Archives For Technology

THE NEW YOUGrowing electronic commerce (E-Commerce) has provided unparalleled opportunities for and has become a game changer in the international trade arena. It has revolutionized the way businesses and consumers are selling and buying goods with wider choices, advanced shipping, payment, and delivery options.  At the same time, E-Commerce, in particular Business to Consumer and Consumer to Consumer (B2C and C2C) transactions, is presenting several challenges to governments and businesses alike.

The WCO Working Group on E-Commerce (WGEC) together with its four Sub-Groups is steadily progressing with the four identified work packages, namely Trade Facilitation and Simplification of Procedures, Safety and Security, Revenue Collection, and Measurement and Analysis with a view to develop recommendations/guidelines on cross-border E-Commerce from a wider facilitation, security or revenue perspective, to collect and disseminate good practices/initiatives, and to enhance/update related WCO instruments and tools.

Given the current focus of the WCO Members and the private sector on this topic, the 215th/216th Sessions of the Permanent Technical Committee (PTC) held a whole day dedicated session on E-Commerce on 5 April 2017. During the ‘E-Commerce Day’, the delegates were provided an update with the work done thus far, as well as, the envisaged work by the four Sub-Groups on respective work packages. A number of valuable suggestions were provided by delegates from policy, business process, and operational perspectives to further enhance the WCO E-Commerce Work Programme with tangible and practical deliverables for providing a concerted and effective response to this growing channel of trade.

In addition, four thematic workshops relating to different dimensions of E-Commerce were organized by the Sub-Groups’ Co-Leads together with other partners. Through these workshops, some interesting facets of e-commerce were explored in detail and a number of interim recommendations were made concerning facilitation, risk management, safety and security, revenue collection, and associated capacity building through enhancement partnerships with all e-commerce stakeholders and augmented public awareness and outreach programmes.

In the course of the panel sessions, a number of collaboration success stories were identified, and they will be captured more formally and shared with interested parties, through the WCO webcorner.

The WGEC Sub-Groups will continue carrying out further work and a consolidated set of interim recommendations will be presented to the July 2017 Sessions of the WCO Policy Commission and Council. Source: WCO

Smiths Detection HCV Scanner setup routine (Picture credit - Mercator Media)

Smiths Detection HCV Scanner setup routine (Picture credit – Mercator Media)

Innovative technology for the non-intrusive inspection of cargo and vehicles has rapidly emerged over the last decade to become a significant factor in port and border protection and homeland security. Several hundred high-energy mobile and fixed-site X-ray inspection stations are deployed throughout the world to examine passenger cars, trucks, trains, and shipping containers that transport goods bound for international destinations. Behind the scenes, cargo screening technology continues to be a story of innovation and change, driven by keen competition and a common mission to improve global security.

Early cargo screening systems were relatively slow and expensive to operate. They produced a limited resolution single-energy X-ray image, often using an isotope source such as Cobalt-60. The imaging software was rudimentary, and limited to simple controls such as pan and zoom, while computer processing speeds significantly limited inspection throughput. By contrast, most systems today are accelerator-based, which allows for higher energies, faster operation, and more precise controls. These systems incorporate software that takes advantage of improved computing platforms and features increasingly sophisticated analytics – this power has paved the way for the use of dual-energy accelerator sources and advanced detectors to facilitate material discrimination, enabling inspectors to identify threat objects more quickly, based on their composition.

Future developments in cargo screening are likely to follow a common innovation trajectory that is fostered by market needs and new technology, while being strengthened by existing intellectual property and evolving industry standards. Innovation is often perceived as a circular path beginning with customer needs that are identified by a technology developer. The developer then creates application technology in the form of products to meet those needs. With numerous competitors in the market, suppliers are motivated to continually improve their products. However, a more nuanced understanding incorporates the role of component technologies and the core capabilities of the technology developer. Each of these constituents influence and are influenced by their respective technology and regulatory standards, which then ultimately impact the products available to the customer. For the full report with diagrams, Click Here!

Component technologies and their standards are often driven by the needs of other markets and may only be tangentially connected with the market of interest. Consequently, developers often have minimal influence on these technology standards but will benefit by leveraging the investments already made by other organizations. ‘Components’ may be subassemblies (such as a computer graphics card) or entirely separate systems (such as a cloud computing service) that can be incorporated into a screening system to provide a complete customer solution. System providers benefit from these parallel technologies and component standards because they provide innovative insights and functional capabilities, such as interoperability, interchangeability, and known performance characteristics. In the case of cargo screening, there are many component technologies that are potential sources of future innovation. A few notable examples are described later in the report.

