Smart Shipping: LDB enabling efficiency in logistics through real-time tracking of containers

LDB enabling efficiency in logistics through real-time tracking of containers

With a view to leveraging information and communication technology (ICT) and bringing efficiency to the supply chain, DMICDC Logistics Data Services Limited has implemented its logistics data bank (LDB) services across a number of ports and terminals. Since its implementation, LDB has resulted in significant improvement in port performance, and reduction in container transit time and port dwell time.

About LDB

NICDC Logistics Data Services (NLDS) (erstwhile DMICDC Logistics Data Services) is a joint venture between the Government of India (represented by the National Industrial Corridor Development and Implementation Trust) and the Japanese IT major NEC Corporation, with 50:50 equity participation. The NLDS was incorporated with the objective of effectively leveraging ICT across the Indian logistics sector, inculcating best practices across the various processes, and working towards bringing in efficiency in the supply chain. The company aims to bring visibility and transparency in the logistics environment, streamline operations across the supply chain, and help the government’s plan of improving the ease of doing business in India.

NLDS’s flagship product, the LDB is an overarching solution that integrates the information available with various agencies across the supply chain to provide detailed real-time information in a single window. The objective of the LDB is to bring in efficiency in the logistics sector by reducing the overall transaction cost and transit lead time through the use of information technology. It aims to provide complete visibility on the movement of containers and help in the future decision-making process. In a span of six years since its conceptualisation, the LDB has covered 100 per cent of ports, tracked more than 33 million containers, is present across 60 toll plazas, and is visible at more than 160 container freight stations (CFSs)/inland container depots (ICDs).

The LDB has assisted in improving the “tracking and tracing capability” in the Indian logistics sector. However, there still remain a number of factors that require attention including inventory optimisation, easy payment integration, cost reduction, secured information flow, just-in-time support, visibility of documents, and logistics lead time reduction, besides integrated communication. In order to increase the scope of the LDB through the deployment of new technologies, the NLDS has proposed the introduction of LDB 2.0.

LDB 2.0 will enable efficiencies across other parameters of the Logistics Performance Index in addition to “tracking and tracing”. The new tracking features of the LDB include detailed voyage tracking of export-import (exim) journeys; end-to-end tracking map view; direct port delivery/direct port entry and information on the next delivery location; container custody handover tracking; imported container tracking from the port of loading; dwell time calculation for all containers at ports and ICDs/CFSs on a real-time basis; and alternate features such as gate cut-off and expected vessel departure.

For extending the LDB coverage to the last mile, the NLDS has identified 14 industrial zones. Of these, site surveys have been completed for eight locations. Further, in order to extend LDB services to these industrial zones, the NLDS will take such measures as installing optical character recognition/radio frequency identification (RFID) reader systems at the gates of the industrial zones, extending the LDB’s API-based value-added services and analytics to these industrial zones, and productising the offerings as platform-as-a-service for plug-and-pay usage by industries.

The NLDS is also working on providing the infrastructure to read e-seals at port terminals through its LDB system, which will eliminate the requirement of additional infrastructure from each vendor. Accordingly, e-seal vendors will charge only for the e-seals. This can be implemented on a pan-Indian basis to ensure uniformity and transparency.

Government perspective

The National Logistics Policy broadly looks at four pillars for reducing the logistics cost in the country – a regulatory and legislative framework to harmonise all the processes and systems, IT interventions, development of infrastructure in a geospatial manner rather than a sectoral manner, and a national master plan for developing multimodal transport infrastructure.

Currently, the exchange of logistics documents is entirely based on physical movement. A blockchain-based concept has been developed by the logistics division in order to ensure secure exchange of logistics documents. It is currently being tested with different agencies.

The logistics cost in India is very high, thus reducing the competitiveness of domestic products globally. In this regard, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry is currently focusing on all the factors that contribute to this high logistics cost. The government aims to reduce logistics costs by 5 per cent within the next five years. Further, a logistics planning and performance tool is being developed to create a robust mechanism for project monitoring. The contract for this tool has already been awarded to an agency.

A number of technologies were used to analyse the factors adding to delays in dwell time, including active RFID, passive RFID, global positioning system, and cell phone/tower-based locations. After detailed analysis, it was found that passive RFID technology would be most useful, given the minimum human intervention required.

Furthermore, the Indian Ports Association (IPA) is aiming to bring transparency and visibility in the Indian logistics system through internet of things (IoT), big data and cloud-based digitalisation platforms. Going ahead, the IPA is looking to leverage emerging technologies such as 5G, digital twins and IoT to improve the ease of doing business in the country.

Industry perspective

LDB is a classic example of a single project that aims to bring container visibility across the country, allow people to see their processes and hence, reduce dwell time. While the focus given to reducing dwell time has improved over the years, there are 30 other participative government agencies that are yet to come on board.

There still exist a number of hurdles as far as the entire system is concerned, with one of them being related to the integration process. Integration with other portals, customs, railway authorities, etc., has been taking a lot of time. Further, empty yards constitute one of the important players in the entire logistics game. It is imperative to integrate empty yards in the system with RFID tags placed on them so as to track not only loaded containers but the complete exim cycle, from empty to loaded and vice versa. In addition, there is a need to create greater awareness to derive the full benefits of this system. The key to reducing the cost of trade lies in providing a seamless interface across the country. Incorporating technology in the overall logistics process can bring about operational efficiency.

According to industry experts, the logistics sector currently needs formalisation. This is being envisaged through the initiative of granting a logistics count number to every logistics service provider, whether they are a handling agent, a trucking agent, or anyone else in the logistics supply chain.

A number of infrastructural, regulatory and technological interventions are required to reduce logistics costs, along with the creation of a world-class skilled workforce that would be able to take care of requirements across sectors, both at the lower and professional levels. Close coordination between cities and states is also required to ensure the seamless flow of traffic.

In sum

The government’s focus on leveraging ICT is expected to bring about a reduction in logistics costs and improve cargo handling at ports. Moreover, the adoption of improved technologies at ports will further enhance their levels of efficiency.