Sneak Peak – Smart Port: Piers of the Future

Hand holding tablet is pressing button Logistics connection technology interface global partner connection for logistic import export background. Business logistics concept , internet of things

Smart ports are one of the most exciting technological trends in the maritime industry and could usher in a new era of digital innovation and collaboration across the global supply chain.

That was certainly the message that came out of the Smart Digital Ports of the Future conference in Rotterdam in early November, which brought together some of the finest minds in the industry to discuss, debate and analyze its technological future.


One of those was the Port of Barcelona, one of many ports looking to transform it operations through digital technology.

From the 19-21 November 2019 it will host the next great event on the smart ports calendar – the Smart Ports: Piers of the Future – where it will be joined by 40 other ports, some of which will showcase major projects and share success stories. Six of these are smart ports and they will demonstrate their latest digital innovations.

Emma Cobos, the Port of Barcelona’s Business Development Manager, sat down with us at SDP19 to talk about what to expect at Smart Ports: Piers of the Future.

Smart Ports – A Sneak Peak

“The six ports will showcase innovation, sustainability and digitization – which we consider to be as much about helping the environment as we do financial return,” Cobos said. 

The six in question are Antwerp, Hamburg, Los Angeles, Montreal, Rotterdam and Barcelona itself, and each will bring a different take on the technological revolution sweeping the maritime sector.

“The aim,” according to Cobos, “is to build more solutions so the industry can meet the challenges of the future. We will showcase more than 40 major projects in total, which will be presented by ports and technological partners.”

Barcelona’s journey towards digitization began 15 years ago and is closely aligned to its decarbonization goals. The port’s proximity to the city and its substantial cruise traffic makes its goals particularly important and challenging.

Just as there are many digital initiatives, there are a large number of solutions that can improve a port’s carbon footprint. All need expertise, commitment and heavy investment.

For its part, Barcelona will demonstrate its ‘Power to Ship’ initiative at Smart Ports: Piers of the Future, which Cobos says will cost US$67 million (€61 million) and aims to cut nitrogen oxide (NOx) by 51% & suspended particles by 25% by 2030.

As well as that, it will also showcase its ‘Container Tracking Application’ which Cobos describes as a “transparency project” and a key component in its smart port transformation.

“We believe more and more that we need to be transparent for shippers”, Cobos says.

“The ‘Container Tracking Application tracks the physical process of a container, from the moment the vessel arrives, when the container touches the ground, is processed by customs, leaves the terminal and other points.

“It is available for Port of Barcelona clients all around the world and can be integrated into already existing systems. They can set up alarms and will have a small business intelligence tool to check what is going on with their cargo.”

The first step towards innovation is to identify problems and bring specialists to find the best solutions – Smart Ports: Piers of the Future will look to exactly that.

Here is an overview of the six major innovations that will be showcased at Smart Ports: Piers of the Future:

Port of Antwerp’s Hydropower

ANTWERP, BELGIUM – Mobile Container Spreaders at the MSC Home shipping terminal in the Port of Antwerp.

Antwerp, according to Cobos, will also make the environment central to its presentation at Smart Ports: Piers of the Future, where it will showcase ‘Hydropower’, the first turbine to generate green energy on sea locks.

The turbine was built using 3D technology, virtual reality, computerized fluid dynamics and data from extensive studies on water flow, with a prototype being unveiled and installed in December 2018.

It has been through several reference tests and a duration test of 235 hours, the data from which will be crucial for creating a realistic business case. 

Hamburg’s Digital Twin

Hamburg, Germany – Freight container ship and cranes at the Terminal Burchardkai, Port of Hamburg, Germany.

Digital twin technology, which creates a virtual version of a physical asset to test real-time data and performance, will form the core of Hamburg’s presentation on its ‘Building Information Modelling’ (BIM) project. It will go to considerable efforts to demonstrate how artificial intelligence and augmented reality can help save energy and improve operations.

Hamburg is exploring and piloting new applications and believes the application of BIM can help it allocate its resources more efficiently in the planning and building phases.

The BIM project is part of its broader ‘Smart Port’ initiative, which aims to make the movement of cargo from vessel to road and beyond cleaner and more efficient.

Los Angeles’ Cyber Resilience   

View of Los Angeles Container Terminal in San Pedro California.

The Port of Los Angeles will present its cyber-resilience center at Smart Ports: Piers of the Future, which Cobos says “will not just benefit the port but the whole community” and showcase how it will prevent future cyber-attacks.

The Center, which was proposed in April 2019, will be a collaborative effort to share cyberthreat information across a multitude of companies within the Port complex, the chief aim is to avoid risks that could damage the entire supply chain.

The Port is North America’s leading seaport and facilitated approximately $297 billion in trade during 2018.

Barcelona’s Virtual Gates

Aerial view of Containers with cargo ship in Port De Barcelona (Catalonia), Spain.

As well as the CTA and its environmentally-friendly initiatives, the Port of Barcelona will demonstrate Virtual Gates, its solution to make the entire logistics chain more efficient, particularly on the landside.

Virtual Gates provides detailed information on all incoming and outgoing traffic and, combined with data from customs, allows for accurate 24-48 hour forecasts on the Port’s truck traffic, letting container terminals plan for increases in volume when they need to.

Rotterdam’s Pronto Initiative

Rotterdam, The Netherlands – April 15, 2014: An official Port Authority patrol vessel in Rotterdam Harbour, branded with the Port of Rotterdam logo.

The Port of Rotterdam, will talk about ‘Pronto’, its port call optimization initiative that provides carriers, terminals and other stakeholders with a shared platform that can be used to exchange information.

Pronto combines public data, data retrieved directly from participating companies and forecasts from artificial intelligence applications to generate accurate information about a port call.

Users can easily filter the available data on their own dashboard and zoom in on the timeline of an individual shipment and use that information to plan far more efficiently than in the past.  

Montreal’s Electronic Navigation

Montreal, Canada – August 19, 2010: An aerial photograph of the Montreal shipping ports taken from a Helicopter. A ship is docked along the St-Lawrence seaway on the island of Montreal.

Finally, the Port of Montreal will showcase its electronic navigation initiative which Cobos says will give more accurate location data and help coordinating operations around the port.

Electronic navigation is among the most important technological advancements in the maritime world, and Montreal’s system allows pilots to access the Canadian Coast Guard’s MARINFO web portal.

This offers a number of advantages, namely that it makes previously hazardous areas of the St Lawrence River far easier to navigate.

By hosting these initiatives at Smart Ports: Piers of the Future, the Port of Barcelona is bringing together the best technological innovations maritime has to offer and laying the groundwork for greater collaboration in the future – a true testament to the industry’s ingenuity and commitment to finding solutions to major obstacles.

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