Premium Article

AI in Focus: Can AI transform the way ports work?

AI, Artificial Intelligence concept,3d rendering,conceptual image.

The 21st century has seen rapid technological change for the maritime industry and one of the most talked about technologies, artificial intelligence (AI), could initiate a revolution for ports and terminals.

Today the industry faces numerous challenges, the largest of which is how to carry an ever-increasing burden of goods as e-commerce booms and expands the global economy.

This became even more acute in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic caused major fluctuations in container traffic and strained the global supply chain.

Consequently, ports need solutions that can move more cargo and plan for similar market uncertainty in the future.

The pandemic has added to the litany of hurdles, but new opportunities have emerged, especially in the areas of improving efficiency.

There is also an opportunity to strengthen ports’ position on the global supply chain and encourage cross-border and multi-modal collaboration, especially on big data by way of Port Community Systems. AI could help the industry achieve this.

What are the main benefits?

Container ports are indispensable to world trade and, in some cases, a country’s gross domestic product depends on the efficiency of its gateways and hinterland connectivity.

AI software developers ElementAI estimated in 2019 that port investment in smart and automation equipment had reached a total of $10 billion and that the increasing use of open data sharing platforms would result in more AI-adoption.

The growth of AI has been one of the most important technological trends in the maritime industry and it has been driven by the ascent of big data and the demand for greater efficiency, lower costs and improved transparency.

Bespoke applications of AI, such as machine learning (ML) are proving to be extremely capable of driving these benefits, but ports have some way to go before utilising it fully, according to Dr Eva Savelsberg, Senior Vice-President, Inform Logistics Group.

This is because the industry, with its multitude of stakeholders, has been slow to sufficiently use the glut of data it has at its disposal.

“Maritime still struggles with effective data management, including data standards, data sharing, and data quality and it isn’t even necessary external to an organisation,” Savelsberg told PTI. “Many operators still have highly siloed data within their own internal systems.”

According to AI specialists AIDrivers there are still great challenges in horizontal transportation and process optimisation, despite the huge technological advancements in the running of port terminals.

“AI-enabled technology is the only solution to overcome these problems in the existing port terminals where operators cannot afford the cost of building new environments,” the company’s founder Dr Rafiq Swash said.

Swash went on to say that AIDrivers’ technology can quickly upgrade and retrofit AI-enabled software and hardware.

“This is highly cost effective as there is no need for environment and infrastructure changes or upgrades. The ports are then run much more efficiently at lower costs,” Swash explained.

Data as the key

Data is central to any port’s digital transformation, including implementing AI and all levels of automation. Ports and terminals are not alone as data has accelerated innovation across the industry and wider supply chain.

Ports can harness the power of the massive amounts of data generated across the maritime logistics chain to make better decisions and collaborate with partners, Vivek Vaid, Chief Technology Officer at FourKites, told PTI.

“AI and machine learning can help in forecasting future volumes and assist in capacity planning,” Vaid said. “Predictive vessel ETAs and forecasting can help ports and terminals effectively plan labour and make adjustments when additional storage may be needed.   

“AI and machine learning can help all parties in the supply chain be better informed of the likelihood of certain outcomes. Communication between parties in the supply chain is key here in order for all parties to operate efficiently and achieve their respective goals.

“AI and ML can pick up on cues from upstream in the supply chain and help subsequent parties make more efficient decisions.”

Oscar van Veen, Head of Digital Innovation at the Port of Rotterdam, told PTI that using data correctly can have benefits across a port’s operations.

PortXchange was launched as a port call optimisation tool in 2019 (Image: Port of Rotterdam)

“In recent years, more and more systems have been linked and companies and organisations have started to exchange more information digitally,” Van Veen commented. “Data can be used to do useful things, enabling all parties in the port ecosystem, and even internationally, to make smarter decisions that have an impact on efficiency and sustainability.”

The Port of Rotterdam is one of the most technologically advanced ports in world and has invested heavily in automation and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, including AI, to improve its container handling capacity.

In 2019 the Port launched a Port Call Optimisation platform called PortXchange, which has made its handling of sea-going vessels more efficient by connecting data from different companies regarding a ship’s port call.

“We compare the schedules of all the parties involved in a port call and make a better schedule on that basis. In the future, we will use smart AI for this purpose. That is the direction we are heading in,” Van Veen said.

“The development of autonomous trucks, drones and ships is also in full swing. Once these are connected, you can let AI decide how they move and what they will do. AI can oversee much more data than humans,” he added.

“Through the Rotterdam CER (Container Exchange Route) platform, we are already planning across parties based on autonomous trucks. This will connect to even more systems and modalities in the future.”

This view is shared by industry experts Awake.AI, which said AI can help ports and terminals maintain situational awareness of resources and processes in the maritime logistics chain.

Examples, according to Awake.AI, include continuous monitoring and prediction of vessel schedules, cargo operations progress and storage area capacities.

“The subsequent step will be prescriptive analytics, where AI models are used to provide optimisation and decision support for operational planning, for example providing requested arrival times and resource scheduling based on holistic optimization of port operations,” Jussi Poikonen, Vice President of AI and Analytics, Awake.AI said..

An AI-enabled future

The emphasis on helping ports plan for incoming traffic will be vital for AI’s maritime future. The pandemic caused unforeseen fluctuations in volume, which led to congestion and delays further down the supply chain.

For ports and terminals, the benefits of AI are not confined to oceangoing cargo – it can also be used for storage and better resource utilisation.

Amir Rashad, CEO & Founder, Centersource Technologies, believes the main benefits of AI for ports are in digitally linking terminals with warehouse and real-time tracking, which can facilitate more productive planning.

“This would include tracking of what cargo will not make it by deadline or will a significant amount of cargo arrive in a time slot which would bottle neck unloading, store, stuffing or other operations, as well as enabling to rebook cargo at an earlier stage of the transportation process,” Rashad told PTI.

Cookie Policy. This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.