Digitalisation: Working together to achieve results

Unilode Aviation Solutions is digitally transforming ULD management to make air cargo operations more efficient and sustainable. We spoke to CEO Ross Marino to find out more.

Digitalisation and sustainability are key areas of focus for the air cargo industry with all stakeholders having to make contributions to improve performance.

More efficient management of ULDs means assets are used more frequently, which reduces cost, improves revenue and drives sustainability.

Data means operations can be analysed and improvements can be made.

In the two years since Ross Marino joined as CEO, Unilode Aviation Solutions’ fleet has increased from 140,000 to 170,000 units as a result of growth through gaining new customers and retaining existing ones, boosting revenue.

New MRO facilities have opened in Hong Kong, and new facilities are due to open in Singapore and Brussels in February.

Stations will open in Delhi, India and São Paulo, Brazil in 2024 and other locations have been identified.

The MRO network’s growth will support ULD leasing services, as well as provide repair and maintenance services to airlines that retain their own ULD fleets.

Strengthening Unilode’s organisational structure is something Marino is particularly proud of, with a new leadership team with backgrounds in different parts of the aviation industry.

“We are much more in sync with our customers and their needs and aware of the challenges and opportunities in the aviation industry,” says Marino.

Leasing, MRO, IT and digital were too isolated, which in turn created silos.

Common leadership has broken down the silos and means the different business divisions are working as one unified business.

It was not always as straight forward as Marino hoped but the results have been worthwhile.

He says, “We have seen some new people come in and we had to reorganise the structures at multiple levels to make it happen. Where we are now, the concept of operating without those silos has been fully embraced by the workforce.”

The digital journey has been interesting, says Marino, with a lot of work going into tagging ULDs and rolling out the reader network last year.

The number of readers deployed globally has increased by 30% to over 700 readers in more than 500 facilities worldwide and over 90% of ULDs in the fleet are now tagged.

Tags and readers are only part of the journey, Unilode is introducing a new mobile app, compatible with iOS and Android, which is a milestone in Unilode’s digital journey and is a breakthrough in how Unilode manages its ULD fleet.

“What the mobile app enables us to do is go to a location where there are no readers or readers out of range and we can do a scan to pick up all the ULDs in that area, which is particularly useful for remote areas on airports and off airport,” says Marino.

The new enterprise data warehouse has been a substantial investment, providing information from digital pings and messages with the customer portal providing customers access to data about asset utilisation, movement of ULDs, location and more.

The new mobile app and customer portal will be launched this quarter, giving customers a much deeper insight into ULDs, explains Marino.

The scanning capability of the mobile app is the biggest improvement, says Marino, who says the scanning would not update Unilode’s core systems on the old app.

The new version joins systems together, making it much more useful and effective.

The new enterprise data warehouse gives customers access to data on how they used their ULDs so they can see how many times assets have been used on their flights and the location of their ULDs.

They can break it down to ULD number, which could be used if there were issues on the flight.

“What the enterprise data warehouse and customer portal do is it enables our customers to see data like they have never seen before,” he says.

Sustainable growth
Digital upgrades and data are the key areas going forward, believes Marino, particularly how it impacts operations and sustainability.

“For sustainability, it is much more than Unilode’s operations, our solutions also help customers improve their performance and reduce emissions. Unilode’s supply chain is also a key factor in our sustainable solutions offering, having an engaged and dynamic supply chain allows us to exemplify our circular economy ideology.”

Digitalisation will help sustainability, with Marino explaining, “We work with airlines and forecast their needs on a regular basis. It is our job to make sure that an airline is never left short of assets in any given location and mitigating excess or unplanned assets across our network. Where digital helps us is ensuring that we have got assets in the right place at the right time.”

This will cut down the movement of empty ULDs. Marino says the pooling concept combined with the digital oversight of asset location increases asset utilisation, which means fewer assets are required to top up other locations, directly reducing CO2 emissions.

It also feeds into the MRO network because repairs get done at the point of damage rather than flying them back to an airline’s main hub.

Unilode is repairing more assets than two years ago, particularly nets, which often ended up in landfill due to being hard to recycle.

Almost all MRO facilities have net repair capabilities and the level when assets are considered beyond economical repair has been increased.

For Unilode, prevention, repairing and reusing assets are crucial elements of its hierarchy of waste management framework, and such an approach is also healthy from a CAPEX perspective.

Marino says, “From a sustainability perspective, we are looking at lighter weight and more sustainable materials so that any end of life products are reused or recycled. We are doing more repairs on ULDs to keep them airworthy for longer to ensure repair, reuse and recycle become real mantras across the business.”

Data is a key driver for sustainability, Unilode is trialling net serialisation where the nets have data linked to pallets so they know the net’s lifespan.

With assets, if Unilode knows how frequently they get damaged, the team can do predictive analysis, which means customers can be advised about training and handling methods to reduce damage.

“When you have got a fleet of 170,000 ULDs, you can’t do that manually, you need the data telling you all of the trends within the business and the predictive analysis in terms of what is likely to happen,” says Marino.

Unilode advocates sustainability by having created the role of Chief ESG Officer and is in the process of recruiting a sustainability manager.

Recording and reducing CO2 emissions is important so Unilode knows where it is today and how to improve.

Unilode is also helping customers with their sustainability targets and initiatives.

He adds, “We hold regular meetings with our customers and sustainability is a regular agenda item in terms of what we are doing, what we have measured and how we are looking for improvements. Our airline customers are required to start reporting on how they are reducing their CO2 emissions, which can only be done in partnership, which we are doing with many of our customers today.”

This article was published in the February 2024 issue of Air Logistics International, click here to read the digital edition and click here to subscribe.