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Automating container matchbacks in the maritime industry would reduce deadhead miles

Though there is enough impetus for technology to drive efficiency within the maritime industry, it would entail disrupting processes that have remained entrenched in legacy systems and traditional operations for decades. The industry needs to embrace digitization while capturing information and data coming out of processes, and look to incentivize activities and companies that seek to take advantage of such opportunities.

The industry must also rein in its emissions’ impact on the atmosphere by reducing deadhead container miles and by optimizing operations. This is precisely where MatchBack Systems finds its sweet-spot; offering the maritime industry a platform that would simplify and automate container matchbacks.

A matchback (or a street-turn) is the process of pairing an import transport with an export transport while the containers are moving inland. This eliminates the need for carriers to return empty containers to the port, and also saves time and money along the way.

“The maritime industry faces a $20 billion challenge in repositioning empty containers, but there’s no need for it to be that way. Forty-five percent of all exports travel a significant distance that can be eliminated. In North America alone, we have three million imports and exports that travel excessive distances, which if eliminated can save 600 million miles and also $3 billion in transportation costs,” said Todd Ericksrud, founder and CEO of MatchBack Systems.

Ericksrud explained that one of the difficulties automating matchbacks was the lack of transparency in the industry. Ocean carriers lack visibility on more than half the containers that they deliver and exporters can only see their demand – creating an environment where processes work in silos, and rarely interact with each other.

Another issue is the enormity of the task at hand, as large ocean carriers and third-party logistics companies (3PLs) that deal with thousands of containers a day would have little patience sorting out the containers that could reduce a few hundred miles and pile up to affect the bottom line.

“As an example, I can say that large ocean carriers and 3PLs would see almost 90 million options and permutations every month. That’s more than what they can manage, and thus you have to put some technology behind it to make matchbacks effective,” said Ericksrud. “Matchbacks are an intuitive activity – you have a need for an empty container, a place where you can find one, and you connect them both.”

Today, the matchbacking process uses little technology, with most matches being manually made and on a per-container basis. This traditional way of solving logistical issues hugely diminishes the benefits matchbacking would have if scaled to include the supply and demand of thousands of containers. Ericksrud mentioned that this was the purpose of MatchBack Systems, observing that the company’s goal is to become the industry standard for matchbacks.

“We align with some of the leading technology providers out there in the industry to really complete the container lifecycle for them. We are currently a technical partner with a large port drayage company, and also work with General Electric (GE) and its port optimizer at the Port of Long Beach,” said Ericksrud. “With MatchBack Systems, one of our clients is able to connect with everyone in the marketplace digitally, whether it’s the ecosystem of customers, the providers, or the equipment owners that the company works with – staff of that company will be able to plan, predict and execute against its matchbacks.”

Though every container would have hundreds of matchback options, Ericksrud explained that it was critical to identify the matchback that would be the best fit. With the advent of artificial intelligence, it becomes easier to select the critical few, defining and deciding on the matchback that would provide maximum returns – both logistically and from a sustainability perspective.

MatchBack Systems helps its clients completely automate the process of planning, optimizing and executing a matchback. Clients can also review a list of parameters and check their preferences, which the startup uses to build a strategic and effective matchback model.

In essence, the idea is to make sure MatchBack Systems takes stock of the historical matchback data that it relays every day, uses that as feedback to its artificial intelligence algorithms, and incrementally predicts the future better. “By working ahead of time with historical data, we can actually define and solve activities that will happen in the future,” said Ericksrud. “Using our solution, we can ease congestion at the port, reduce the distance empty containers move, and cut down on the number of drayage drivers. In the future, I see MatchBack Systems championing digitization and sustainability within the maritime industry.