28 January 2022
Forecasting worldwide empty container availability with machine learning techniques
Paper presented at World of Shipping Portugal, an International Research Conference on Maritime Affairs, 27 - 28 January 2022, Online Conference, from Portugal to the World
Due to imbalances in the global transport of containerised goods, liner shipping companies go to great lengths to match the regional supply and demand for empty containers by transporting equipment from surplus to deficit regions. Making accurate forecasts of regional empty container availability could support liner companies and other involved actors by taking better relocation decisions and thus avoid unnecessary transportation costs of empty equipment. Against this background, this paper introduces two novel approaches based on machine learning and probabilistic techniques to predict the future availability of empty containers for more than 280 locations worldwide. The machine learning and probabilistic prediction models are built by analysing a unique data set of more than 100 million events from past container journeys. These events represent different stages during the transport process of a container. Both models use a two-step forecast logic: First, the expected future location of a container is predicted. Second, the expected timestamp for arriving at that location is estimated. The machine learning model uses artificial neural networks and mixture density networks to forecast the movements of containers. The models are quantitatively assessed and compared to the actual availability of containers and two more conventional forecasting approaches. The results indicate that the probabilistic prediction approach can keep up with conventional approaches while the neural network approach significantly outperforms the other approaches concerning every evaluation metric.
Martius, Christoph Georg Rudolf