Case Study: dnata digitally transforms air cargo ground operations with Microsoft 3D technology and Azure.
Azure Depth Platform team
The aviation industry relies heavily on service providers to efficiently transport cargo between locations. Related processes which are part of what is known as ground operations, are poised to experience tremendous growth, according to Boeing’s World Air Cargo Forecast (2020-2039), “Overall, world air cargo traffic will more than double over the next 20 years, expanding from 264 billion revenue ton-kilometer (RTK) in 2019 to 578 billion RTKs in 2039.”
dnata is one of the world’s largest air service providers that serves airlines and airports with everything from ground and cargo handling to inflight catering and travel services. dnata offers services in 35 countries, serves 127 airports worldwide and employs over 46,000 people to help provide a smooth transit experience, with customers such as Emirates, China Airlines and Air France–KLM. dnata’s job is to ensure operational efficiency by minimizing the time an airplane is on the ground and maximizing their customer’s revenue through optimal space utilization and quick turnaround.
Singapore Changi Airport, one of the largest transportation hubs in Asia, is where dnata maintains a 27,000 square meter state-of-the-art warehouse that allows dnata’s highly trained staff to manage the handling of any type of cargo, from perishables to priceless goods, from engines to pharmaceuticals. The facility manages 5,000 tons of cargo per week.
dnata employees at Changi are well-trained and experienced in cargo handling processes, as well as knowledgeable of the requirements and regulations required by airport authorities. Replacing or augmenting staff is a continuing and costly challenge because it requires a significant investment in training for those individuals that must first pass a security clearance to work on airport grounds.
The ground staff is responsible for ensuring that they are receiving and transporting the right cargo received from freight forwarders. They must ensure that the cargo is appropriately handled, matches manifest descriptions, and does not encounter adverse conditions like weather or prolonged storage that could damage the goods. The process is labor intensive and requires a long paper trail that must be precise all while trying to turn cargo around as rapidly as they can.
“Because we already use Microsoft Azure, dnata is able to integrate its operational systems seamlessly integrate with SPEEDCARGO’s system and allow AI & Predictive Analysis using Azure’s Data lake technology.”
Deon Van Niekerk, Transformation, Integration & Operational Performance Director for Asia Pacific, dnata.
The cargo services industry is increasingly adopting workflow automation to enable the ease of flow of information between processes, however the inability of existing solutions to digitize the physical process leads to a mismatch between the digital information and the physical world leading to gaps in realizing operational efficiency and improved capacity utilization. A key aspect of the ground handling process is to ensure the correct weight and volume of the cargo that is received and loaded on to the flight. Accurate weight and volumetric information are the critical inputs required to ensure the cargo is planned and loaded in the right manner on ULDs (Unit Load Devices) which is essential to ensure the safety of the flight.
A solution that accurately captures the shapes and dimensions of cargo at the terminal can improve capacity handling, optimize cargo handling process, and reduce the resources required for:
- Automating cargo measurement enabling use of real data for efficient and accurate planning.
- Giving staff more time to do actual handling work and less time managing paperwork.
- Ensuring consistency in handling between different handlers and providing the organization with data to quantify activities for benchmarking and process improvement.
At the recommendation of their Changi Airport ground crew, dnata turned to SPEEDCARGO, a logistics industry solution provider known for their innovation in AI and robotics, to help them digitally transform the cargo operations. SPEEDCARGO quickly recognized that with real-time data on actual cargo handled, dnata could improve the cargo capacity for their airline customers, optimize dnata’s ground handling resources and automate the creation of build up plans and manifest creation at the same time. dnata successfully implemented a custom SPEEDCARGO solution the components of which include:
- CARGO EYE – Based on Microsoft’s best-in-class ToF 3D technology, Azure services, and SPEEDCARGO proprietary algorithms, 3D cameras equipped with ToF can obtain high quality data operating in large workspaces and challenging environmental conditions. The solution captures accurate dimensions and images of incoming cargo in real-time, and seamlessly integrates that data into dnata’s work procedures to ensure that there is optimal weight packed per pallet while enabling better recovery on cargo consignments.
dnata is further trailing live flights using SPEEDCARGO’s fully integrated system, which includes:
- CARGO MIND component helps dnata improve their ability to maximize the capacity that can be loaded on a flight by ensuring better distribution of cargo across the various ULD’s while ensuring that all safety parameters, specific airline rules and business rules are followed. Planners can plan more effectively when they have real time visibility on cargo that in the warehouse for buildup and cargo that is yet to be received.
- ASSEMBLE – is the part of the solution that helps dnata’s loaders on the ground build up the optimized plans. The step by step process identifies the location from which the cargo needs to be retrieved and the sequence, location, and position of the cargo on the ULD. This not only reduces the time taken for executing the efficient packing, it also allows for tracking the cargo by providing real time feedback to the planner for optimal resource utilization.
The data captured is routed to Azure IoT Edge devices and Azure IoT Hub to establish the fastest route from the physical sensors to the SPEEDCARGO data lake on Azure. Offline buffering, maintenance and monitoring, and remote software deployment are handled by Azure services, allowing for faster and more reliable scaling. The CARGO EYE solution also depends on Azure to ensure reliable and secure data exchange between on prem and the cloud. It’s because of these advanced services that SPEEDCARGO can quickly develop solutions by focusing on the core AI and robotic technology, rather than the underlying infrastructure.
The integrated solution is showing potential to become integral to the way dnata operates because it not only handles deployment on the ground, but also readily accommodates process changes and collects information on each piece of cargo. The result is that dnata can better manage cargo acceptance, storage, monitor cargo security, and automate manifest documentation.
“The performance of any real-world 3D computer vision system depends on the quality of data produced by the cameras. The Azure Depth Platform-based cameras ensure high quality data under challenging operating environments and a cloud-ready Azure IOT ecosystem. This combination lets us focus on what we do best: building reliable and best in class vision driven cloud applications for our customers without worrying about the quality of 3D points cloud, security on the cloud and infrastructure SLAs”
Dr. Suraj Nair, Founder and CTO, SPEEDCARGO TECHNOLOGIES
SPEEDCARGO’s integrated platform offers dnata a single solution that digitizes and integrates the various activities related to the physical handling of cargo with their existing Cargo Management Solutions, by addressing the critical aspects of digitizing physical cargo, load planning by optimizing capacity for ULD and flights and providing a digital workflow for physically handling cargo – all connected to the SPEEDCARGO Cloud.