Southwest Airlines Cargo offers location, condition tracking for pharma cold chain

The Cargo Companion service provides a web-linked data monitor usable for end-to-end delivery

Traditionally, manufacturers or their logistics providers would incorporate their own temperature dataloggers within a carton or pallet being shipped, and then worry about how to collect the temperature data at the delivery point. A next step was to incorporate wireless-communication dataloggers, which could provide near-real-time tracking of both location and condition (temperature, humidity and the like), sending signals automatically over GSM or GPRS cellular networks. Now, air carriers are muscling in with their own datalogging and reporting services: the latest is Southwest Airlines Cargo (Dallas) with the Cargo Companion service.

“The key differentiator for Cargo Companion is that it is acquired on a transactional basis,” explains Wally Devereaux, director of sales and marketing at Southwest. “A shipper simply pre-orders the monitoring device when scheduling a shipment, turns the device on and drops it in the shipping container, and sends the container on its way.” Once the device is activated, it automatically synchs up with the Southwest tracking system and begins delivering data. Once the delivery is complete (which could include transportation legs outside the Southwest system), the device has return-receipt instructions that enable Southwest to take care of the reverse logistics. Other datalogging services can require the shipper either to own the device outright, or to lease it for a shipment (and older devices were once-through, throwaway items); Southwest’s service allows shippers to flexibly handle both regularly scheduled shipments and custom ones, says Devereaux. Service cost is expected to undercut competitors unless the shipper is able to schedule frequent back-and-forth trips that reduce the average per-shipment cost that justifies the expense of owning the datalogger outright, or having extended leases.

Cargo Companion employs the FlightSafe 400 from OnAsset Intelligence (Irving, TX), a 10-oz., notebook-sized device that includes temperature, pressure, shock, humidity and light detection (a package-integrity signal), along with the wireless communications; it is now accepted for use by nearly two dozen air cargo carriers, and alternative versions are being used in ground transportation.

Devereaux believes that as much as 50% of Southwest’s air cargo would find utility in the tracking and monitoring service (which is available to any type of Southwest cargo customer), but many shippers forgo in-transit monitoring in the belief that prequalified shipping containers in defined shipping lanes don’t need the monitoring. However, as regulatory requirements tighten, the practice is becoming more widespread.