An interview with Emerson ahead of Intermodal Connect

11 March 2021

Ahead of exhibiting at Intermodal Connect, March 16-18, we spoke with John Rhodes - Group President - Cold Chain for Emerson. Find out what he had to say below:



    1. In your view, what does the outlook for the industry look like?

While the industry is still working through some challenges, namely capacity bottlenecks and regional supply/demand imbalances for reefers, I think the long-term outlook for container shipping and the intermodal supply chain is bright. Productivity improvements as a result of the pandemic will further support recovery for the intermodal industry and supply chains. We see this happening across the cold chain sector where we operate. Global container throughput is expected to rise in 2021 on average between 6-7 percent compared to 2020. Rising demand for perishables and protein in key emerging markets could also begin to address imbalance in container flows, reducing the cost of empties repositioning.  

    2. Has your firm launched any innovative products or new initiatives over the course of the pandemic?

In February of this year, we launched our new Lumity™ brand of analytics software and digital solutions to help safeguard critical products like foods and temperature-sensitive medications across the chain of custody. The Lumity portfolio uses advanced technologies to monitor environmental factors across pharmaceutical and food supply chains, generating real-time data that enables users to take fast action when temperature and humidity swings are detected. Products we are launching include: Lumity wireless data logger to help protect temperature- and humidity-sensitive products; Lumity facility management solutions, a software and control platform for supermarkets, convenience stores and other food and pharmacy retail locations; and Lumity remote temperature sensing system for restaurants and foodservice in grocery stores. Additionally, our vessel infrastructure technology enabled our customers to quickly monitor reefers on each vessel using Bluetooth technology to provide digital records. 

    3. How well do you feel the intermodal industry as a whole has reacted to the pandemic?

Overall, I think the intermodal industry has managed through the pandemic extremely well, especially when benchmarked against the 2008-2009 global financial crisis which had widespread and long-term repercussions. Over the past year, the maritime industry has responded quickly and decisively to fast-moving shifts in trade demand patterns, reducing and then adding capacity to specific trade lanes. Although this has contributed to the shortage of containers in origin countries, it does indicate an increased agility in supply chains and networks.The critical factor in the pandemic response by all businesses was, and continues to be, speed and safety. We have seen companies up and down the entire supply chain collaborating to mobilize technology and supporting processes very quickly to meet these requirements.

    4. What do you see as the major risks to the industry as it recovers from the effects of COVID-19?

Across the cold chain regionally and within multiple segments, including intermodal, we see an underinvestment in advanced technologies and a shortage in human talent with the required technical skillsets. That’s why Emerson is further investing in our software and analytics capabilities to support our cold chain partners and customers. And that’s why our company is also a proponent and supporter of STEM education for young people and technical training programs for people in the workforce.Another risk is the significant imbalance in global trade. Some parts of the global economy have recovered much faster than expected, such as durable goods and everyday necessities, while other areas, like the services sector, are lagging. The container shipping industry has been heavily affected by the imbalance, but we do see the industry ramping up in contracting vessels and delivery of reefer equipment through 2021.The recovery in trade is linked to successful vaccine rollouts; Emerson is working with partners across the industry to support this rollout in all global regions that we operate in. 

    5. What key trends do you see shaping the industry over the next few years?

The pandemic dramatically accelerated the adoption of digital, cloud-based technologies across the cold chain, including the maritime industry and we see this trend continuing to accelerate as the learnings from the vaccine roll-out are adopted across the industry. This is being driven by a need to perform tasks remotely and streamlining processes to reduce costs and prioritize the safety of their crews and personnel. We are seeing this as a common theme across our cold chain engagements, not only in maritime. There is a rise in digital transformation, including the use of smart technology and data-driven applications, particularly for inland operations and logistics. The pandemic has highlighted the value and need for enhanced remote asset visibility and the importance of technology that can not only collect data, but also implement a logic layer to help users make better and faster decisions with a higher degree of accuracy. The data and insights these technology solutions provide bring a level of predictability within operations, which helps reduce idle times of critical assets through predictive maintenance applications and increased asset utilization.We’re also seeing a growing interest and demand for approaches that support environmental sustainability and decarbonization in energy production and use, in manufacturing and in the supply chains to the end users. Emerson, which has long been a technology driver for energy and production efficiency, is in a very good position to help our customers and the industries we serve enhance their environmental sustainability and make the transitions to a lower carbon use future. Despite the economic and supply chain challenges caused by the pandemic, the cold chain sector has remained focused on initiatives to address climate concerns, including the reduction of carbon emissions, greater use of low-sulfur fuel alternatives, and transitioning to natural (CO2) and low GWP refrigerants.

    5. How has your business responded to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Emerson is managing through the pandemic similarly to other global companies in our industries. The goods and services produced by our company directly support critical infrastructure industries and serve essential industries, including HVAC and climate control technologies, refrigeration, medical, health care and pharmaceuticals, as well as building management, to name a few. We have kept our facilities operating, following local government requirements and public health guidance.With the support of technology and the ingenuity of our employees, we have found new and creative ways to do things and keep us together and working while socially distanced. In addition, early in the pandemic, Emerson donated its surplus N95 and surgical masks, gloves, safety glasses, shoe covers and face shields to frontline responders, including hospitals, medical testing sites, urgent care facilities, law enforcement and fire safety professionals. Our cause-driven business purpose – to drive innovation that makes the world healthier, safer, smarter and more sustainable – has been the foundation of our approach during this crisis. Emerson’s compressors are being used for refrigeration to hold COVID-19 test kits and for air conditioning in temporary hospitals. Our temperature tracking devices help to ensure proper conditions for testing products shipped across the world. And our technologies are being used in the making of ventilators, masks and pharmaceuticals, including vaccines.

    6. Why is exhibiting at Intermodal Connect important for your business in 2021?

Intermodal Connect is a crucial platform for Emerson to connect with customers and learn about the latest trends and movements in the industry. The past year has been challenging for all companies. Coming together in this year’s virtual format is a vital way to help the industry recover, improve and succeed.


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