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Good vibrations help Conexbird prevent cargo loss

Conexbird’s innovation can be used to gather and analyse data on any container and its cargo without the need for expensive x-ray machines.Istock.com/primeimages

Cargo damage represents a 50-billion-dollar annual problem for the logistics industry. But Finnish startup Conexbird believes it has the answer.

Conexbird’s roots go back to a single newspaper article in 2011. In it a logistics industry chief discussed Nokia’s layoffs in Finland declaring, “We do not have any use for former Nokia engineers”. Little did he know this would inspire Teuvo Heikkilä, a former Nokia employee, to prove him wrong.

“Teuvo got so aggravated by the comment he started to look into how his skills could be used to revolutionise the logistics industry,” explains Niko Polvinen, business development officer at Conexbird. “He noticed the industry was introducing x-ray machines, which cost millions of euros, even though the same results could be reached with vibration technology.”

Conexbird was founded two years later and today its patented vibration-based technology can be used instead of x-rays to examine the structure of containers, condition of their cargo and binding quality. Together with artificial intelligence (AI) and a cloud platform, these form the backbone for the company’s trio of data-driven products which are designed to prevent cargo losses and make the logistics process faster and safer.

It is something the industry has not seen before, says Polvinen: “At the moment our only competition is people manually doing similar jobs.”

Knock on the wall

A simple way to understand how Conexbird’s vibration technology works is to take a wine glass straight from a washing machine. Tap it with a nail and if the sound has changed, the glass has been damaged in the wash. This same principle underpins Conexbird’s electronic hammer, which gently knocks on container walls.

“We have sensors measuring how the sound vibrates,” Polvinen explains. “Then we let our AI collect the data and analyse, for example, whether the lashing has changed since the last knock.”

Conexbird applies this technology, among others, to create ‘virtual seals’ for closed containers. Unlike physical seals on container doors, which are the industry norm, the virtual seal cannot be cheated. Even if a kilo of the cargo is removed (or added), the vibration changes and the cargo owner is alerted through a mobile app.

The same mobile app can also be used to ensure a load is secured correctly. A user takes photos of the load through the app and AI analyses whether the straps are the right type, amount and tightness to get, for example, a 20-tonne ship part safely to its destination.

“If a part falls in the sea or is damaged, a ship or other big construction site may wait six months for a new one,” Polvinen says. “65 per cent of all damages to cargo are somehow related to how it is loaded. We can eliminate this by ensuring the lashing is correct.”

Building autonomous ships

Conexbird launched its first product in late 2016 for the forest industry and now targets all types of shippers, harbours and warehouses.

The company also looks to partner up with logistics operators, such as Finnish Transval, which can integrate Conexbird’s products in their own service packages.

The next step for the company is international expansion. Currently Conexbird is discussing licensing options with two global logistics equipment manufacturers, which could open the gates to harbours worldwide.

For Conexbird, its ultimate aim is a safer and more environmentally friendly logistics chain, particularly as the industry moves towards automated harbours and ships.

“My guess is the change is going to be much faster than forecasted today,” Polvinen says. “Autonomous ships are already developed in Finland and Tesla has said their cars will be self-driving by 2020. Maritime traffic will not be far behind.”

Such developments mean only one thing for Polvinen and Conexbird: “We want to be part of creating the logistics chain of the future.”

Conexbird tackles daily cargo damage problems by collecting essential data from sea containers. Image: Conexbird
By: Eeva Haaramo