The Role of Drones in Container Inspections and Maintenance

Exploring the Role of Drones in Container Inspections and Maintenance

Shipping containers are significant assets in the shipping industry and carry shipments across borders. These freight containers must be duly maintained and repaired to continue international trade seamlessly. Container inspections are performed at container depots or transportation hubs to address any container damage caused during shipping. It helps in knowing if the health of the freight container is intact and in addressing potential maintenance and repairs. It is challenging for workers to carry out container inspections for many containers. Therefore, drones are being deployed for the task. Let us discuss the role of drones in container inspections. 

What do you mean by container inspection? 

Container inspection is a procedure to evaluate the health of shipping containers stored at container depots or transportation hubs. After the shipping containers are unloaded from their mode of transport, all the shipments are removed carefully. Once the cargo unloading process is completed, the container must be stored temporarily until the next shipment batch is ready for loading. During this time, a thorough examination of shipping containers is performed to ensure that the containers are fit for further international shipments. The container inspection is performed- 

  • To ensure container integrity by checking handles and locking bars. 
  • To check for rust, dents or holes. 
  • To ensure all parts are intact. 
  • To prevent the container from complying with ISO standards of shipping containers. 

Importance of maintenance in shipping containers 

During container inspection, the supervisor needs to look out for any potential container damage that requires maintenance and repairs. Upon locating any damages, the authorities send the container for maintenance and repairs to make it suitable for intermodal transportation. Maintenance of shipping containers is necessary for the following reasons- 

  1. It helps ensure that the container is in sound condition with no damage to the structural integrity. If there are any, it is duly repaired to prevent cargo damage during transportation. 
  2. Any wear or tear can be hazardous to manual workers during container loading, unloading and handling. Therefore, containers must be free from issues that may risk human life. 
  3. Timely maintenance and scheduled repairs must not be overlooked. The average lifespan of a shipping container is 25 years, but it shortens if the container is in bad condition. Proper maintenance and repairs help in restoring the life of containers. 
  4. Containers may suffer delays and penalties if they fail to comply with the ISO standards during cross-border trade. Owners ensure the containers are maintained to avoid shipment delays and extra charges. 
  5. Containers carry different types of cargo, including food and pharmaceuticals, which may cause contamination in containers. Therefore, cleaning and sanitising containers is necessary to avoid pest infestations. Maintenance helps eliminate unsanitary issues that may lurk inside the container when locked and stored for days. 

Since maintenance and repairs of shipping containers is a vital activity in the shipping industry, the supply chain management focused on integrating technology to improve container inspection. Further in the blog, we will focus on the role of drones in container inspections, but first, let us know the challenges of container inspection.

Challenges in container inspection  

Container inspections occur at two levels- one is for empty containers, which are checked for container maintenance and repairs. The other sort of container inspection takes place during container unloading and loading to ensure that the containers are packed per ISO guidelines. 

  1. High volumes of containers– Container terminals, depots and transportation hubs witness an influx of shipping containers during the trade season, and it becomes challenging to inspect each container thoroughly in all aspects. For significant shipping ports, it becomes even more difficult to check containers since they receive heavy numbers of containers from across the globe. 
  2. Physical inspection– During container loading and unloading, it becomes difficult to physically examine each aspect of the shipping containers by climbing onto roofs or checking corners, especially in high cube shipping containers. It becomes difficult for workers to scan each container in a pool of containers manually. 
  3. Human errors– Since plenty of containers at depots and hubs are waiting to be scanned, workers find it challenging to oversee and tick every box of container inspection. Much of it gets skipped at times when the line of containers is vast. It results in unaddressed container issues and delays instead of getting through with the needed maintenance and repairs. 
  4. Time-consuming– If all containers are to be inspected based on the ISO inspection list, it will consume a significant amount of time to scan every empty container and those in the process of loading or unloading. It can lead to port congestion and delays in shipment. 
  5. Health risks– For containers carrying hazardous chemicals, specifically tank containers in shipping, the workers risk getting exposed to dangerous substances or biological contaminants. The structure of tank containers makes it difficult for workers to enter and physically inspect them. 

To overcome all these challenges in container inspection, drones have proven to be a potential solution that offers unlimited coverage to every nook and corner of the container. Let us analyse the role of drones in container inspections. 

What is a drone, in simple words? 

It is also widely known as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). A drone is a remotely controlled unmanned aircraft designed to function unpiloted and relies on software for its autonomous flight. These remote-controlled devices are highly beneficial in getting an aerial view of things and places to expand the visual horizon and reach places manual workers cannot easily explore. Drones can fly on automated commands or can be remotely in control of a pilot. Container inspections are challenging for workers to perform manually, and drones act as a resourceful solution in helping the shipping industry. It helps in increasing productivity efficiency and saving a significant amount of time in container inspection. Drones are used as modern container inspection methods to examine every aspect of shipping containers. 

What is the role of drones in container inspections? 

  1. Provides aerial view– There are possible anomalies in shipping containers that cannot be addressed from ground view and often get ignored during manual inspection. Using drone technology advancements, shipping containers placed in container yards or depots can assess shipping container health. Technical experts can control drones via remotes or automation and can provide a 360-degree view of shipping containers to inspection authorities. It enables proper inspection of all container parts and checks if any part needs repairs. 
  2. Timely inspections– Container inspection using drones helps in enhancing supply chain efficiency as drones facilitate rapid assessment. While manual workers may take longer to scan containers placed in large areas and stacks, drones can inspect the same number of containers in significantly less time. It helps speed up cargo loading and unloading and accounts for timely maintenance and repairs if necessary. 
  3. Thermal imaging– One of the main benefits of integrating technology in container inspection is risk mitigation with drones. The thermal imaging cameras attached to drones can help trace temperature variations in the container. After sealing shipping containers, inspecting containers for any illegal activities becomes challenging. In such situations, drone imaging technology can detect illegal substances or people inside containers. 
  4. Easy accessibility– It is difficult for humans to physically access every corner and top of the freight containers. Container inspection through drones ensures regulatory compliance by giving a detailed view of shipping containers so that shipping companies can maintain and repair containers. Empty containers laid in stacks are beyond human reach. Therefore, drones are deployed to make thorough inspections. 
  5. Lowering investments– Drones can significantly reduce container inspection and maintenance costs. Although it requires a higher one-time investment, it helps collect data to perform predictive maintenance, reducing significant investments caused by container damage. Moreover, the money spent on manual workers for inspection also gets saved. The ROI of drone-based maintenance is relatively high as compared to manual. 
  6. Environmental friendly– Drone inspection has many environmental benefits, as drones can be equipped with sensors to detect chemical spills or leaks from containers. It is beneficial in inspecting tank containers where manual inspection for safety and maintenance purposes is complex.  
  7. Remote monitoring– Containers lying in stacks are hard to reach manually; sometimes, the containers are surrounded by so many other containers that it is beyond access. Drones are helpful in cargo container monitoring and can be controlled using remote controls. 

These are the advantages and role of drones in container inspections that help in prompt maintenance and repairs to avoid any disruptions in the supply chain due to delays caused by faulty shipping containers.

 LOTUS Containers is a global brand in the field of providing shipping container services. We are dedicated to selling and leasing different types of shipping containers in a range of dimensions.

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