Evaluating the Use of Electronic Door Seals (E-Seals) on Shipping Containers

Evaluating the Use of Electronic Door Seals (E-Seals) on Shipping Containers

Edward McCormack (University of Washington, USA), Mark Jensen (Cambridge Systematics, USA) and Al Hovde (Science Applications International Corporation, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0267-0.ch017
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Abstract

In this study, electronic door seals (E-seals) are tested on shipping containers that traveled through ports, over borders, and on roadways. The findings show that using RFID devices increases supply chain efficiency and improves the security of containerized cargo movements, particularly when E-seals replace common mechanical seals. Before the benefits of E-seals can be realized, several barriers must be addressed. A lack of frequency standards for E-seals is a major problem, hindering their acceptability for global trade. Routine use of E-seals also requires new processes that may slow their acceptance by the shipping industry. Disposable E-seals, which decrease industry concerns about costs and enforcement agency concerns about security by eliminating the need to recycle E-seals, are not common because they must be manufactured in large quantities to be cost effective. Compatibility with existing highway systems could also promote E-seal acceptance, as containers could be tracked on roadways.
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E-Seal Overview

E-seals are transponders that can be used by shippers and enforcement agencies desiring to track shipments and that can also help determine shipment status and shipment integrity. E-seals can report their positions and are able to record the time that they were activated, compromised, or removed (Zhang, Liu, Yu, & Zhang, 2007; Kim et al., 2007). E-seals are electronic replacements for common mechanical container door seals (Figure 1) and use the locking bar on the container’s back door. The European Conference of Ministers of Transport, in a review of container security, noted that E-seals were an “appealing solution” for both security and processing concerns but also called for more technical standards and operational experience before the technology is mandated and concluded that a complicated hardware and software infrastructure must be developed for E-seals to be effective (2005, p. 54).

Figure 1.

Common mechanical container door seal

Different E-seal designs have been developed over the last decade and include devices that communicate by using RFID, infrared, direct contact, long-range cellular, or satellite transmissions. While each seal has its own characteristics, RFID E-seals were selected for the State of Washington test because they were a relatively mature product that showed promise for both increasing container security and reducing processing delays for cargo inspections. The RFID E-seal design involved relatively simple technology that potentially could be mass-produced at a reasonable cost. The RFID E-seal is the most common type in use today because of its reliability and ease of integration with current infrastructure (Wolfe, 2002; Le-Pong & Wu, 2004).

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