Vibration technology makes shipping containers ring
The global supply chain crisis requires even more efficient maritime logistics. Developed in Finland, a container analysis method based on vibration technology significantly improves the utilization rate of containers while also reducing emissions.
TExt vilma timonen | photos shutterstock and conexbird
Marine traffic is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Marine traffic produces about 4–5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which are predicted to increase by 2050 unless countermeasures are taken.
Container traffic amounts to about 60 percent of all traffic on the seas. Even now, millions of containers are being transported by seafaring vessels. Practically all intercontinental transport uses containers, including air traffic. Most of the emissions from container traffic are caused by the transport of empty containers, by both sea and air. When containers are inspected and found to be in poor condition, they must be returned to their place of origin for closer examination, repair or scrapping, which causes additional transport needs. Container inspections also require the use of cranes, which also causes more emissions.
In recent years, container transport as well as container supply issues have increased due the global supply chain and logistics crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting challenges. Empty containers sit idle in ports for an average of 45 days before they are inspected and deemed fit for reuse. The slow process also increases the pressure to obtain new containers.
From application development to container logistics
While working as an application developer at Nokia about 10 years ago, engineer Teuvo Heikkilä took an interest in container logistics. At that time, containers were inspected visually and companies had already started to look for more efficient solutions. Heikkilä, who had studied vibration technology, wanted to use his technical skills to improve the methods of container inspections.
“I knew nothing about container logistics and the related challenges, but I was familiar with vibration technology and started to explore the opportunities. I requested a study on windmill blade vibrations from Lappeenranta University of Technology. I also ordered studies from NASA and MIT on topics such as investigating the condition of the Space Shuttle. I then played around with these ideas,” explains Heikkilä.
Heikkilä’s research and development resulted in an application based on vibration technology that enables a quick and precise analysis of containers without the need for unnecessary transport. Heikkilä patented his invention in 2013. That same year, Heikkilä founded ConexBird Ltd. and continues to work as its CEO. The company aims to transform global container logistics.
AI learns from data
Vibration analysis can be explained using an everyday example.
“In restaurants, waiters tap on crystal glasses to hear them ring. From the sound alone, an experienced waiter can tell whether a glass is intact or frail. We use that same idea,” explains Heikkilä.
The ConexBird method uses a small hammer to strike equipment attached to a port crane. The equipment delivers the impact to the container under investigation and, just like a glass in a waiter’s hand, the container resonates.
“We have extremely sensitive sensors that produce data to the cloud. Everything is based on the customer telling us which anomaly they are looking for. The algorithms can also see things that are invisible to us.”
“The algorithms learn, for example, that a specific sound means that the container’s hinges are broken. In practice, AI learns from data, and we already have tens if not hundreds of thousands of data points on what various issues sound like,” says Jarkko Aro, Member of the Board at ConexBird and expert in global logistics.
The technology developed by ConexBird can literally make containers ring. Like crystal glasses, containers can be subjected to vibration analysis in order to listen to their condition. The invention also introduces a completely new scope in container inspections. The scope can be used to examine metal fatigue, in other words, to assess the condition and service life of the container material. This was not possible before.
The contents of containers can also be analyzed on the basis of sound. In the future, contents analysis can be used to screen hazardous, flammable substances not listed in a waybill and ensure that the cargo has been fastened correctly.
Protecting the environment
ConexBird’s container analysis solution helps owners keep their containers in good condition and in active use. Faulty containers can be repaired immediately and returned to traffic quickly.
“On average, containers spend four weeks at sea and then six to eight weeks at a depot, during inspection or waiting to be inspected. Being able to handle the same logistics and cargo volumes with a smaller number of containers leads to considerable savings. Moreover, structurally sound containers eliminate the need for unnecessary transports,” says Heikkilä.
Ready for global impact
ConexBird’s years of product development and testing are starting to pay off. The market is waking up to the application and it is attracting interest from around the world. One of the key new partners is the Dubai-based DP World that operates at the Port of Jebel Ali, one of the busiest ports in the world.
“The typical story of Finnish startups is that the companies focus on superb engineering and produce innovative machinery but don’t know how to promote their solutions internationally. We now find ourselves in a happy situation where we have actually entered the global market. Teuvo has worked for many years and conducted research and development at ports and in the lab. Our success is based on much more than simple hype,” says Aro.
“Our team has invented and implemented something that the world has never seen before. We have now reached a point where the technology is ready and we can now translate it into business,” says Heikkilä.
ANALYZING A CONTAINER BY LISTENING
- ConexBird’s application based on vibration technology analyzes shipping containers quickly and precisely
without any unnecessary transport.
- A small hammer strikes equipment that is attached to a port crane. This delivers the impact to the container, which then resonates back.
- Vibration analysis can be used to determine the condition of the container.
- The invention can also be used to examine metal fatigue, in other words, to assess the container material and its service life.
- The container analysis solution helps owners keep their containers in good condition and in active use.