with information on the shipments along the entire supply chain, in short: with visibility. Industries like the automotive, electronics or textile sector, which often rely on airfreight in the case of urgent deliveries, also benefit from this.

What is the exact location of the shipment at any point in time? What level of humidity is it being exposed to? And what temperature? The pallet that has just been loaded requires an ambient temperature of between 15 and 25 degrees Celsius – any warmer or colder and the products’ effectiveness decreases. “But it’s also useful to gauge the temperature inside the insulated packaging that we use for many of our pharmaceutical shipments,” says Skountridakis. This is precisely the kind of data documented by the DB SCHENKER smartbox. It provides customers with a basis from which they can recalibrate delivery times and conditions but also fine-tune processes upstream and downstream in production and distribution.

The visibility solution is available in numerous variants (more information is provided below in an interview with Ingo Hellwig-Delaminsky, Head of Global Product Management). The most recent addition to the product portfolio is DB SCHENKERsmartbox air. The special feature of this variant used in airfreight is that it records data throughout the duration of the transport process. To ensure that flight safety is not compromised, the data is only forwarded while the aircraft is on the ground.

The airfreight box is available in two versions. In the case of the orange-colored chip attached to the Cargolux consignment, it is a DB SCHENKERsmartbox air gateways – or to be more precise, the system’s data logger. This is responsible for recording the location, temperature and humidity. Skountridakis explains that this is done “at predefined intervals, for example, every 15 minutes.” The information is downloaded via radio frequency by micro routers mounted in key areas in facilities through which the consignment passes. As a result, gateways provides a convenient solution on lanes with a lot of traffic.

The DB SCHENKER smartbox air real-time provides even more advantages and is specially designed for monitoring high value assets. Equipped with a SIM card, this device utilizes mobile network technology to communicate the stored parameters to the online platform while in transit, providing near real-time information. It automatically stops transmitting data prior to takeoff and immediately starts up again once the aircraft has landed. The device monitors GPS coordinates, temperature, humidity, shock, air pressure and integrity.