Because cargo screening is a youthful market with changing customer requirements and technology that is evolving to meet those requirements, existing industry standards are still in flux. This is beneficial for the cargo screening industry in that it provides ample room for innovation and development. As cargo screening technology continues to evolve and mature, the community will develop consensus in more areas and create additional standards. However, the standards process is slow and seldom speaks to the most current technology issues in an industry. For example, material discrimination is an important new feature offered by many cargo screening systems, yet there is little guidance from current industry standards to assess the performance of this technology. Source: www.porttechnology.org

Flatscan portable scanner

Flatscan 27 portable scanner

Mondial Defence Systems provide the full range of CBRNe (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive) solutions to government, military and civil agencies.

The FlatScan 27 is a highly innovative flat portable battery-powered X-ray photodiodes system that has been specifically designed for high-speed and high-resolution inspection tasks. It incorporates a state-of-the-art 2D (two-dimensional) self-contained robust scanning detector, a laptop computer and a CP120B or CP160B portable constant potential X-ray generator to deliver real-time image processing. FlatScan 27 was developed in cooperation with specialised EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) teams and comprises various unique features, specifically to meet any emergency situation. The technology will predominantly be of interest for applications used by the military, police, prisons and customs.

The FlatScan 27 comprises a large number of unique technological features and delivers a versatile and highly thin detector (thickness of just 55mm). This detector means that large objects with dimensions up to as much as 535 x 412mm can be scanned in just one attempt, even in situations where they might be located in very inaccessible places (e.g. close to a wall).

Flatscan 27 providing material discrimination and conventional scanning capability

Flatscan 27 providing material discrimination and conventional scanning capability

Furthermore, the FlatScan 27 delivers an excellent image quality with a high penetration capability (up to 34mm of steel at 160kV, 0.5mA). This is possible as a result of its sensitivity, the 800 microns resolution and the ability it offers for slowing down the speed of the scanning detector.

The FlatScan technology can be extended through a variety of options including materials separation. This involves the colour coding of a package to indicate whether the components inside are organic or inorganic in nature. This option delivers extra insight to the operator when making an informed judgment relating to the contents of suspect objects or packages.

The detector is equipped with a battery that lasts for two hours, while the two X-ray source cells each enable the development of up to 200 images. It should be noted that in cases of long-lasting laboratory applications, both items can be powered by optional mains power supplies.

For quick on site intervention, the FlatScan 27 detector can be easily transported in a backpack, while all accessories are stored in a carrying case. For more information visit – http://www.mondial-defence.com

 

Port Technology International (PTI) reported last month, a ground-breaking technological development from UK-based Inscentinel could change the future of security at ports. In a move that brings together nature and technology, bulk cargo screening could soon be carried out by an unlikely source – sniffer bees.

Freight forwarding companies screen 100 percent of all of their parcels. The first line of screening relies on X-rays followed by REST dogs for special items which cannot be screened. REST, stands for Remote Explosives Scent Tracing.

This works by sampling the air from the cargo through a specially designed filter. This filter, which can trap explosives molecules, is then presented to the most accurate explosives detector ever – dogs. This method has proven very effective to exploit the accuracy of dogs while maximizing the throughput volume of screening, which a free-running dog cannot otherwise do.

According to the information found on the website of Diagnose, a subsidiary of ICTS: ‘The technique has screened over 100,000 trucks and pallets and over 1.5 million metric tons of air cargo since live operations began in the UK and France. The RASCargO™ technique was specially developed to serve the mass screening cargo market that requires a solution for screening high volumes of dense cargo, with actually, no cargo size limitation, a solution that combines high detection rate with cost effectiveness.’ Read the full report as published in PTI here!

Inscentinel’s latest video, below, shows how the company has devised an ingenious way of using the insect in the cargo screening process. 

The recent death of a close friend and colleague – Lester Millar – brings to mind, once again, the dire situation of a dwindling ‘knowledge base’ in the area of Customs’ core competency. In an era where most customs or border management authorities are happy to employ people with a variety of tertiary qualifications – with the idea that this alone will be sufficient to ‘arm and support’ them in the field of customs/border control and management – what happened to the skills of yesteryear which allowed both government and trade practitioners to exercise their technical abilities to agree or disagree amicably on a customs tariff or valuation interpretation that could result in thousands of rands (ZAR) going to state coffers or the retailer’s bank account?

