Inland terminals and smaller ports need to be supported in their efforts to utilise artificial intelligence (AI) and digitalisation technologies as part of global efforts to make the supply chain more resilient.
Smart technologies such as AI are becoming more important in the port industry as consumer demand continues to increase and port come under greater amounts of pressure.
During the first keynote session of the Container Terminal Automation Conference 2021 (CTAC 2021), Dr Eva Savelsberg, Senior Vice President and Board Member, Inform, said a lack of digitalisation in the hinterland is negatively affecting the rest of the supply chain, even though seaports are investing heavily in smart technologies.
Inland logistics is currently “not part of the digitalisation chain”, Savelsberg said, and this “affects handling speed” for many stakeholders and can slow down the transportation of goods.
“It is just as important to strengthen these hinterland chains and make them [inland ports] as automated as seaports,” she explained.
“Smaller terminals are behind in digitalisation and over the next few years we need to focus on the hinterland and these hubs to help them take the next step in their upgrade and build a stronger supply chain.”
Savelsberg pointed to KTL Kombi-Terminal (KTL) in Ludwigshafen and the Samskip van Dieren Multimodal terminal in the Port of Duisberg as key examples of AI and digitalisation being used well.
KTL uses a “strong TOS inland system” and a fleet of semi-automated cranes to improve efficiency, according to Savelsberg, and is also pursuing “a lot of AI research” in its digitalisation upgrade. These upgrades have “pushed performance up quite decisively”.
Additionally, by leveraging “strong algorithms” alongside the TOS, KTL is able to use AI to “improve decision making” and massively reduce late arrivals and departures of trains every month.
Inland and intermodal logistics have become increasingly important for the whole maritime industry and it is an area where the carriers have sought to adapt and change their business models from seabound transportation and end-to-end logistics providers.
Traffic at inland terminals has driven growth for numerous port authorities and terminal operators, especially in the US. In other parts of the world there have been efforts to improve the flow of traffic on inland waterways and make it easier to share data among stakeholders.
Ports and terminals have borne the brunt of the supply chain chaos caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and this has made many stakeholders to make their operations more agile so that they can quickly adapt to severe market changes.
According to Savelsberg, terminals need to prioritise optimisation software that allows them to be “infrastructure-light”, as well as being to “expand when necessary” and scale back in times of crisis “without big costs”.
This will enable ports and terminals to react better to short term crises, such as the obstruction of the Suez Canal in March 2021 and the surge in containerised goods seen since the outbreak of the pandemic.
They can also plan better for long term changes to the market, such as climate change, which themselves lead onto short term hurdles including weather changes and rising water levels.
AI-enabled optimisation can help business adapt their strategies and still reach their goals and take into account the huge amount of variables ports and terminals have to take into account.
During the keynote session Inform introduced its AI-based Train Load Optimizer as part of its broader logistics offering. The system helps inland terminals make logistics operations more flexible by automating decision-making processes.
It enables real-time re-optimisation of load plans and can adjust to situational changes, which in turn minimises yard re-handling and improves general cargo transportation.