US-based ACL Airshop took the opportunity of the platform of the recent IATA World Cargo Symposium in Dallas, Texas to reveal worldwide expansion plans and mark its 35th birthday.
While not a manufacturer of ULDs, it has developed a “unique leasing model” for the industry. It has a very robust ULD supply chain as a major buyer of those devices every year. At the same time, it manufactures very large quantities of cargo nets, straps, and other cargo control devices. The ULD market has been dominated by a few well-established manufacturers over the past many years.
ACL believes there is always a chance for a disrupter to come in either through a new business model or through a unique product enhancement, such as durable collapsible containers. New technology that ACL Airshop is introducing include real time tracking and tracing with Bluetooth Low Energy technology.
The assets themselves are FAA certified and relatively simple, but the logistics management of them is a complex global ecosystem; hence new technology for better efficiency can truly become a game-changer.
Can the basic ULD product be improved further or has it reached its optimum in construction methods, asked Air Cargo Week. ACL considers that sizes and shapes will be firm but new materials, such as less destructive/lighter weights, could play a role in the future as also the above mentioned collapsibility and real time tracking and tracing. Smart ULDs is the way forward with less focus on materials and more focus on information capabilities such as location and temperature.
Are airlines very influential in the design process or do manufacturers go it alone and airlines simply have to buy what is made, asked Air Cargo Week. ACL’s reply is that airlines still do have influence on the details of the design but that is waning. This is mostly related to the type of material, sheet thickness and reinforcements depending on the airlines’ weight preference. Industry will hopefully start to realise that all different detail designs cost additional money in maintenance/spares. In general terms, when assessing the total life cycle cost of ULD ownership of 100 per cent, the initial purchase price is around 30 per cent and the rest is repair/parts and maintenance over the useful life of the asset.
There are changes afoot in the ULD manufacturing industry, says ACL. It is becoming more concentrated and the next battleground will be technology/information capability of the ULDs. At the moment it appears that the manufacturers are playing a supporting role here and do not develop their own technology. Going forward it would be conceivable that future ULD purchases will be determined more on the smart ULD capabilities than the material/hardware.
ACL Airshop CEO Steve Townes, says: “Digitalisation, big data, predictive analytics are rapidly transforming ULD fleet control, real-time tracking, and logistics. It’s moving quickly. With our Bluetooth innovations, some major airlines are already implementing. We believe within the next 24 to 36 months, we will have helped build a Giant Internet of Things across many scores of airports and many thousands of ULDs.”