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Preventing the Next Shipping Container Cargo Crunch with 3D Imaging Tech

Visualization software can help smooth out kinks in supply chain management

If the shelves at your favourite stores are looking a little bare or you’re encountering sticker shock over your latest grocery bills then you’re not alone. A global supply chain crunch is making delivering imports tougher than usual and driving up costs of certain goods higher for anyone lucky enough to find what they need.

A perfect storm of COVID-19 outbreaks and labour shortages going back to the summer has resulted in shipping container delays and rising costs in major ports in the U.S. and China. Ningbo-Zhoushan Port, located south of Shanghai, shut down for two weeks in August 11 after a dock worker tested positive for COVID-19. It’s the world’s third-largest shipping container port with a volume of 27.5 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), according to Shipa Freight.


This is likely to be felt via rising prices and continuing shortages of certain goods, including in the Christmas trade.

In Southern California, a 73-boat backlog has popped up due to a lack of dock workers able to unload cargo containers. Cargo ships have been stuck outside the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach for up to three weeks just to upload their goods, reports the Wall Street Journal. A lack of storage space has prompted shipping companies to jack up the prices, leaving shoppers footing the bill in the end.

“The terminal closures in China are leaving their mark and dampening the exchange of goods,” said Vincent Stamer, head of Kiel Trade Indicator, a German think tank. 

“There are no signs of a sustained easing of the situation, which clouds the outlook for international trade. This is likely to be felt via rising prices and continuing shortages of certain goods, including in the Christmas trade.”


Exposing The 'Frailty' of the system

While cargo ship jams and closed ports are recent examples of the supply chain crunch, the root causes can be traced back to the early days of the pandemic, according to M. Johnny Rungtusanatham, the Canada Research Chair in Supply Chain Management and a professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University.

“The pandemic stifled demand for certain goods and as we are coming out of the pandemic, we’re seeing demand peak… a lot of the manufacturing capacity that was already tight before has become tighter and there are new shocks in the system,” said Rungtusanatham. 

Rungtusanatham points to a myriad of factors behind the stress in the supply chain, such as an energy crisis in China, labour strikes at ports, a pivot to creating personal protective equipment and government financial assistance funding people’s spending habits.

“It’s a confluence of factors that have exposed the frailty of supply chains and supply chains are very long and are a small number of critically placed nodes. That’s the situation we’re in right now.”

How 3d Technology Can Help

We can increase our resiliency to such supply chain disruptions if we leverage technology better.

While there aren’t many quick fixes to getting the supply chain running back up to pre-COVID-19 levels, visualization technology, when paired with the right data, can help avoid future headaches, according to Raza Jafri, CEO and founder of 3D CityScapes.

“Whether it’s a seaport, airport, manufacturing facility, or the entire supply chain, visualizing can greatly and effectively help you make better decisions around the movement of goods and services,” said Jafri. 

“We can increase our resiliency to such supply chain disruptions if we leverage technology better. 3D CityScapes creates a front-end visualization to decipher this information in the most meaningful, efficient, effective, and clean way possible.”

Some of that information is readily available. When it comes to keeping seaport and terminals operational, workers collect data like the number of boats approaching and leaving the port, loading and unloading operations, customs and port call administration, along with surrounding road and railway traffic.

But even with all that information, seaport and shipping authorities are still operating with an incomplete picture, according to some marine data specialists.


A screenshot from 3D CityScapes' partnership with Sinay on making a digital twin of a smartport. (Photo credit: 3D CityScapes)

“Ports are often relying their activities on geographical based software (GIS). However, these technologies only provide 2D visualization with limited possibility to see three-dimensional data such as bathymetry (seabed depth),” said Marie Besson-Leaud and Jacques Everwyn with Sinay Maritime Data Solutions. (Disclaimer: Sinay is one of 3D CityScapes clients.) 

“It is common for port authorities to have [an incomplete] awareness on their environment in relation with their activities.”


What Needs To Come Next

Besson-Leaud and Everwyn say companies looking to avoid future cargo shipping jams like the one in California should focus on vessel visibility by paying closer attention to collecting and tracking automatic identification system (AIS) and the prediction of estimate time of arrivals and departures. 

With global shipping traffic expected to grow anywhere between 240 per cent and 1209 per cent by 2050, depending on the country, digitization will be become increasingly crucial. 

Once that information is collected, it can then connect to a digital twin of a seaport that allows owners to monitor the situation but more importantly, predict and simulate operations in a worst-case scenario. 

In the meantime, the worst-case scenario shoppers can expect is having to pay more at the stores this holiday season, according to Professor Rungtusanatham. 

Things are going to get a little more expensive because the cost of bringing goods to the shelves is going up.”

What items have you noticed gone up in prices lately? Have your deliveries been delayed more frequently? Let us know in the comments below. 

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