Four Smart Systems Improving Ports Today


Ports, the centres for trade, need to become a smart link to connect intelligent supply chains.

This is a view shared by Wolfgang Lehmacher, an authority on supply chain matters and a well-respected WEF expert, and many other Port Technology technical paper authors, who view the entire supply chain as one mechanism.

Below are four technologies forging the connections for smart-port centric supply chains.


AI allows computers and machines to function in an intelligent manner

Artificial Intelligence (AI):

AI is an intimidating, complicated topic not free from controversy.

Individuals around the world, and not just those working in ports, are faced with discomfort and uncertainty when relinquishing control, and ultimately responsibility, to automated processes operated by AI.

A technical paper by 1-Stop Communications' CEO Michael Bouari recently explained that an AI-empowered system could provide special advantages to ports by recognising patterns in the logistics chain that humans cannot, “even though the result looks exactly like the kind of judgement a human being would make.”

It is important, of course, that these various systems and technologies revolutionizing ports work together. Dr. Yvo Saanen, Commercial Director and Founder of TBA, warned in 2017 that a lack of solid, quality data across the supply chain could hinder the adoption of AI.

“We’re dealing with input which is at best so-so, and we’re trying to feed powerful algorithms with that,” he argues. “We have to address that.”

This is where big data comes into play, as a massive field of data points and information, all integrated in one place, can enable AI to reach its maximum potential.

Operations at Muscat Port, Oman


Big Data:

It is not difficult to understand where the name ‘Big Data’ originates from when, according to Richard Hepworth, President of Trelleborg Marine Systems, the maritime industry generates up to 120 million data points every day. 

“Companies can analyse these data points to identify efficiencies such as quicker routes or preferred ports,” reveals Hepworth, “resulting in an extra 5-10% increase in performance.”

By collating this information on one integrated system, which requires ports to first transition from inefficient paper-based operations, many small areas of improvement will be easier to identify and implement.

In Oman, Trelleborg unified disparate data from multiple projects to provide a comprehensive overview of the port’s operations, as well as the potential to optimise working practice and boost efficiency.

Another example of this taking place is at ports located in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, which are utilizing computer-generated big data to produce detailed statistics at a faster pace than humans can master.


Mining tools extract data from hundreds of thousands of websites


The Internet of Things (IoT):

The integration of interconnected, embedded devices, which can work together to produce accurate and specific data, is a pivotal tool for the smart port of the future.

By connecting command centres with real time information, data creates decisions that improve performance and efficiency.

However, large, intricate ports and terminals have a vast number of parameters and factors that IoT systems must account for, such as the harsh environment that the technology has to withstand.

As Paul Smits, Chief Financial Officer of the Rotterdam Port Authority, underlines, many se

nsor suppliers are not aware of the impact salt water and temperature fluctuations can have on their systems, presenting a risk to the supply chain. 

However, with the help of a new IoT system currently in operation at Rotterdam, shipping companies “know well in advance what weather and water conditions will be like,” and “can anticipate these circumstances with targeted measures.”


A container vessel travels through the Port of Rotterdam

Terminal Operating System (TOS):

The TOS is the brain of an automated port or terminal.

Opinions are divided, with Jean-Paul Rodrigue, Department of Global Studies & Geography at Hofstra University, arguing that there is a “ceiling representing what level of automation can be effectively implemented at a terminal from a cost/benefit perspective”.

Other commentators, such as Timo Lehto, Jari Hamalainen and Heimo Poutanen of Kalmar, have called for a systemic approach, in which open interfaces allow port operators to interact directly with automation technology.[LD4] 

“In order to be usable, the open interfaces of an automation system require full support from the system provider,” they suggest.

This is one example of the cargo lifting company presenting 

a strong case for more standardization in the industry.

By encouraging a common global port interface, the process of moving goods in and out of terminals will be expedited, resulting in a streamlined global supply chain that meets the demand of global consumerism.

On the other hand, Rodrigue points out that lower than anticipated demand, faced by major carriers such as Maersk and Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) in recent years, might render such a technological transition inert.

“Terminal automation must be considered in a wider context that affects both the technical aspects of terminal operations, but also the derived demand of maritime shipping.”


Maersk containers in the Harbour of Ancona


However, one thing is certain.

The ongoing system revolution witnessed in ports must operate in conjunction with each other.

No innovation is an island, and integrating the latest operational developments is crucial if they are to be as effective as the industry hopes.

The future may remain unclear, but it is obvious that change is on the horizon.

Read more:

Article written by Liam Donovan


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