A Kiwi collaboration is turning global aviation logistics on its head, finally giving airlines the ability to track cargo in real time.
At a glance
Two New Zealand companies are at the forefront of a technology that is revolutionising the air cargo industry.
The work of Nelson-based logistics specialist Core Transport Technologies is giving major airlines the ability to wirelessly track shipments in real time. In a Kiwi double-header the tags and readers required for the system are manufactured in Auckland by Nautech Electronics. And to complete the homegrown story, Air New Zealand was the launch customer for the Bluetooth-enabled automation.
US carriers Delta Airlines and Alaska Airlines have now taken it up, and Core TT has other clients queuing up for the technology.
Air cargo customers have long wanted immediate visibility of where their goods are at any one time, but until now the enabling tech had been expensive and not easy to use, Core TT Managing Director Ian Craig says.
Core TT’s system works via Bluetooth tags installed on cargo containers, pallets and unit load devices (ULDs). Readers at airports automatically update an online application when a tagged item goes past, providing real time information to airlines and their customers.
Core TT, in collaboration with Nautech, have hit the sweet spot, he says. “This is massively disruptive technology in aviation logistics,” Craig says.
From Nelson to the world
The fact this world-leading innovation springs from a small city in New Zealand is less surprising than it first appears, Craig says. From a technological point of view the development work can be done anywhere, and Core TT had existing connections in the US through its parcel tracking and other supply chain management tools.
“We leveraged our relationship with the US Postal Service to get into the big airlines, so we already had a market which was the important part,” he says.
Core TT wanted to find a Bluetooth wireless solution, as opposed to its existing systems which were based on manually scanning barcodes.
It initially outsourced the design work to Asia, but eventually brought it back inhouse. “We came to the conclusion that you don’t get what you want unless you own the skills,” Craig says.
The company worked with Callaghan Innovation’s Research and Technical Services division to optimise its designs.
“We wanted to put some scientific backing behind our design choices, so we used Callaghan Innovation to do studies that helped us create the ideal configuration.”
The next step for the technology is the ability to identify the exact location of an individual item within a storage facility, and Core TT continues to work with Callaghan Innovation on calibrating how it performs inside densely packed warehouses.
Keeping it Kiwi
Core TT is proud to have “a Kiwi thing going on”, Craig says. Rather than going offshore, its tags and readers are made by East Tamaki-based contract electronics manufacturer Nautech.
Nautech has utilised a Callaghan Innovation Growth Grant to help it develop a robotics programme, allowing it to be more cost competitive. It uses ‘cobots’ – robots that work alongside people – to assemble the Core TT products.
In addition, it has specialist R&D and process and production engineers who improve products to make them more manufacturable, Managing Director Andrew Turner says.
As a result of its investment it’s seeing work come back to New Zealand, he says.
“With automation we’re normally within about 10 per cent of the price they can get it made in China, and when you take into account the cost of sending engineers over, quality control and so forth, it’s a no-brainer to keep the work here.”
Craig says Chinese factories also want orders of a million at a time.
“We can work with Nautech to feed things through at a steady rate rather than committing to massive orders and stockpiling,” he says.
Smart product, smart production
Core TT’s wireless tracking system is a fantastic example of a New Zealand company developing its own solution when it couldn’t find the products on the market it needed, Callaghan Innovation Communications Research Engineer Marco Meijer says.
Meijer’s Research and Technical Services team helped Core TT by reviewing existing technology, advising on systems architecture, evaluating equipment, and providing peer review of development work, he says.
It also supported Core TT’s young team to take their next steps. “Using us as a sounding board Core TT has grown its technical team, both in capability and size,” Meijer says.
Nathan Stantiall, Callaghan Innovation’s Business Innovation Adviser for manufacturing, says the Core TT/Nautech collaboration is also a case-in-point of Kiwi businesses embracing the enormous opportunities offered by the ‘Industrial Internet of Things’ – the new fusion of physical and digital technologies.
“With Callaghan Innovation’s backing, Nautech has evolved its processes to become more tech-relevant and cost-competitive, enabling the manufacturing to be kept in New Zealand,” he says. “It is a great example of a manufacturer doubling down on digital connectivity, creating smart products in a developing smart factory.”
Updated: 24 May 2022