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Connected Smart Trailers: Beyond door and cargo sensors

According to the FBI, cargo theft is a $15 billion to $30 billion a year problem. And thefts are largely underreported.

Thieves watch shipping facilities that are filled with high-value product. They will then follow trucks departing this facility. Driving 200 miles before stopping is a standard technique when dealing with high-value loads. These days—thieves are more persistent, and will follow a truck for longer distances.

An unguarded, unfenced trailer lot is a smorgasbord for a cargo thief. Most unguarded trailer lots are deserted from late Friday afternoon until early Monday morning. A determined thief can break open one trailer after another, until something is found that is worth stealing.

Rest areas are somewhat safer. It is likely that the driver is sleeping in the tractor, and might wake up. Tourists will be passing through at all hours, and might notice an ongoing theft and call the police. Truck stops have large number of people moving about 24/7; they are relatively safer.

The best place to store cargo is inside a gated, locked, and attended lot.

It’s also important to make the load inconspicuous. Generic containers are indistinguishable from one another. Use seals that are generic. Put a door lock on every load. If every load has the same high level of security, thieves can not easily identify a high-value load. If only high-value loads get locks, thieves will target those loads.

Tracking devices can be placed in/on trailers and shipping containers. When queried, they can locate a container. Information on a located load can be passed to the police. GPS trackers can be hidden inside a container. They can also be placed inside a decoy box. The hope is that a thief taking a stack of boxes off the back of the container might grab a decoy box.

There are a variety of environmental sensors that are used for keeping track of conditions inside containers (e.g., temperature sensors used with agricultural loads). These sensors will often have an internal GPS locator. GPS information can be remotely queried and used to find thieves.

A more active use of GPS information is to continually watch for loads that are deviating from a planned route. A geofence can be designed by load planners—to describe an authorized travel corridor. If the container leaves the authorized travel corridor, the computer system alerts the security team. The security team can contact the driver and/or call the police.

It is very important to keep drivers aware of the dangers of moving high-value cargo. There are cheap and effect training programs that can teach drivers good security techniques (e.g., how to spot a tail, how to avoid high risk areas, etc.).

Phillips Connect

Phillips Connect Technologies (PCT) provides an open platform strategy, which can be a useful tool against cargo theft. PCT is a universal integration system—which uses smart-container sensors from Phillips and 3rd party manufacturers to provide a complete picture in tracking your assets.


Keypad entry is the first line of defense; preventing unauthorized entry to the container. ContainerNet™ uses a keypad system to keep the container locked. A pin number is required to access functions of the container, including security functions.

PCT’s Trailer Door Lock/Unlock system is attached to the keypad. Unlocking the door from the outside requires knowing the keypad’s pin number. Alternately, the lock can be controlled remotely from a centralized control point. The lock combination can be changed remotely.

The door can be programmed to only open at the consignee’s address, preventing the container from opening at an unauthorized location.

GPS tracking is a key element in early theft detection. ContainerNet can create a geofence that defines the shipper’s address, the designated route, and the consignee’s address. If the container leaves the predefined geofence, security operators are alerted that there is a problem. The driver will be contacted and police can be called.

If a container is moved when there is no driver assigned to the container, system operators are alerted that there is a problem.

A door-open sensor can be installed on a container. Normally a door-open sensor is used for operational analysis and planning. However, in a theft prevention mode—a door opening at any location other than the shipper’s address or consignee’s address can send an alarm to the system operators.

Special sensors can detect if the container has been removed from its chassis. Containers are normally stollen chassis and all, but a specialized thief might remove the container with a crane. This can be used to trigger an alarm.

Cargo weight detection isn’t normally used to detect theft, but a parked trailer should not change weight. Bulk carriers and tankers would benefit from connecting cargo weight sensors to an alarm system.

In extreme situations, Phillips Connect Technology’s “Trailer Lock-Down System” can be used to “lock-up” the brakes—immobilizing a trailer or chassis, making it impossible to move.

Additional benefits of analytics

In a non-theft prevention mode, Phillips Connect Technology uses other sensors for equipment monitoring:

  • Tire Pressure monitoring
  • Brake wear sensors
  • Wheel end temperature

To start your smart container project and secure your assets, contact Phillips Connect Technologies today.

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