Accurate to within a few hundred metres

Where precisely at this moment is the shipment with the automobile components for the plant in Shanghai? And what about the Argentinean show horses: Have they landed safely in Germany, and are they already on the autobahn in their special truck? Customers have been able to receive definite answers to questions such as these with just a few clicks of the mouse since November 2013 – via the web portal www.lufthansa-cargo.com/realtime.

Realtime Tracking is the new service that pinpoints the position data of shipments in real time. It is accurate to within a few hundred metres – virtually all over the world. The tracking service extends across the entire supply chain, including the logistics processes prior to and after shipping. It provides helpful information, particularly in the case of shipments involving time-sensitive and valuable freight. “The experience and customer feedback from the first six months have been very positive,” says Niko Hossain of Technology and Innovation, FRA F / OH-S at Lufthansa Cargo. As Project Manager, after the technical development he has also supported the Product Management Express & Standard in launching the service.

This is all made possible by a small device that is enclosed with the consignment. Weighing just 46 grammes, the apparatus is scarcely larger than a credit card and is permanently wrapped in a padded envelope. “The reason why the tracking device is so accurate is because it uses the mobile communications standard GSM,” explains Niko Hossain. While the GSM standard might be less well-known than GPS, it has the advantage of functioning reliably even under difficult conditions, for example, in enclosed spaces or in containers – a key advantage where airfreight consignments are concerned.
“What makes our device unique is that it is currently the only one in the world to comply with the exacting standards issued by EASA, the European Aviation Safety Agency,” says Martina Vollbrecht, who is both head of Product Management Standard & Express at Lufthansa Cargo and in charge of the Realtime Tracking project.

“Our device meets the highest specifications in terms of aviation security, which was especially important to us.” In accordance with the requirements issued by the aviation authorities, the device automatically switches off once it is onboard and then switches on again after the aircraft has landed. Customers can use Realtime Tracking without having to purchase devices or invest in infrastructure such as software, for example. Once a customer has completed the one-time registration process for this service, he can order the tracking devices on a rental basis with a minimum order quantity of 20 devices. These are then forwarded by courier. Niko Hossain explains,“this means that customers incur only limited, assigned costs and ultimately bear no investment risk.”

The Realtime Tracking device is activated when the user presses a button on the rear of the padded envelope. From this moment on, the device emits signals that are geolocated by cell towers. Once the consignment has reached its destination, the tracking process is deactivated using the same button. The user then drops the stamped, addressed envelope in a mailbox or takes it to his local post office. From there, the rented device is sent back to the manufacturer where it is serviced, if needed. This compact tracking device also stands out in terms of handling. “It is very robust and won’t suffer any damage even if it is accidentally dropped on a hard surface,” says Hossain. The tracking portal, an Internet application, is immediately operational and no installation is needed. It can be accessed anywhere and from any computer. Each customer is provided with his own account allowing him to monitor all highly sensitive shipments at a single glance.

Plans are underway to expand the service even more. “We are already working on integrating other functions”, says Martina Vollbrecht. In future, additional sensors will be able to record the ambient environmental conditions of the consignment. Also, customers will receive automatically generated status reports once the consignment has reached its target destination. In doing so, the device will make use of a technology also known as geofencing.