Digital applications promise to create the Smart Port

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IoT, cloud computing and ubiquitous network connectivity are driving digital transformation in sea ports the world over. We investigate the steps port operators are taking towards creating a smart port.

The sea port sector is quite traditional and not accustomed to disruption, but digital applications can play a central role in a large number of port and shipping operations, from logistics management to improving cargo activities. In fact, they are the first step to true smart ports, incorporating insight driven solutions and internet of things (IoT) enabled applications.

Earlier this year, for example, Tilbury’s London Container Terminal started using a fully-integrated Vehicle Booking System (VBS) mobile app designed specifically for the terminal’s haulers. The app enables haulers to make bookings and check the state of a container remotely on their smartphones. Other adopters include global shipping container giant CMA CGM, which has introduced a mobile app that offers real time data on container shipments including voyage schedules.

The Montreal Port Authority (MPA) has gone a step further and developed an app that will reduce pollution, while enhancing efficiencies, by optimizing truck routes and cutting congestion to and from terminals. Information captured via a combination of Bluetooth, RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) technologies and license plate readers is sent to drivers in real time. The advanced Trucking PORTal Web-based application is now a key tool in reducing wait times and greenhouse gas emissions on port territory.

Smart port complexity

Actually choosing which technologies to incorporate into a digital strategy for a port and successfully deploying them is complex. Why? Because ports come with their own set of unique challenges, including an ecosystem of often competing companies and a broad range of stakeholders with different services and infrastructures.

The Port Community of Antwerp and Alfaport-Voka hopes to overcome these issues with its NxtPort platform, which it launched earlier this year. The platform has been designed to allow for better data sharing between different port stakeholders. It provides improved transparency and intelligence based on combined data, interoperability of existing platforms and the development of new apps up and down the supply chain. Potential benefits include the synchronization of goods and logistics processes as they flow through the port. These will reduce costs and delays, while increasing throughput and efficiency.

 The role of IoT in smart ports

As trade and cargo volumes continue to grow, ports are looking to technology to help them manage their resources and ensure their sustainability by becoming more cost effective. This is where the power of the internet of things (IoT) comes in.

Via IoT, ports can integrate and share maritime information in a secure environment across different devices. Combined with reliable connectivity at high seas and during terrestrial transportation, IoT can dramatically improve port efficiency in areas such as the automated processing of data linked to container movement.

Here the Hamburg Port Authority (HPA) is blazing a trail. The port of Hamburg is the third largest container port in Europe and serves as a central hub for distribution. Nearly 140 million tons of cargo were handled by the port in 2016 and this is growing year on year. In addition, it deals with 2,300 freight trains per week and up to 40,000 truck trips daily, so streamlined logistics are essential.

The port has adopted an IoT-based cloud communications platform to schedule operations, from telling ships where and what time to dock to notifying lorries and cranes of their allotted spaces. Data from across the port is continually consolidated and analyzed. Smart tracking using software and sensors, gives HPA a bird’s eye view of what is happening across the port in real time, flagging up traffic congestion or when bridges need to be raised, for example.

Docking in a smarter future

The future of shipping ports will be faster, smarter, greener and connected. To survive they will need to utilize the power of IoT to intensively share information, adhere to best practices and reduce their carbon footprint. Cargo handling solutions company Kalmar predicts that by 2060 all ports will be automated, exploit big data and run on renewable energy with zero carbon emissions. However, we still have some way to go before this vision becomes a reality.

To find out more about how the shipping sector are using Orange Business Services click here.

Jan Howells

Jan has been writing about technology for over 22 years for magazines and web sites including ComputerActive, IQ magazine and Signum. She has been a business correspondent on ComputerWorld in Sydney and covered the channel for Ziff-Davis in New York.