Major ports not embracing smart tech risk being left at sea

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Smart technology, underpinned by big data, is being utilized to expand capacities at major ports across Europe and beyond, with developers in a race against the clock to ensure their facilities do not fall behind rivals in logistical capabilities.

Aside from processing more than 60 million domestic and international journeys per year, a total of 481.8 million tons of freight passed through all UK ports in 2017, with about 95% of the UK’s imports and exports being transported by sea.

However, the competition is fierce. The UK’s busiest container port handles just over one-third of the volume processed by Rotterdam, for example.

 

Creative solutions

The need for port authorities to look for creative solutions is therefore acute, while shipping container companies are increasingly playing a central role in introducing data-led smart technology.

Data services like Automatic Identification Systems linked to GPS offer insights into multiple aspects of logistical operations at a port, from increasing efficiencies in terms of loading and unloading containers to optimizing the flow of shipping traffic in the docks.

The Port of Rotterdam recently started working with IBM on creating a centralized dashboard to collect real-time water, weather and communications data from sensors, with the aim of reducing wait times and optimizing docking and ship-to-shore loading processes.

Similarly, the Port of Valencia, which recently installed data-collection points across some 200 cranes and vehicles, has also employed smart illumination systems. These have cut energy consumption by 80% by only lighting up certain routes when vehicles are moving.

The Port of Antwerp is exploring the potential use of blockchain technology for container collection.

Meanwhile, the Port of Hamburg is planning to use smart technology to double its capacity by 2025, whilst not increasing its geographical footprint. With land that is ripe for development at a premium, making the best use of the existing space is essential.

 

Operational efficiencies

Rodrigo Garro, project manager at port automation engineering provider Orbita Ports, said that big data can reduce operational costs, especially as crane operators are operative only one-quarter of the time.

“One of the areas where I think we will see change going forward is an integration of all the different stakeholders in a port,” said BCG principal Alexander Rasmussen, the coauthor of the report, ‘To Get Smart, Ports Go Digital’.

“These solutions that create a single platform for port stakeholders to interact – whether it’s blockchain or a single ecosystem for managing all the land-side logistics like in Singapore – that type of solution is going to become more and more prevalent in the next couple of years.”

Therefore, major ports that do not embrace smart technology in the coming years could be left behind in the race to become vital export and import hubs as data analysis plays an increasingly prominent role in boosting efficiencies.

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