Managing empties has become a complicated and increasingly expensive business in Australia. Like most tasks in the supply chain cycle, it involves physical movement, commercial agreements and a series of transactions between different players, including shipping lines, freight forwarders, cargo owners, transport operators, and storage facilities. With this in mind, CTAA, in collaboration with the Victorian Government, hosted a webinar earlier this week where leading industry experts expressed their opinion and suggested new approaches for lasting solutions.
As Australian ports handle over 8 million containers every year and support trade worth millions of dollars, empty container management is a vital function of an efficient and effective port. Issues with empty containers have broader supply chain impacts. Vulnerabilities including a mismatch in operating hours across the empty container supply chain mean squeezing larger numbers of container movement in shorter windows of time, inhibiting the existing storage capacity. Insufficient and inconsistent provisions of electronic data in the Empty Container Parks’ booking system and last-minute redirections also create additional administrative and operational costs to transport operators. But, behavioural practices on their part such as, arriving or scheduling appointments immediately before use, exhaust the ECPs causing delays and congestion.
The Strategic Review Report launched at the virtual event this week, estimates that inefficiencies in New South Wales (NSW) empty container supply chain already result in additional costs worth $49 million per year which is expected to rise by an extra $51 million by 2040.
Despite various improvements in NSW to help alleviate pressures such as, extending operating hours for empty container parks, improvements in booking systems and even the construction of new ECPs, major challenges arose in 2020. Bushfires, the COVID-19 pandemic, bad weather, and industrial action at stevedore terminals, all came at a time when the supply chain was most vulnerable. Short term increase in container storage capacity have not helped either. September 2020 saw extreme circumstances when Port Botany’s empty container parks were packed to the rafters, operating at 119% capacity, leading to a high level of empty container re-directions and even temporary closure of ECPs.
Adam Arkinstall, the Managing Director of Butler Freight Services mentioned the poor access and inflexibility truckers are regularly forced to endure despite increasing dehire costs. Depots’ dismal performance on both truck turnaround time and average days to dehire along with unfair and involuntary delays resulting in detention charges makes business for trucking companies increasingly difficult and less profitable.
Wednesday’s webinar by CTAA featured industry experts like the Founder and Managing Director of MatchBox Exchange, Carl Marchese for his perspective on the latest trends in empty container management at Melbourne Port and viable solutions to remove the current bottlenecks.
To build resilience and give stakeholders more leeway to respond to unexpected events, Marchese suggested MatchBox Exchange, an open-market platform that connects parties for the re-use and exchange of empty containers on the land-side.
While increasing working hours, commencing night shifts and extending opening hours at empty container parks were considered positive initiatives by others, Marchese moved away from the obvious and highlighted how MatchBox Exchange encourages its customers to think differently and work towards creating a better-faster-smarter supply chain.
The talk by Marchese received a positive response with some visitors curious to know how MatchBox Exchange would solve problems like rushed re-directions especially after the empty container makes it to the shipping line via direct dehire. To this, Marchese pointed out that MatchBox Exchange has been working closely with the industry and shipping lines such as CMA CGM to develop further initiatives that provide major trucking companies with the ability to hold containers in their transport yard or depot to optimise the re-use and exchange of containers and establish a more flexible model to evacuate empty containers directly to the port terminal.
Since 2017, the MB online platform has succeeded in facilitating more than 300,000 triangulations of empty containers, and has supported transport companies by increasing productivity and bringing additional value to their business.
After considering the views of every participant, it is evident that stakeholders across the board need to form partnerships to reduce the burden on the supply chain.
Independent performance indicators, improvement in the load-discharge ratio, in conjunction with digital solutions like MatchBox Exchange will all help contribute to a more efficient and resilient container supply chain in Australia.