CTAC 2021: Digital Twin shortens playing field for expansive Belfast Harbour

Belfast Harbour container port

The giant 2,000-acre Belfast Harbour can successfully manage its resources and predictively maintain its assets through digital twin and IoT technologies.

In collaboration with 3DEO, the port has harnessed digital twin technologies – which creates a digital replica of the port complex and the high number of moving parts within it – to remotely visualise and action decisions on equipment in the facility.

Belfast Harbour is the largest port in the UK by physical size, handling two-thirds of Northern Ireland’s trade.

By taking in swathes of data from Internet of Things (IoT) data sources including stacking cranes and pumping equipment, Belfast Harbour has unlocked real-time visualisation of its port ongoings through the digital twin.

During CTAC 2021’s session ‘Improving Visibility in the Terminal’,  Laura O’Neill, Project Manager at Belfast Harbour, said the technology’s largest impact has been in efficiencies of maintenance of port equipment.

“Stepping into IoT and Digital Twin was driven by Belfast Harbour being a wide geographical area,” O’Neill explained.

“We have engineers and assets scattered across our 2000-acre estate, and those engineers need to touch base with each other.

“IoT sensors address these scattered assets, warning us of faults and providing us with data to make better decisions on managing assets. It’s also about safety, in that our engineers no longer need to go into confined spaces to manually assess the health of equipment,” O’Neill noted.

The result is a better utilisation of headcount across the estate, O’Neill explained, allowing port operatives to better direct resources to where maintenance is needed.

O’Neill continued that digital twins can predict faults before they occur – making the port maintenance process smarter and more efficient.

Gaining traction

Digital twin usage is picking up steam in Europe, claimed Michael Eichstedt, Senior Manager of Freight and Logistics at Accenture.

Eichstedt said that digital twin usage first began in East Asia in 2018, focusing initially on customs goods flows processing.

Since then, Accenture and European ports have tapped into the innovative technology to provide a risk-free predictive and visual model for port operations.

“We are seeing momentum in Europe ,” Eichstedt said. “We’re seeing usage in ports in the Mediterranean, the Port of Valencia, and some attempts in other ports.”

The Port of Antwerp, for example, has rolled out its APICA model which the port believes to be a ‘central nervous system’ of all things ongoing at its estate.

“We are working with Telecommunications providers such as BT and some ports in the United Kingdom where those solutions are being tested and applied,” Eichstadt continued.

Moving forward, Eichstadt said ports in North America are not exactly lagging behind on digital twin usage – but there “are only slight attempts,” of IoT and data visualisation.

“[The risk is] if ports do not try to use and apply digital twins. It is a risk-free environment: this is why you use it,” he said.

“Whatever the digital twin represents: Rubber-Tyred Gantry cranes, Ship-to-Shore cranes, TOS displays, or interactions between terminals and harbours as an organisation, you can ensure you represent reality at your port complex.”

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