Options and opportunities of container weight verification



Adrian Coventry, director of engineering, Strainstall Marine, Cowes, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom


There can be little argument that the international cargo handling industry stands on the verge of one of the most significant changes since the advent of containerisation. Until now, cargoes have been shipped based on the container weights declared on the advance booking information provided by shippers. Vessel stowage plans and port operations are typically based on these pre-declared weights which can vary significantly from the actual mass of the cargo transported. The consequent risk to the health and safety of seafarers and port operatives is clearly apparent.

An imperative for change

As a result, the need for a robust system of checking and verifying the weight of each container throughout its transit from shipper to receiver is now demanded by public and political opinion, and is almost universally accepted by the industry too. This consensus is extremely timely as recent technological developments mean that the accuracy and robustness of potential weight verification solutions is far better now than was previously the case. There are also very significant opportunities for the integration and automation of port, terminal and vessel stowage operations that may be facilitated through the implementation of container weight verification technology. The key outstanding questions however, are how to establish robust and meaningful regulation and which technologies to implement in each port.

In order to inform discussion on both these questions, Strainstall published a white paper entitled: ‘Taking the load off: technology options, costs and opportunities for the implementation of container weight verification’. This paper, which was launched at a meeting in London of the International Cargo Handling Coordination Association (ICHCA), is intended as an objective assessment of the opportunities and requi rements of container weight verification implementation. It is now freely
available to the global shipping industry and it is hoped, will add valuable insights to the ongoing debate on this subject. 

Why regulation must be technology-neutral

The concept of technology neutrality is a widely accepted principle of effective regulation. While there remains much debate on particular technologies and their respective benefits, it is crucial that regulators avoid the temptation to ‘pick winners’. Instead, regulation should be expressed in a manner that specifies the outcomes required, such as measurement accuracy, repeatability, speed and acceptable calibration methods etc. as opposed to prescribing the precise means of achieving these objectives.

There are three key reasons why this is fundamentally important. Firstly, container weight verification technology is at a comparatively early stage of development, with many different systems offering complementary cost, benefit and return on investment profiles in different usage contexts. In short, it appears that there is no single ‘silver bullet’ technology that will be appropriate to every port and every cargo type. Secondly, regulating in a technology neutral manner will enable and facilitate future innovation by the load measurement industry as manufacturers will be free to develop new technological solutions that meet regulatory compliance while offering additional benefits of reduced cost or additional functionality. Finally, such an approach will enable port operators to select weight verification technology solutions that achieve regulatory compliance while also opening the way for the development of fundamentally new services and exploitation of process automation and integration opportunities beyond the immediate scope of weight verification.

Skills and investment considerations

The precise mix of existing capital equipment and operating processes is likely to be one of the primary considerations for port and terminal operators in achieving future container weight verification compliance. There is little chance of wholesale reinvestment in cargo handling equipment, so the compatibility of any technology solution with existing lifting equipment will be crucial.

A further key issue is that of operator skills requirements, with many current mechanical handling roles being either low or semi-skilled. Whether the implementation of container weight verification influences the skills required of lifting equipment operators will depend heavily on the precise mode of implementation. Indeed, if smart port management systems are implemented in tandem with container weight verification, the change may be completely transparent and may not affect manual job functions.

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