Transparency Via ULD

Swiss company Unilode Aviation Solutions has won the IATA Air Cargo Innovation Awards for its digital transformation concept. Unit Load Devices (ULD) are fitted with Bluetooth tags that enable continuous tracking of loading equipment on the ground and in the air.

Unilode is the world’s leading provider for the management and maintenance of air freight containers and pallets known as Unit Load Devices. There are more than 125,000 pallets and containers in Uniload’s ULD pool, which are used by 45 airlines and 480 airports worldwide. In addition, Unilode has a network of 30 of its own workshops and 20 belonging to partners, and is one of the leading providers of repair and maintenance services for loading equipment and galley carts.

This year, Unilode is presenting its “Digital Transformation” concept at the World Cargo Symposium 2019 in Singapore. Based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) 5.0 technology, Unilode is aiming to improve ULD management with automated circulation control. To achieve this, all Unilode loading equipment will be equipped with Bluetooth tags, allowing continuous, automated tracking both on the ground and in the air.

This means that both the airline and Unilode’s Global Control Centre in Bangkok know where ULDs are in use, which helps with scheduling and reduces the risk of loss or damage. If required, the digitized ULDs also provide additional information, such as temperature fluctuations for sensitive cargo.

Benoît Dumont, Unilode’s CEO describes the new process as similar to road traffic: “The device corresponds to the car, the data transfer network to the road, and the data evaluation to the cockpit.” The innovation is that the Bluetooth tag is built directly into the pallets and containers and does not affect the functionality of the loading equipment. Power is supplied by batteries that last about five years.

So that the ‘car’ can drive on the ‘road’, customers also receive the corresponding reading devices for the Bluetooth tags. The applications for evaluating data can be installed both stationary or on mobile devices. “This was not possible with previous GPRS solutions, and was also very expensive, as they use disposable tags,” Dumont explains. “We can drive on any ‘road’. This is comparable to the various mobile networks, which can also be used with any smartphone. We deliver complete systems with all available components, which can then be activated by the customer as required.”

In addition to position data, additional information such as temperature or collision data can be transmitted. The system sends a signal every eight minutes. “Our solution can also fly,” says Dumont. This continuous monitoring option is especially useful for perishable goods or the transport of animals.

The plan is to digitize the entire Unilode ULD fleet. “Our advantage is that we have access to the largest ULD fleet in the world. A market share of 20 to 25 percent is needed to establish an industrial standard. Once we have digitized all our ULDs, we will be well above this level.” Then it would also be possible to capture the location and status of each individual container and display them on the world map. At present, the overview of stock availability is not yet optimal.

In November 2018, Unilode Bluetooth Tracking was tested successfully in cooperation with Cathay Pacific. The BLE 5.0 technology was used for the first time on the Hong Kong-Melbourne route. Both fixed and mobile receivers were used for tracking shipments.

Unilode paid special attention to the issue of security when it came to selecting technical components. All Bluetooth tags are certified in accordance with ICAO and IATA specifications and approved for transport in aircraft without additional declaration. Furthermore, the tags classified as Transmitting Personal Electronic Devices (TPED) were successfully tested according to officially recognized test protocols. The test result was also made available to all Unilode customers in order to ensure full transparency.

Unilode has already won several customers for this new technology and the resulting digital transformation process, including Air Canada, AirBridgeCargo, LATAM, SAS and Saudia. According to Dumont Unilode has also acquired three major customers which we will announced shortly. The IATA Air Cargo Innovation Award prize giving ceremony tookplace during the IATA World Cargo Symposium on March 14 in Singapore. The prize of 20,000 US dollars has been awarded every two years since 2015, and was awarded to Unilode in its first year too for its ‘CanTrack’ tracking system.

Text: Corinna Panek
Photos: Unilode