More and more inland container terminals are investing in – and benefiting from – OCR systems. Modality provides interfaces with the systems of various OCR suppliers. One of those suppliers is Sentors. Together, we have developed a standard API interface between Sentors’ OCR software and the Modality system which allows for the mutual exchange of data. In this article, Sander Maas (CEO Sentors) and Ton van der Poel (CTO Sentors) discuss the possibilities for optimisation that Sentors provides and the three major benefits of using OCR systems.
Sentors specialises in providing solutions for the camera-based registration and recognition of shipping containers, also known as ‘Optical Character Recognition (OCR)’. OCR systems are able to automatically recognise and verify container numbers and license plates at the gate and can also identify other properties such as container type (ISO codes) and hazardous substances (ADR). At train portals, the train wagon codes (UIC) are read as well. Sentors develops the software, sees to it that all associated equipment optimally works together (cameras, lamps, PCs) and monitors the systems to ensure operational continuity.
OCR portals are often positioned at the entrance and exit of terminals, but crane spreaders can also be equipped with cameras and OCR software. According to Sander and Ton, the most important reasons for customers to invest in OCR systems are:
- Time savings/efficiency
- Damage disputes
- Error checking
Besides inland terminals and depots, various factories also purchase OCR systems from Sentors for the reasons outlined above.
The application of OCR systems at inland terminals allows several departments to achieve time savings. When a truck arrives at the gate and passes through the portal, cameras record the roof and sides of the container as well as the chassis and the truck. Among other things, the OCR software scans the camera images for license plate number, chassis and container number. The software identifies the data in the images and sends it to the Modality system via an API message. The Modality system checks whether the truck/container combination is expected and opens the barrier/speed gate if the combination is correct. As a result, trucks can be handled with greater speed and accuracy at the gates, improving the turnaround time at the terminal. Visiting drivers no longer need to enter information manually and save time; the same applies to planners, who have less data to enter manually. Service desk employees benefit from the use of OCR systems as well. Thanks to the interface between the OCR software and the Modality system, the Gate control administration is automatically updated so that the terminal always has an accurate overview of the trucks currently at the terminal.
Sander: Congestion can be an issue at some terminals; sometimes, six to seven trucks can be waiting in line to access the terminal. All these trucks have already passed through the portal. Because planners can see which trucks are waiting, they have more time to draw up an efficient schedule instead of assigning trips ad hoc.”
Another significant benefit of using OCR systems is that footage is automatically recorded. Both videos and photos are stored and played within the Sentors customer portal. An API message ensures that the URLs of the images are automatically sent to the Modality system so that these can be accessed from Modality as well. Inland terminals that are held liable for container damage can use this footage to check whether the damage in question was actually incurred at the inland terminal and thus refute unjustified claims and reduce disputes. Typically, the roofs of containers are most prone to damage. The cameras capture both sides of the container as well as its roof. For tank containers, two cameras are often used to capture the sides. The spreader in the crane can also be equipped with cameras to check container roofs for damage. Saving the images makes it possible to perform a visual inspection afterwards. Not only to check for damage to the container, but also to inspect the door seal in case of theft or to verify the time at which a container passed through Gate-OUT, for example. Inland terminals have different reasons for making use of OCR camera systems and software. If a terminal is frequently involved in disputes with shippers and/or shipping companies, the OCR images offer substantial added value in assessing the validity of these claims. If the images lead to the rejection of multiple claims, then the investment in OCR portals can often be recouped within a short period of time. The images are stored in the portal for the duration of one year.
Sentor’s OCR customer portal
Another benefit of using OCR systems is the additional check that is already performed early in the process. This makes it possible to use the images to verify whether the correct container has been positioned on the correct chassis; as a result, delays and consequential damage to the operations of both the customer and the terminal itself are prevented.
The Modality system is fully integrated with the OCR software of Sentors. There is two-way communication between the systems. Sometimes, the OCR software is unable to correctly interpret the data in the images. Container numbers may no longer be clearly legible because of dirt, scratches or bird droppings, for example, causing the OCR software to misinterpret the number three as the number eight. In some cases, the Modality system sends advance information to the OCR system (such as the expected truck movements) so that the OCR software can match this data (license plates and container codes) with the camera images, thus minimising the margins of error regarding data interpretation.
Ton: “Modality is fully integrated with our software. The Gate-IN/Gate-OUT administration is automatically updated and you can directly access the damage archive from the Modality system. The advance information sent by the Modality system substantially reduces the likelihood of mistakes.”
Future developments in the field of OCR
Behind the scenes, Sentors is working on various new developments and several pilots are already in full swing. Some of the projects involved are:
- Application of OCR for mobile port cranes and reach stackers, as a follow-up to the bridge cranes
- Web service for submitting photos and receiving back OCR results, enabling apps to integrate with this. At present, this is used for such applications as integration with the electronic consignment note (eCMR), but it could also be used for reefers for which the temperature always needs to be entered manually, for example
- Automatic damage recognition (holes in the roof, large scratches) so that damage is proactively reported
- Recognition of suspicious activity at a container (missing seals, open handles, taped ventilation grilles, etc.)
For more information about our integration with OCR systems, please contact us directly via email@example.com or at +31 (0) 180 531 035.