Horizon Lines Tracks Temps with Real-Time GPS Solution

By David Vaczek
Senior Editor

Horizon Lines Inc. (Charlotte, NC) has launched a solution for remote tracking and real-time temperature monitoring of cold-chain shipments. The carrier’s ReeferPlus GPS solution enables two-way communication for remotely configuring container reporting and adjusting settings.

Horizon is testing ReeferPlus GPS with a pharmaceutical company shipping in Horizon’s Puerto Rico marine trade lanes to mainland destinations, says Rick Kessler, vice president of service delivery and CIO. “We can provide the visibility and control that pharmaceutical companies need in a multimodal end-to-end solution,” he says.

Horizon Lines' ReeferPlus GPS solution is monitoring pharma shipments on the carrier's Puerto Rico marine routes.

ReeferPlus GPS deploys technology from Impeva Labs Inc. (Mountain View, CA) that supports continuous reporting on container locations and cold chain status. A Global Sentinel Unit (GSU) attached to the container interfaces with the refrigerated container, also known as the reefer, controller. The solution includes wireless sensors for door stage management, and mesh RFID tags for message transfer between tagged containers.

Kessler says Horizon is in a second phase of testing and implementation. Fifty GSU-enabled reefers are dedicated for shipments embarking from San Juan. Four Horizon cargo vessels call from the port to Jacksonville, FL; Elizabeth, NJ; and Houston, TX.

The first phase confirmed the visibility of the units over land and water, and validated GSU alerts on temperature and humidity deviations. In phase 2, the system will integrate with an event engine that supported the carrier’s shipment tracking. The event engine posts information against a trip plan.

ReeferPlus GPS builds out trip plan information, as conditions are reported in real time from the field. “We are adding events we didn’t have visibility to before, and replacing events that people have been keying in. We can receive reports on container status by the hour, or for that matter, by the minute,” Kessler says.

“We don’t have to rely on monitoring by various personnel at established checkpoints. If the customer books the temperature for 34˚, and it’s set incorrectly at a staging point, we can catch it early in the cycle,” he adds.

“If a pharma customer wants to move three containers, our service delivery group in Dallas sees when the containers are dispatched from our terminal in San Juan. We will see the doors open, the customer set the temperature, and the doors close. The container is tracked back to our yard,” Kessler says. Overland itineraries are geofenced, meaning that GPS signals trigger an alert if the trucker diverges from a preset route.

“Once we complete our phase 2 work, we will make a business case for rolling ReeferPlus GPS out to the rest of the 5200 reefers in our fleet,” Kessler says.  As it interfaces with the reefer’s controller for control-setting and ambient monitoring, the GSU monitors internal conditions independently from the controller.

“If the set point is changed, the user gets an immediate alert and can send a command to reset it. Using the two-way communications capability, you can update business rules while the unit is in the field,” says Eric Topp, director, sales and business development, Impeva Labs.

Geozones loaded to the GSU program the units to message when certain events occur, he adds.

Kessler foresees operational efficiencies, as ReeferPlus GPS is staged for expanded use. Pharma containers are currently checked manually by vessel crew chiefs or truck drivers every few hours. Such monitoring can be dangerous on Horizon’s Alaska ocean routes in inclement weather.

ReeferPlus GPS will support vessel bridge-to-container communications the carrier is planning. Chief mates in this system would only need to check containers flagged as falling out of parameters.

Kessler says the solution will be used to improve visibility on an inventory of 16,000 dry boxes. GSUs on the reefers will report on the location of dry boxes outfitted with the low-cost mesh tags. ■

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