Next time you’re doing your grocery shopping and put a bunch of bananas in your trolley, spare a thought for the journey they’ve been on.
Many will have travelled half way round the world tightly packed in containers stacked high on gargantuan cargo ships.
So how do they stay fresh as they traverse the high seas, perhaps for weeks at a time?
Well, there’s a lot of technology involved.
Danish shipping giant Maersk Line equips its 270,000 refrigerated containers – known as reefers – with Remote Container Management (RCM) tech that allows the company to track data such as location, power status, temperature, humidity and ventilation settings, even while at sea.
The reefers wirelessly beam data to a transmitter on the cargo ship, which then relays it to a satellite.
Maersk and other shipping companies have to pay compensation to suppliers if there’s a power outage and a shipment of bananas – or any other perishable foodstuffs – goes bad, so prevention can save millions.
Catja Hjorth Rasmussen, head of RCM at Maersk, says the sensor tech has helped the company remotely spot and remedy 300 instances of temperature malfunction this year. That’s a lot of potentially expensive compensation claims avoided.
“By using the collected data points from RCM we can, via the help of an algorithm, predict the expected condition of the reefers before arrival at our depots,” says Ms Rasmussen.
This helps to achieve much faster turnaround times.
“If a reefer is healthy it goes through a 12 minute visual inspection,” she says, “compared to a six hour full inspection.”
The shipping industry is using a range of such technologies to cut costs and improve efficiency. It needs to.
A global trade slowdown following the financial crash of 2007/8 has seen a reduction in demand for goods, leaving as much as 10% of the container shipping fleet sailing around empty, says Philip Damas, a director at maritime research consultancy, Drewry.
South Korea’s biggest container operator, the Hanjin Shipping Company, filed for bankruptcy in August.