Shippers’ demands for better supply chain visibility have convinced several tank container sector operators to work together to develop common standards, with tank operators now taking the first steps in the right direction.
The European Chemicals Transport Association (ECTA) is now running an initiative to improve end-to-end supply chain visibility and collaboration between chemical bulk liquids Logistics Service Providers (LSPs).
The goal of the initiative is to create common transport message definitions to improve supply chain visibility and the flow of real-time information. The initiative wants to provide a framework of common definitions for all business partners involved in the supply chain, to allow digital information-sharing with an underlying interoperable technical format.
In the view of Drewry’s ISO tanks and e-business experts, this initiative is significant and addresses major industry needs. Supply chain visibility is the use of smart technology and smart data to provide an end-to-end visibility of the entire supply chain to LSPs, their customers and suppliers, through online platforms and standardised and better messaging. In a modern supply chain participants want “everything now”, real-time key data is critical, whilst at the same time different supply chain participants may require different data and different time scales.
There are a number of challenges for the tank container industry, though. There are currently several different solutions used by different tank container operators, though often operating the same type of equipment in the same markets or regions. Many systems are insufficient and are lacking interoperability; they are not standardized; and they do not provide sufficient connectivity. There is no general (data and system) standardisation or connectivity and exchangeability between different parties in a supply chain.
ECTA’s initial focus is on supply chain visibility, to define information standards between LSP and their customers (such as producers, buyers, traders, load and delivery places), as well as between LSP and their suppliers (such as shipping lines, depots, road transport companies, rail companies and terminals).
ECTA and its partners hope to complete this initial phase in early 2020.
In phase II, ECTA aims to further look into standardisation of other areas of the logistics process to achieve an increase in overall efficiency. This would include standardisation of trucking and other third-party supplier information messages, transparency on throughput times and real-time wait times at plants, depots, terminal, etc…, standardisation of electronic documents and/or alignment with existing formats, standardisation of operational performance measurements, the development of industry standards on measurement of sustainability, safety and quality, and others.
Drewry believes that there is ground for careful optimism, as this is an important first step in the right direction – to develop a common standard for supply chain visibility in the tank container market.
Three global tank containers have already joined the initiative (see table), but other leading tank container operators are nor involved in the initiative, yet. It is also worth pointing out that no tank container leasing companies and no chemical shippers are currently involved in the initiative.
A number of tank operators are not members of ECTA. However, all tank container operators are members of ITCO (International Tank Container Organisation) and ITCO in return is a member of ECTA, so there is a bridge to attract more supporters and spread the standards over time.
But the current lack of involvement of non-European tank operators could potentially limit or even jeopardise the overall success of the project. The remaining operators, i.e. operators outside ECTA, may not readily adopt standards developed by a Europe-only organisation and a small number of tank container operators.
For the visibility project to gain critical mass and deliver the industry-wide benefits, it is essential that as many tank container operators as possible sign up to the initiative.