The Internet of Things and the Container Port


The ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) is the term used to describe the process of connecting any object to the internet, and according to Forbes, there will be around 26 billion devices connected to the internet by the year 2020.

According to an article published by The Guardian in July, 2015, although the internet of things can pose security risks in the form of hacking, it is a trend that is currently experiencing a natural evolution in smart technology and is connected to other online platforms such as the ‘Cloud’ and telecoms.

The evolution of the IoT is often used synonymously with the term machine-to-machine (M2M) and internet 4.0, which both use sensors and radio tags to collect data. With this in mind, the IoT is an important driver for the Big Data concept.

For business, the IoT holds much importance in the form of sensors and transferring sensor data back into the cloud to enable businesses to make smarter decisions. This concept would be suitably placed alongside Big Data, as sensor data makes up a key part of using Big Data practices, with IoT providing the connection for storing data via wireless technology. So how does the IoT connect with the concept of Big Data?

The rise of Big Data in ports and terminals

Bill Harpley, Principal Consultant for IoT specialist Astius Technology, said: “IoT is cloud-based and embraces open standards. It is a much more data-driven approach to business than M2M.  It is horizontal in scope, leveraging data from multiple 'silos' within the organisation and from external sources, such as Open Data.

“This is where Big Data comes into play. The most important thing to grasp about the IoT is that the real value of IoT lies not in the 'things' but in the data. By blending data sets from multiple sources, it is possible to create a rich perspective on how the business actually performs.”

(Source: iStock)

These rich data sets could lay the foundation for analysing the data patterns that are found once a Big Data platform has been combined with a TOS system in ports, providing opportunities for analysing TOS data which relates to crane performance, based on yard performance and many other aspects of a container port.

Bill continues: “A new generation of data visualisation tools such as Tableau and Qlik makes complex data analysis accessible to non-specialists. Using these types of visual analysis tools, it is possible to see patterns and relationships that would not be obvious otherwise.”

Up to now, container ports have been slow to fully utilise the IoT and is still relatively new, as is Big Data and the ones who are not using it, or rather, who are not using the appropriate technology, can experience technical problems, such as having shipping containers blocking important radio signals. Despite this, JLT Mobile Computers believe that there are many commercial opportunities present in using the IoT, with ports moving to a more integrated solution via improved wireless infrastructure.

Peter Lundgren, Sales Director, JLT Mobile Computers, said: “Building on a modern network infrastructure is important. Many networks in ports were built 10 years ago, using the technology available at the time (low bandwidth). New applications demand higher bandwidth and more secure communication. WiFi is one popular platform, 3G/4G like in BCT Gdynia provide an interesting alternative while 700 MHz LTE is promising.

To read a Technical Paper by Peter Lundgren on applying the IoT concept at ports, click here

“Harnessing the IoT starts when designing the application. The positive implications of this include the usage of material and understanding bottle necks, reducing down-time to understand when and where preventive maintenance is needed and simulation of various scenarios for planning and future development.”

This aspect of designing an IoT concept is vast; as it consists of multiple technological trends which are used to ensure a container port is well-connected. The Port of Hamburg believes that by combining hotspots, cloud, mobiles and devices, and developments such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, a port can more easily pave the way to a more efficient future.

“For us, ‘smart’ refers to the intelligent exchange of information to increase the quality and efficiency of the port as an important link in the supply chain – taking account of both economic and ecological aspects”, argues Jens Meier, CEO of the Port of Hamburg, “A special focus of the strategy lies on infrastructure, traffic flows and trade flows.

(Source: Port of Hamburg)

“Establishing intelligent infrastructure is imperative to ensure smooth and efficient traffic flows and, ultimately, trade flows. Information technology – consisting of elements such as Bluetooth, hotspots or Wi-Fi, cloud, mobile end devices, the IoT and Big Data – plays a key role in implementing it.

“First is to connect the five mega trends together and second – especially for ports – we have to integrate all data relating to the goods and all data relating to the infrastructure. That’s the most important thing to be ready for the future.”

So in effect, the IoT is an open platform which could potentially hold many benefits for ports, particularly in the commercial sense, where sensor data can be accessed to drive preventative maintenance once the right application has been designed. Using the right partners and the appropriate technology are also seen as having the most relevance when designing a strong IoT initiative.

Combining different areas of digital infrastructure may also prove to be mandatory as all data relating to goods and infrastructure needs to be connected for ports to be able to manage their traffic and trade flows, and essentially, to be prepared for the future of managing the transportation of goods.

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