Automated Identification

Correct identification of shipping containers is crucial, so this typically occurs at the gate - the point of entry to a yard or terminal.

At the gate, Automated Identification and Data Collection (AIDC) streamlines entry and provides highly accurate data capture. This is critical for all terminals with any level of automation. Robotic, unmanned equipment demands 100% accuracy of container identification.

Beyond the gate, automated identification systems are also offered for quay and gantry cranes.

The two most used technologies are OCR and RFID. With different strengths they support numerous applications.

A key benefit of OCR is that it provides a reliable method of identification without requiring the application of any tag or device to the asset.

The primary benefit of RFID however is that tags can be read from much greater distances and hundreds of tags can be read simultaneously.

Major AIDC vendors include:

Images © Orbita


Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is the technology most used in AIDC systems. A two step process is involved. Firstly, a digital image is captured by a camera. Secondly, that image is inspected for recognisable patterns used to identify an object or objects within the image.

OCR requires direct line-of-sight, sufficient lighting, and must occur within a short range. It is very useful for accurately identifying a single item at a time. Typically, OCR cameras are placed so as to only read one item at a time.

OCR can identify:

  • The ISO 6346 container number
  • The truck license plate
  • Dangerous goods labels

OCR cameras may also be used to:

  • Detect container placement
  • Detect door direction
  • Detect the presence of seals
  • Capture still images

Today, OCR system installations total more than 1700 worldwide. The largest segment of these is within port community and marine container terminals for automating gate and yard operations.


Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is an AIDC technology that has become ubiquitos as an integral part of our daily lives. It is used in passports, toll tags, public transport system cards and in recent years is becoming more and more used in retail.

Historically, the most used application for RFID in the container industry has been low frequency RFID for security access cards. But this is changing. RFID applications are useful with any object that is handled repeatedly, such as:

  • Trucks
  • Rail wagons
  • Containers used in a closed-loop

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The following table summarizes some of the keys benefits brought about by AIDC.

Type Summary
Accuracy AIDC virtually eliminates data entry mistakes. Correctly identifying containers is crucial for terminal automation.
Efficiency AIDC streamlines vehicle access and departure, and has the capability to significantly reduce queues where manual container identification previously caused a delay.
Safety AIDC reduces the need for drivers or terminal personnel on the ground. Keeping people away from heavy containers and dangerous equipment is the simplest way to ensure their safety.
Security AIDC reduces the human element necessary for theft or disruption.
Labour Costs AIDC significantly reduces labour costs associated with identification tasks.
Eco-friendly AIDC systems directly reduce carbon emissions since they naturally speed vehicle processing and cargo handling.
Damage Management High-resolution still images captured at key handling points can be stored for later use. In some cases they may be inspected in real time and hopefully before cargo is further damaged.
Analytics AIDC captures large volumes of container data events previously too time-consuming to collect manually. This rich data can be mined and analyzed.