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What is a Smart Port?

Containers yard in port congestion with ship vessels are loading and discharging operations of the transportation in international port.Shot from drone.
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A Smart Port is a port that uses automation and innovative technologies including Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT) and Blockchain to improve its performance.

Although the industry of ports and container shipping is often regarded as conservative and resistant to change, there are new technologies, systems and solutions emerging that will alter this perception in the coming years, leading the entire sector to a brighter, more connected future.

The need to evolve and become “smart” is even more paramount today with the changing demands of global trade: ships are getting bigger; goods are moving faster; and geopolitical issues are creating new challenges for ports all around the world.

In Edition 106 of the PTI Journal we examined some of the the most important digital trends and developments across the industry.

The industry has already embraced many emerging technologies such as Digital Twins, cargo flow optimisation and visualisation – giving customers end-to-end transparency of their cargo’s journey through the supply – and the emergence of 5G’s low latency and faster connectivity to improve port operations.

Digitalisation

The digitalisation of industrial processes is turning the way we produce goods and services upside-down as we look for higher efficiencies and better management of resources. This transformation is the so called Industry 4.0, and the Internet of Things (IoT) can be considered its cornerstone due to the clear need to capture information from all industrial assets.

Digital Twin technologies in use at the Port of Antwerp

The maritime sector is not an exception in this transformation and the change is starting to accelerate.

The Port of Esbjerg, for example, is leveraging a Digital Twin data visualisation platform to identify, monitor, and analyse the emissions outputs of not just its own carbon consumption, but eventually all actors using the port’s facility. The digitalisation and measuring of the port’s assets has allowed the port to make significant strides in reducing its carbon output within the port community.

But digitalisation is still a largely untapped resource in ports: reports found in February 2021 that of the 4,900 ports around the world, a staggering 80% continue to rely on legacy and paper-based processes to manage maritime services.

Smart Digital Ports of the Future Conference

Smart Digital Ports of the Future Conference is the only annual international event on the market that brings together the largest number of global ports, terminals, and the entire supply chain to debate, share best practices, latest developments and to successfully propel the industry forward with digitalization.

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Ports aiming to become smarter must complement their physical operations with digital processes, according to the Port of Rotterdam.

What is a Smart Port? – Joyce Bliek, Port of Rotterdam

In 2019 the Port of Rotterdam’s Director of Digital Business Solutions Joyce Bliek outlined what it means to be a digital port.

As technology develops, and the global supply chain becomes increasingly digital, there is a necessity for ports to become a “digital node” within that infrastructure.

In this respect, Bliek echoes the thoughts of Kalmar’s Director of Terminal Automation Jari Hämäläinen, who argues that the “exponential growth” of digital technology is placing pressure on the port sector to adapt. Those which fail to do so could be left behind.

The benefits of adopting a dual-approach that encompasses both the physical and the digital, as Bliek explains, are considerable, especially for the testing and optimization of physical infrastructure.

Building a quay wall for instance, without the support of digital twin technology and predictive analysis, could be very costly, whereas testing the structure’s functionality before it is constructed offers a much clearer insight as to what impact a major investment like this could have.

Money saved through digitalisation can be used elsewhere to fund key maintenance and infrastructure projects, allowing the port to hone its focus on improving the efficiency of its operations.

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