A South African RFID/GPS cross-border logistics and customs solution

Inefficiency of road freight transport is one of the primary factors that hamper the economy of sub-Saharan Africa. Long delays experienced at border posts are the single biggest contributor towards the slow average movement of freight. Cross-border operations are complicated by the conflicting security objectives of customs and border authorities versus efficiency objectives of transport operators. It furthermore suffers from illegal practices involving truck drivers and border officials. In theory the efficiency of cross-border operations can be improved based on the availability of more accurate and complete information – the latter will be possible if different stakeholders can exchange data between currently isolated systems.

Cross-border trade basically comprises 3 distinct but interlinked layers –

An information layer – in which various trade documentation (purchase order, invoice), cargo and conveyance information (packing list, manifest), customs and government regulatory data (declaration, permits) are exchanged between various supply chain entities and the customs authority. These primarily attest to the legal ownership, contract of carriage, reporting and compliance with customs and other regulatory authority formalities (export and import), and delivery at destination.

A logistics layer – for the collection, consolidation, sealing and conveyance of physical cargo from point of despatch via at least two customs control points (export and import), to deconsolidation and delivery at point of destination.

A financial layer – which refers to the monetary exchange flow from buyer (importer) to seller (exporter) according to the terms and conditions of the sale (INCOTERMS). Hmm… no, this does not include ‘bribe’ money.

All three layers are inter-linked and prone to risk at any point of a given transaction. There is also no silver bullet solution to secure supply chains. Moreover, it is a fallacy that Customs and Border Agencies will ever conquer cross-border crime – simply because there are too many angles to monitor. Furthermore, in order to set up cross—border information exchange and joint enforcement operations it is both legally and politically time-consuming. Criminal elements are not hampered by these ‘institutions’, they simply spot the gaps and forge ahead.

One of the areas requiring customs attention is that of chain of custody. In short this implies the formal adoption of the World Customs Organisation’s SAFE Framework principles. Each party with data that needs to be filed with the government for Customs and security screening purposes has responsibilities. Those responsibilities include –

  • Protecting the physical goods from tampering, theft, and damage.
  • Providing appropriate information to government authorities in a timely and accurate manner for security screening purposes.
  • Protecting the information related to the goods from tampering and unauthorized access. This responsibility applies equally to times before, during and after having custody of the goods.

Tenacent RFID Tag

Tenacent RFID Tag

Security seals are an integral part of the chain of custody. The proper grade and application of the security seal is addressed below. Security seals should be inspected by the receiving party at each change of custody for a cargo-laden container. Inspecting a seal requires visual check for signs of tampering, comparison of the seal’s identification number with the cargo documentation, and noting the inspection in the appropriate documentation. More recently the emergence of certain e-seals and container security devices (CSDs) contribute even further to minimizing the amount of ‘physical’ verification required, as they are able to electronically notify the owner of the goods or government authority in the event of an incidence of tampering.

White Paper - GPS-RFID systems for cross-border management of freight consignments

White Paper – GPS-RFID systems for cross-border management of freight consignments

A group of South African specialist engineers have been working closely with transport authorities, logistics specialists, defense experts and customs authorities across the globe. Their e-seal is patented in no less than 16 high volume countries. It is produced in Singapore, China and Indonesia depending on politics, free-trade agreements and demand. May move some to Brazil and US in time. Proof of concept (POC) initiatives are currently underway in Brazil for rail cargo, US Marine Corps for their p-RFID program and other Department of Defense divisions in the USA, and will shortly be included in one of the GSA agreements making it available to any government department in the US. Further adrift, the e-seal is also currently enjoying interest in Guatemala, Mexico, Canada, Panama, Jordan, Italy, Spain, and Malaysia. Here, in South Africa, a POC was conducted at the 1st autogate at Durban Container Terminal, funded by the North West University, and overseen with successfully achieved objectives by Transnet Port Terminals. For technical details of the RFID seal, click here!

With much anticipated success abroad, how much support will this product attain in the local and sub-Saharan African scene? Government authorities, as well as logistics and supply chain operators are therefore encouraged to study the enclosed ‘white paper’ – Click Here!. It firstly quantifies the size of the problem and estimates the potential economic benefits that will be created by improved cross-border operations. It then proposes a combined GPS/RFID system that can provide the required level of visibility to support improved operational management, resulting in a simultaneous increase in the security and efficiency of cross-border freight operations. A brief cost-benefits analysis is performed to show that the expected benefits from such a system will by far exceed the costs of implementation. Source: Tenacent & iPico

Outcome of Revision of ISO Seal Standard closes 23 December

High security bolt seal on Shipping_container.

