Ports appear to be entering an era where the largest must experiment with disruptive technologies to stay competitive.
Speakers discussed experimental approaches, many already at the pilot stage, during Day Two (April 20, 2017) of Port Technology's Container Terminal Automation Conference.
Foremost among the disruptive pilots was the one described by Nick Earle, Senior Vice President, Global Field Operations and Marketing of Hyperloop One, a concept by Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
Hyperloop could revolutionize the port industry by allowing ships to deliver to ports on platforms 10 miles offshore.
Port operator DP World is the single biggest investor in the technology.
“The reason they came in is that they think there is tremendous potential to re-invent business models,” Earle said.
Hyperloop One is cooperating with other port operators, too. It has just published a port case study on the Port of Los Angeles, the biggest port in the United States.
Public and private investors are looking to implement the automated rail-replacing technology as a way to lower costs and transit times in the landside freight supply chain.
It could resolve some of the inefficiencies in moving cargo on land, for example cutting environmental emissions, fuel waste and road traffic.
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It will aim to increase capacity for transporting volumes of containerized goods other than chemicals, oil and metals, but ports won’t automatically benefit.
“At the end of the day we’re still to prove this, but were getting very close,” Earle explained.
He described a summer demonstration taking place in Nevada, and added, “We finish development in the coming months, and then we will see some new business models.”
Earlier in the day, a panel assessed operators’ expectations in relation to automation leading to greater profits.
Lars Jensen, CEO and Partner of Sea Intelligence Consulting, said terminal operators should have measured expectations of automation: “Automation is a necessity to survive but it will not give you a sustained competitive advantage.“
Some ports stand to profit and others to “lose big” after making automation investments, which can cost US$2 billion.
Jensen went on to recommend caution when rolling out automated practices, by taking care to ensure that exception handling is planned and logical processes are adopted.
He also raised the challenge of incentivizing sharing of automatically collected data among the various players, for example shippers and terminal operators: “Soon there will be transparency – how do we leverage that to our advantage?”
Gerhard Fischer, Head of Sales for Siemens' Process Industries and Drives, Large Drives and Cranes, delivered a closing keynote address that beautifully summed up the valuable contributions from terminals, consultants, suppliers, and analysts.