Many would argue that with the extent of automation and modern techniques, customs core skills are no longer valid or even necessary. Indeed the extent and design of systems goes so far as removing the relevance of human intuition and decision-making. Today we have automated risk management, automated duty calculation and declaration processing, automated cargo and goods accounting, any even a call centre – so is there really a role for a Customs specialist in the 21st century? Customs Managers today have their reports and other so-called ‘empirical data’ to rely on for decision-making and strategizing. The year-end revenue rush, it-self, relies on such computer generated reports negating the need for an internal ‘think-tank’ to devise means of collecting the hidden revenue before the deadline.

For those in the trade, a similar situation exists, with some difference however. The traditional customs clearance and cargo reporting process is highly mechanised these days and if your systems are up to the task, you can rest assured staff can remain glued to their seats and screens without having to venture to the Customs House. Here too, lies a significant change. The traditional Custom House no longer exists and is basically home to the ‘Customs Frontline’ which deals with ‘physical’ intervention and other trade services. Tariff, Valuation and Origin are now confined to back-office functions accessible via a call centre or tiered response mechanisms embedded in Customs’ new automated workflow; that is, if physical or telephonic access to regional customs specialists have been removed.

Few can dispute the advantages of technology supported processes. Yet, when things go array, even the knowledgeable people have difficulty in resolving an issue. Some suggest that human discretion is dangerous and counter-productive, which perhaps is true if left to an uncouth, power-crazy customs or border control official. Yet, ‘discretion’ is a tenet most necessary for interpretative and cognitive skills which once most Customs Officials used to have.

So what is this core competency to which I refer? First of all Customs competency requires an officer to reason, interpret and apply the customs law in the “fairest” possible way based on the facts at his/her disposal. So it means the officer must have an ability to discern; importantly between right and wrong. Discernment must also take into account an acute understanding of previous/historical evidence relating to a case. For a customs official, it will be important to comprehend the rights and legal obligations of the parties concerned, as well as the documentation relating to the case/transaction. Moreover, where a case/transaction deals with a matter of ‘tariff’, or ‘valuation’ or ‘origin’ the officer must at least have the basic knowledge and skills of the internationally defined rules of interpretation in these disciplines. I say ‘at least’, because in any of the mentioned areas, it may require an expert opinion to further conclude the outcome of a matter.

While automation will take care of validation and computation to the n’th degree, storing and retrieving vast amounts of data in milliseconds, the fact remains that a competent ‘human being’ is still required to preside over a complex decision. Good systems are built on ‘rules’, not exceptions. It is the latter therefore that requires ‘customs core competency’ to resolve.

Our dear friend and colleague Lester was gifted with a phenomenal ability to distill and comprehend information. This knowledge made him one of our finest, and sadly virtually last remaining tariff experts. Add to this, a wonderful and helpful nature and willingness to serve the public – a not too common trait nowadays. Adios Lester…..since we did not fully profit from your time with us, may we at least profit from our loss!

doesn’t this just sound so familiar? What a fine article by Chris Kane, Chief Strategy Officer of a family owned third-party logistics provider (3PL).

As the U.S. economy continues to struggle and unemployment remains high, our industry has focused on cost cutting through automation. Technology has undoubtedly helped us move more products more quickly and less expensively than ever before, but have we focused so much on automation and technology that we’ve neglected to identify how they affect the people in our supply chain?

I’m a distribution guy, so I’m the first to admit that technology provides visibility into our operations that makes my life much easier. A single report can tell me exactly where a specific load for any one of our customers is located in real-time. What it doesn’t tell me is how our people in the distribution center hustled to get the trailer loaded, even after a forklift problem, so that the driver didn’t miss his delivery window. Or how the driver’s skills helped her avoid an accident that would have destroyed the customer’s product. If I just look at that report, I miss the most important aspect of our business: the dedication of our people. When things go wrong (as they inevitably do), technology will only get us so far.

Is our industry fast paced? Absolutely. Do we need to utilize the technology available to be more efficient, more cost-effective and more competitive? Of course. But if we pursue those options exclusively, with little regard for the people running our operations, we’ve failed. Because at the end of the day, it’s the efforts of the people in the supply chain that get the product to its destination.