Port Automation: A Paradox for the Shipping Industry



Professor Jean-Paul Rodrigue, PortEconomics


Editor's note: Professor Jean-Paul Rodrigue is a long-time contributor to PTI and one of the foremost experts in the global movement of trade. Professor Rodrigue recently provided welcome counter-balance at the recent CTAC Conference in which he brought key insight into the complexity of digital evolution within the shipping sector. In this paper, Professor Rodrigue offers us an insight into the present state of automation, the automation 'ceiling' and its consequences.

Automation is bringing a series of paradoxes to the shipping industry. Since maritime shipping is in the derived demand business, it is misleading to assume that automation does not affect the demand for shipping as well. Although automation is mostly considered by the industry at the port terminal level, it also takes place across entire supply chains, a process associated with the fourth industrial revolution
(manufacturing 4.0/4IR). The impacts of automation may thus be more significant on the activities that drive port volumes, such as manufacturing, than on port operations.

This represents a paradox since automation can directly be a benefit for port terminals, but indirectly it could be a curse. Stakeholders such as terminal operators usually optimize the systems they can control and benefit from, but a common mistake is not to consider the wider contexts of the technologies they are using, both upstream and downstream of their value chains.

Port terminals are particularly prone to automation since it provides direct benefits in terms of cost, efficiency, safety…

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