There’s some debate as to whether digitalization of seaports truly addresses congestion issues outside port grounds. But today, digitalization is almost required for port authorities to stay competitive, cut costs, and, they say, optimize port operations.
In Europe, the effort is extending beyond just port efficiencies. “If technology was the only challenge we face, life would be easy,” says Erwin Verstraelen, chief digital and innovation officer at the Antwerp Port Authority. “Geopolitics, sustainable growth, climate change and energy transition all create challenges in this ever-changing world, but also: opportunities.”
Three major seaports in Europe – Rotterdam, Antwerp, and Hamburg – offer examples of digitalization innovation.
Port of Antwerp
At Antwerp, work is being done on a digital version of the port, complete with real-time information. This includes work on how containers and their cargoes can be better secured using blockchain technology.
Port officials and blockchain start-up T-Mining have developed a solution whereby documents, such as certificates of origin and phytosanitary certificates, are transferred using blockchain technology they dub “smart contracts.” Here, instead of sending paper certificates overseas by couriers, certificates are transferred digitally to all proper parties in Belgium.
“This way everyone immediately has all the latest information and the necessary preparations and checks can be made faster,” says Nico De Cauwer, business architect for port community systems at the port authority.
Thetechnology guarantees that the authenticity of the certificates has not been tampered with. The origin of the documents also can be retrieved in real time.
The port has tested the technology on a small shipment of apples from New Zealand by providing digital phytosanitary certificates to Belgian importer Enzafruit, which transferred the digital certificates to freight forwarder Befruco, which, in turn, transferred them to Belgian authorities before releasing the cargo from the terminal.
The pilot project demonstrated how digitization actively collaborates to secure the chain while automating the administrative processes. Generally, it makes data available more quickly for all parties concerned. This in turn means more efficient inspections and shorter transit times.
Port officials also are undertaking other efforts to create a smart port. These include building a digital three-dimensional copy of the port that will enable users to retrieve information such as which ship is docked at a particular terminal and when, and details of all vessels in the Scheldt and at the docks at that moment.
In another pilot programme, digital cameras and sensors are being installed in the Deurganckdok to ensure that ships moor correctly at the berth reserved for them.
Port of Hamburg
Sebastian Saxe, CDO of the Hamburg Port Authority, reports that the Port of Hamburg’s rail, road and inland waterway traffic is already digitally guided. This is important, he says, because artificial intelligence in guiding traffic will be an important topic this year given that Hamburg is a test bed project that introduces 5G wireless technology. The goal is to find useful areas in the Hamburg area that can use this technology to make for the more efficient traffic flows and facilitate the implementation of further visionary projects.
Under its smartPORT umbrella, the Hamburg Port Authority has pooled numerous projects that test digital technologies. Among them are autonomous trucks, paperless customs clearance, and underwater drones. Officials envisage using underwater drones to monitor quay walls and Elbe sediment in future. Airborne drones could be used to inspect the load-bearing cables of the Köhlbrand Bridge.
Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA), a German logistics and transportation company, is already successfully deploying drones – some of these autonomous – at its terminals.
The port is already 95% digitalized, reports Ulrich Wrage, CEO of IT provider Dakosy, with around 2,000 companies connected.
The port’s Container Terminal Altenwerder already is regarded one of the most cutting-edge terminals in the world. A major part of its operations is automated, including the use of guided vehicles that move containers between the quay wall and storage blocks.
The Hamburg Vessel Coordination Centre (HVCC) is one example of just how well networking between the variety of companies and institutions is functioning.
The tempo of such technological developments continues to accelerate. “Other ports are not waiting,” emphasized Saxe. Wrage added: “Shippers are dictating the pace. Global trading groups like Amazon or Alibaba examine very precisely what a port can or cannot do.
Digital Hub Logistics Hamburg aims to provide further momentum for Port 4.0, or Hafen 4.0. This is the first port of call for the digital business transformation of the logistics industry on land, water and in the air.
Port of Rotterdam
The Port of Rotterdam has earned the reputation of being one of the leading digital ports in the world. One of the reasons is the port’s internet of things (IoT) platform – the result of a collaborative effort with partners IBM, Cisco, Esri and Axians. This platform is expected to facilitate further development in autonomous shipping, artificial intelligence, real-time analytics and blockchain.
The first application for hydro/meteo recently has been put into operation. The system uses an extensive network of sensors to provide accurate and up-to-date water (hydro) and weather (meteo) data used for the planning and management of autonomous shipping. Here, sensors incorporated on and in quay walls, dolphins, waterways, roads and traffic signs generate continued measurement data that communicate with other autonomous systems.
For example, the height of tide, tidal stream, salinity, wind speed, wind direction and visibility data via a combination of 44 sensors in the port are combined with prediction models, data from Rijkswaterstaat and astronomical calculations, which enables the application to contribute to reductions of waiting times and optimization of berthing, loading/unloading and departure times. In essence, the technology allows to more precisely predict the best time to berth and depart, depending on water conditions, while guaranteeing maximum loads.
Global and open standards make it easy for external parties to connect with this real-time data. Each day, the platform is already processing some 1.2 million data points for models, systems and users.
By Karen E. Thuermer
Correspondent | Washington