High security bolt seal on Shipping container. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The International Seal Manufacturers Association has informed that ISO is conducting an up-or-down ballot on an important revision to ISO17712. The revision addresses the difficulties with implementing Clause 6 of ISO 17712:2000.

The essence of the revision is –

  • The revision removes the requirement for independent lab testing for tamper evidence.
  • The revision adds a mandatory requirement for development and approval of tamper evident improvement programs. The programs must pass independent audits in accordance with ISO 9001 and ISO 17712 Normative Annex A, “Seal manufacturers’ security-related practices.” Audits would review the results of any internal testing related to tamper-evident features.

The mandatory requirement applies to high security “H” seals, which are most relevant to marine containers. Indicative “I” and Security “S” seal participation is optional in this proposed amendment.

The ballot is for ISO FDIS 17712; a FDIS is a Final Draft International Standard. Ballots are cast by national standards bodies such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the British Standards Institute (BSI), “one nation, one vote”. Each national body determines its vote by its own procedures, usually based on a poll of its members. Since the ballot closes 23 December, we expect the results to be known early in January. 

Big Brother – Robot Mosquito Spy Drones

Reports indicate that the US military has poured huge sums of money into surveillance drone miniaturization and is developing micro aircraft which now come in a swarm of bug-sized flying spies.

According to various internet sources, a team of researchers at the Johns Hopkins University in conjunction with the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Arlington, Virginia, is helping develop what they are calling a micro aerial vehicle (MAV) that will undertake various espionage tasks.

The robotic insect can effortlessly infiltrate urban areas, where dense concentrations of buildings and people, along with unpredictable winds and other obstacles make it impractical.

It can be controlled from a great distance and is equipped with a camera and a built-in microphone.The new device has the capability to land precisely on human skin, use its super-micron sized needle to take DNA samples and fly off again at speed. All people feel is the pain of a mosquito bite without the burning sensation and the swelling of course. The hard-to-detect surveillance drone can also inject a micro radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking device right under skin, and can be used to inject toxins into enemies during wars.

As early as in 2007, the US government was accused of secretly developing robotic insect spies when anti-war protesters in the United States saw some flying objects similar to dragonflies or little helicopters hovering above them. The US is not alone in miniaturizing drones that imitate nature: France, the Netherlands and Israel are also developing similar devices.France has developed flapping wing bio-inspired micro drones. The Netherlands BioMAV (Biologically Inspired AI for Micro Aerial Vehicles) has also built Parrot AR drones.

Meanwhile, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has produced a butterfly-shaped drone, weighing just 20 grams, which can gather intelligence inside buildings.
The insect drone, with its 0.15-gram camera and memory card, is managed remotely with a special helmet. Putting on the helmet, the operator finds themselves in the “butterfly’s cockpit” and virtually sees what the butterfly sees in real time.Source: http://www.theintelhub.com

 

Royal Malaysian Customs implements Smartag Solution

Smartag Solutions, a homegrown total radio frequency identification (RFID) solutions provider, will handle 1.3 million containers at all Royal Malaysian Customs (JDKM) checkpoints in Malaysia starting June.The company has entered into a two-year agreement with the government to implement and operate the Container Security and Trade Facilitation System using its RFID solutions at the JDKM checkpoints.

This is the first electronic and electrical Entry Point Project, under the 12 National Key Economic Areas to monitor containers and facilitate clearance within domestic ports and selected high volume routes. The enhancement of container security using the RFID track and trace system reduces the risk of terrorism, dangerous chemicals and contraband from reaching borders while increasing the efficiency of container movement through Customs checkpoints.

The system allows users to use the RFID seal to secure their containers when entering, leaving and moving within the country. Smartag Solutions is expected to handle 50 per cent of the total transactions at the Customs approved by JDKM, or 500,000 containers. Source: BTimes.com

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US Customs – Testing new way to decrease border dwell-time for travellers

In an ongoing effort to reduce wait times at the International Bridge, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations will pilot a project to bring vehicles to the inspection booths in less time.
The stop signs will be placed in all three upper lanes and will shorten the “pull up” distance to the booth. This allows vehicles to queue up quicker. “Efficacy in movement is paramount to this project’s success. We are always trying to improve the flow of legitimate traffic while enforcing the laws of the United States,” said Patrick Wilson, CBP Sault Ste. Marie Assistant Port Director.

