Christian Roeloffs

Managing Director

Container xChange


Session: Playing on a global market: how to take the risk out of international container logistics

Can you provide an overview of your conference topic/session? Why is this an important topic to discuss?

One of the key challenges all companies in container shipping and logistics face in their day-to-day operations is the significant cost of repositioning of empty containers: about $300-500m for a mid-sized global ocean carrier and $15-20bn for the industry as a whole. Roughly 2/3 of this cost is due to global structural imbalances (e.g., China exporting more than it imports) but the remaining 1/3 can be addressed by balancing out liner-specific imbalances through the exchange of equipment between companies.

Most companies I speak to highlight that they have an existing list of partners that they work with — but that finding and working with new partners is extremely difficult and time consuming. Each additional user on xChange currently leads to >200 additional partner connections, that are vetted by xChange and peer-reviewed by all other xChange participants. This distributes the cost of finding new and trusted partners to the network—and makes the industry as a whole more efficient. Moreover, xChange develops into an ecosystem of services such as insurance, surveying, etc that further drive value.

I will give some background on how the xChange-network drives value and how companies can make best use of this in their daily processes.

How will the digitalisation of the repositioning of empty containers impact supply and demand of new containers? 

Interesting point — in the long run I would expect improved utilisation levels of containers and therefore a subdued demand side for new containers. In the short run, I don’t believe that there will be a significant effect on the supply/demand balance.

What are the benefits to shipping lines and shippers of the digitalisation of the management of empty containers? 

Digitalisation is not always a recipe for success. In the management of containers however, there are a large number of interfaces to partners (e.g., depots, terminals, etc), clients, vendors of additional services (e.g., insurances, surveyors) that need to be managed and that can benefit from streamlined communication.

Also, the forecast and data quality in shipping is and remains notoriously bad—another area where digitalisation can play an important role to improve efficiency.

How important is partnering and collaboration in the effort to optimise empty containers use? 

Simply put: It’s crucial, there is no way around it. Optimising containers “internally” within one company can only address a minor part of the total potential—the music is in collaboration with others.

Why do you think events such as Intermodal Europe are important for the industry?
Events like Intermodal provide a very useful forum for all participants in the container shipping industry to get together, address key trends, issues and implications for their business models—and last but not least create new business relationships!