ORBCOMM is by far and away the dominant player in the field of remote reefer monitoring and control if, for no other reason than it provides Maersk Line’s fleet of almost 300,000 reefers with Remote Container Management technology. Based in New Rochelle, NJ, ORBCOMM is a satellite operator, leading developer and provider of machine-to-machine technology and an aggressive advocate of the Internet of Things. But it bought its way into Remote Container Management, acquiring WAM Technologies in October 2015, for $8.7 million. Based in Skillman, NJ, WAM had developed its offering more than a decade back.
In an interview, Al Tama, the company’s senior director, product management, and a former WAM general manager who oversaw the deployment of the telemetry control and monitoring system in Maersk ships, traces remote monitoring of reefers back even further, to the 1980s and a technology called power line technology, where a power grid is established in an area where reefers are placed. Very basic information like temperature could be transmitted short distances.
These days, remote container management units monitor and control the micro-controllers that are embedded in a reefer, insuring the temperature, humidity and atmospheric levels remain precise and constant. The RCM system monitors more and more functions as reefers themselves become more sophisticated.
“The reefer manufacturers are evolving their technology,” Tama said. “As a result, that enhances our solution, organically, because we are fully embedded with the controller.”
This year, ORBCOMM is beginning to offer a temporary version of its remote telematics controller, one that can be slapped onto the magnetic posts on a reefer’s exterior in seconds. It provides the same functions as the permanently installed unit. It’s designed to fill in gaps, such as ships that may be carrying reefers that they don’t own.
The wider and deeper acceptance and use of remote container management is made possible by advances in cellular technology and cloud computing. ORBCOMM offers its management system in conjunction with technology that provides a vessel with its own cellular network, enabling the ship to upload data to a satellite.
But it also reflects an increased emphasis on data gathering and analytics, Tama said. ORBCOMM’s system enables vessel operators and other interested parties what Tama called a “breadcrumb trace.” Information is transmitted every five minutes, 15 minutes, or every hour, depending on how much data is of interest. That gives operators and shippers not only assurance as to the cargo’s integrity, but insight into how the reefers function over time, and, by extension, the cargo inside.
“The future is data, data, data,” Tama said. “It’s not just reefers in a silo, it’s adding it to the ecosystem of the customer, the shipping line, who owns the commodity.”