The Sault Ste Marie port of entry has a unique design that separates commercial traffic from car traffic, creating an upper and lower plaza. The focus of this project will be on the upper plaza only and will not affect the flow of traffic on the lower plaza.

Stop signs will be placed in all three upper lanes beginning Friday, April 20. The stop signs will shorten the “pull up” distance to the booth. This allows vehicles to queue up quicker. The stop signs will be placed near Radio Frequency Identification readers where the traveling public can display their Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative RFID-enabled document to pre-populate the officer’s computer screens.

CBP is testing the theory that they can process more travelers each hour by reducing the amount of time it takes each vehicle to get to the inspecting officer. This pilot project will incorporate a two-stop sign process. Upon entering the upper plaza, vehicles will be required to stop at the first existing stop sign. As the vehicle ahead clears, travelers will move to the next new stop sign and present their ID to the RFID reader. Once the vehicle at the inspection booth clears, travelers will proceed to the inspection booth.

Vehicles with trailers/campers are asked to use the lower plaza lanes so as not to impede the functionality of installed equipment. LED signage will be adjusted to notify motorists of this change.

CBP officers will direct traffic periodically during this project to help educate travelers on this new process. “We continue to look for efficiencies in our processes to improve the border crossing experience. If we can save a couple of seconds of inspection time per vehicle, the time savings should reduce each traveler’s wait,” said Assistant Port Director Wilson. Source: http://www.cbp.com

Ethiopia Customs Authority – RFID programme under review

Officials at the Ethiopian Revenues & Customs Authority (ERCA) have made a turnaround on their earlier plan to compel IT companies to raise 20 million Br in capital if they are to be registered to supply devises for electronic cargo tracking. Troubled by an increasing practice of pilfering goods on the Addis Abeba to Djibouti transport corridor, the ERCA hired an US-based company for 2.5 million dollars to establish an electronic monitoring system. HI-G-TEK developed the system using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), which will help customs officials get real-time information on the activities of trucks to and from Djibouti port. There are around 10,000 trucks with varying carrying capacities, of which half are fuel transporting vehicles. A trucking company has to pay around 20,000 Br, including installation fees, to get the devices in each truck under its fleet.

The US company has installed the system in the six selected stations along the corridor and trained around 30 officers of the Authority. However, the system is yet to be functional, for every truck on the highway should be fitted with electronic tracking devices to be supplied by IT vendors certified by the Authority. In order to be certified, a company is required to have 20 million Br in capital, produce a performance bond worth two million Birr, and have a five-year contract with major IT suppliers, according to the directive issued by the ERCA to regulate the new system. No vendor has been certified, yet, for many see the requirement to raise such lofty capital as an impediment. So far, GCS Tracking Plc, Global Tracking Plc, Ramsea Industrial Solution Plc, and FC Tracking are the companies that have applied to get into the business. The companies are to supply the seals, locks, and compact readers as well as GPRS modems to identify locations of the cargoes.

Subsequent to complaints from the IT industry, legal experts at the ERCA are busying themselves, studying the experiences of other countries, which they hope will be used for possible amendments. However, these experts are divided over the proposition to reduce by half the current capital requirement, while others argue that a performance bond is enough, according to sources. Surprised to hear about the amendment, Zelalem Dagna, managing director of Global Tracking Plc, sees the change as an appropriate move by the ERCA. However, he still claims that the requirement for a two million Birr performance bond should not be removed but be determined on a project basis.

Officials at the ERCA, which is enforcing the current requirements, however, declined to comment. The Authority is also negotiating with the Ministry of Transport (MoT), which is implementing a fleet management system that will also monitor and indicate the whereabouts of trucks, negotiating with the Authority to interface the two systems. Most of the devices used for both systems are the same, thus can run with a single subscriber identification module (SIM) card, transferring all data for the respective institution, according to an electrical engineer at the ERCA. He is concerned that failure to interface the systems would allow transport companies to jack up prices, which he fears would trickle down to the end user.

By all accounts it seems like the initiative was launched on impulse and a whim without prior consultation with stakeholders. Per usual it’s the consultants who have scored out of this. Source: Addis Fortune

Advancing the argument for sealing cargo and tracking conveyances

South African Customs law provides for a seal integrity regime. This consists in provisions for the sealing of containerised sea cargo as well as sealable vehicles and trailers. These requirements have, however, not been formally introduced into operation due to the non-availability (until recently) of internal systems and cross-functional procedures that would link seal integrity to known entities. To explain this in more layman’s terms, it is little use implementing an onerous cargo sealing program without systems to perform risk assessment, validation of trader profiles and information exchange. It’s  like implementing non-intrusive inspection (X-ray scanning) equipment without backward integration into the Customs Risk Management  and Inspection environment and systems. It has often been stated that a customs or border security programme is a layered approach based on risk mitigation. None of the individual elements will necessarily address risk, and automation alone will likewise not accomplish the objective for safe and secure supply chains. Moreover, neither will measures adopted by Customs or the Border Agency succeed without due and necessary compliance on the part of entities operating the supply chain. It therefore requires a holistic strategy of people, policy, process and technology.

In the African context, it is surmised that the business rationale will be best accomplished with a dual approach on IT connectivity and information exchange. Under the political speak there are active attempts within SACU, SADC, COMESA and the EAC to establish electronic networks to facilitate and safeguard transit goods. Several African states are landlocked and are not readily accessible, some requiring multiple transit trips through countries from international discharge in the continent to place of final destination. National laws of each individual country in most instances provide obstacles to carriers achieving cost effective means in delivering cargoes. Over and above the laws, there exists (regrettably) the need to ‘grease palms’ without which safe passage in some instances  will not be granted. Notwithstanding the existence of customs unions and free trade areas, internal borders remain the biggest obstacle to facilitation.

Several African logistics operators already implement track and trace technology in the vehicle and long-haul fleets. This has the dual purpose of safeguarding their assets as well as the cargoes of their clients which they convey. Since 9/11, a few customs administrations have formally adopted ISO PAS 17712 within their legislation to regulate the use of high security seals amongst cargo handlers and carriers. In most cases this mandates the use of high security ‘mechanical’ bolt seals. However, evidence suggests there is a growing trend to adopt electronic seals. Taiwan Customs for one has gone a significant way in this regard. Through technological advances and increased commercial adoption of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology the costs are reducing significantly to warrant serious consideration as both a viable and cost-effective customs ‘control’ measure.

Supply chain custody using RFID as an identifier and physical security audit component – as provided for in ISO 17712 – is characterized by the following:

  • it uniquely identifies seals and associates them with the trader.
  • the seal’s unique identity and memory space can be used to write a digital signature, unique to a trader on the seal, and associating that seal with a customs declaration.
  • using customs trader registration/licensing information, together with infrastructure to read seal information at specified intervals along a route to create a ‘bread-crumb’ audit trail of the integrity of the cargo and conveyance.
  • using existing fleet management units installed in trucks to monitor seal integrity along the high risk legs of a cargo’s transit.
  • record the seal’s destruction at point of destination.

Looking forward to the future, it is not implausible for customs and border authorities to consider the use of RFID:

  • as a common token between autonomous customs systems.
  • to verify and audit that non-intrusion inspections have taken place en-route, and write that occurrence to the seal’s memory with the use of an updated digital signature issued to the customs inspection facility.
  • to create a date and time stamp of the cargo’s transit for compliance and profile classification – to confirm that transit goods have actually left the country as well as confirm arrival at destination (to prevent round tripping).
  • Lastly to archive a history of carrier’s activities for forensic and/or trend analysis.
This is a topic which certainly deserves more exposure in line with current regional developments on IT-connectivity and information exchange. A special word of thanks to Andy Brown for his contribution and insight to this post.
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Taiwan Customs expands e-seal initiative

Taiwan Customs together with its partner GS1 Taiwan has expanded the RFID initiative atthe country’s major ports to include active RFID. The Cargo Movement Security project launched in 2009 to investigate the use of an automated, RFID-based electronic seal (e-seal) system (see Taiwan Customs Officials Adopt RFID-enabled Container Seals), in an effort to eliminate the need for Taiwan Customs officers to escort containers from carrier yards to container terminals. Work on the project will continue through 2012, so that Taiwan Customs can upgrade the RFID e-seal system’s capabilities and fully extend it to import, export, transit and trans-shipment containers located at the island’s major ports.

The initial project involved EPC Gen 2 RFID; the team plans to add active RFID e-seal technology by the end of this year, for security management of in-land transportation. The Taiwanese government wants to leverage both active and passive RFID tags at all ports in Taiwan, in order to better ensure cargo and container safety, while reducing costs to logistics and shipping firms. E-seals incorporating active RFID technology and complying with the ISO 18185 e-seal standard will be used for the trans-shipment of containers between the country’s Keelung and Taipei harbors, as well as for air cargo at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, and at a terminal located outside the airport’s restricted area. In addition, GS1 Taiwan and the Taiwanese government have submitted a new RFID passive e-seal candidate standard to EPCglobal. Source: RFID Journal