HomeChannelsFundamentalsWhere digital transformation sets sail: The five smartest ports in the world

Where digital transformation sets sail: The five smartest ports in the world

Container ports are at the crucible of digital change for the global supply chain. Artificial intelligence, blockchain, the industrial internet-of-things (IoT) technologies afford an opportunity for the shipping industry at large – comprising cargo owners, shipping lines, terminal operators, trucking companies, rail freight operators, and mini-cities of industrial operatives – to redefine the way cargo and services move through shipping stations. Here, we consider five of the very smartest of ‘smart ports’, from Asia, Europe, and North America.

1 | PORT OF SHANGHAI (CHINA) – c. 40m TEUs (1st in 2017)

Shanghai overtook Singapore in 2010 as home of the world’s largest container port. The Port of Shanghai comprises a both a river port and a deep-sea port. The deep-water section, Yangshan Port, is where most of the ‘smartness’ resides – or massive-scale automation, at least.

Yangshan Port, set among a group of islands in Hangzhou Bay, and linked to Shanghai’s Pudong New Area by the Donghai Bridge, was opened in 2005, enabling the old port area to overcome shallow waters and forge rapid expansion.

Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG), the public terminal operator in the city, opened a $2.15 billion (14 billion yuan) automated cargo wharf, the size of 312 football pitches, at the deep-water site at the start of 2018.

The move increased Shanghai’s port capacity by around six million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), all automated, with space for seven additional deep-water berths – bringing its docking space to 30 berths and handling capacity to 13 million TEUs. Shanghai’s total port capacity has already sailed past 40 million containers with the new set-up.

SIPG aims to cut energy consumption by 70 per cent, and emissions from the site to zero. A key component of the project has been the development of a bespoke terminal operating system (TOS). SIPG said at the time that its port control system was unique as every other port running an automated container system uses off-the-shelf software.

SIPG’s 200-strong R&D team, assembled for the Yangshan project, established a set of 12 standards which it has presented as the basis of Chinese port automation in the future. New machinery was supplied by the Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industry Company (ZPMC), the largest maker of port machinery in the world; the pair are seeking to sell their joint solutions to other port authorities.

2 | PORT OF SINGAPORE (SINGAPORE) – c. 34m TEUs (2nd in 2017)

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) set out its stall in April last year at the Singapore Maritime Technology Conference as the most progressive of port operators anywhere. The world port crown, long held by the city state, slipped in 2005, as Shanghai (see above) usurped it for cargo tonnage.

Nevertheless, the Lion city remains a global maritime capital, as the busiest for transshipment, as well as for crude oil. In April, the MPA announced a strategy to recapture its title as the world’s flat-out busiest from Shanghai, and set it on a digital path to optimise its productivity and efficiency.

As such, a new $1.1 billion deal – signed with Japanese Penta Ocean, South Korean Hyundai and Dutch Boskali – will see continued development of its Tuas ‘mega-port’, as the second phase in a four-stage development of Singapore’s massive new home west of the island – cast as aa bright, hulking jewel in its maritime crown.

Its capacity will be boosted by 21 million TEUs by 2027, housed across 387 hectares of reclaimed land, and take it to 65 million TEUs by 2040, with almost every port function digitised and migrated from Singapore’s Central Business District. It will surpass Shanghai as the world’s busiest and most automated port.

But the MPA did more than just confirm continued investment in the mega-port. It also unveiled a series of seven partnerships to transform its port operations, with a focus on connectivity, R&D capabilities, and a new culture of innovation.

Among the most significant, it confirmed the appointment of ST Electronics and Kongsberg Norcontrol, from France and Norway, to develop a ‘next-gen vessel traffic management system’ (NGVTMS); the pair will invest $7.5 million in a lab set-up to research navigational safety and security, as well as operational aspects of a new port transport system.

Separately, it has a partnership with Finnish group Wärtsilä Corporation to develop cyber-physical security and intelligent port operations in combination with maritime tech startups and higher education institutes.

Its collaboration with startups has been notable; the MPA hosted a‘smart port challenge’ in November with 17 early-phase tech firms pitching ideas to an audience of maritime execs and government officials – the winner of the pitch day, Ocean Freight Exchange, is a web-based scheduler system for bunker tankers.

MPA is also developing a Singapore Maritime Data Hub (SG-MDH) as a one-stop data repository with a centralised application interface gateway and data management capabilities. The idea is to help enable the development and test-bedding of innovative digital apps and services for the maritime industry.

3 | PORT OF ROTTERDAM (NETHERLANDS) – c. 13.6m TEUs (11th in 2017)

Until the middle of last decade, Rotterdam was the largest port in the world. It has since slipped to 11th, overtaken in a heartbeat, and edged out off the top 10 by a rush of six Chinese ports, as well as Singapore, Busan, Hong Kong, and Dubai.

Even so, Rotterdam remains Europe’s preeminent maritime trading hub, and a focal point for the region’s Industry 4.0 assault. Its key partnership for digital transformation is with IBM, and Cisco by extension. Rotterdam wants to host autonomous ships by 2025-2030.

To achieve this, it is augmenting its 42-kilometre port area with sensors, software, and intelligence – with the objective to create a digital twin of the site’s set-up and operations to mirror, track, and pre-pilot everything from shipping movements and infrastructure to weather and water depth.

To these ends, IBM and Cisco have integrated their Watson IoT system and Kinetic IoT platform, respectively, to improve data processing and intelligence at the network edge, and enable a path to autonomous shipping and logistics. Edge and fog computing setups enable lower-latency alerts, and higher-bandwidth applications.

The Port of Rotterdam processes more than 140,000 ships every year. Coordinating the berthing of each vessel is complex; highly tuned environmental and navigational metrics can improve profitability for freight operators.

IBM and Cisco are already collecting environmental data at the port, including wind, visibility, and tidal information to discern the optimal conditions and timing for the berthing and passage of ships.

They are also providing guidance on the clearance heights for ships, increasing capacity of ships based on clearance heights to increase the revenues generated by each ship entering the port.

The port of Rotterdam has also established a new R&D facility called the Rotterdam Additive Manufacturing LAB (RAMLAB) in the port’s shipyards. This 3D printing facility has the will enable wider availability of certified shipping parts.

4 | PORT OF LOS ANGELES (UNITED STATES) – c. 9.3m TEUs (17th in 2017)

The Port of Los Angeles (‘America’s Port’), in San Pedro Bay, is the biggest in the United States, and is processing about a fifth of all imports into the country, and posting record traffic each month. But its digital transformation has been quieter than others’ on this list.

In general, North America’s maritime centres appear to be less engaged with the Euro-centric Industry 4.0 narrative, and its chief vendors. Major European ports like Antwerp and Valencia could easily have featured, here, instead, for their interests in modish tech like blockchain and driverless boats.

But Los Angeles gets the nod for the clarity of its strategy, and its position as the main trading terminal for the world’s biggest economy – and because Europe is well represented by Rotterdam and Hamburg already. Los Angeles should be credited for its pragmatism.

The digital transformation of ports requires the highest use of available data, first – of capturing and making sense of it, across the supply chain, before the wheel is reinvented. In August 2017, after crowd-sourcing a digital solution for a smart-port starter pilot to avoid supply-chain foul-ups, it launched a shared data portal,‘Port Optimizer’, with GE’s transportation business.

The idea is to give cargo owners, shipping lines, terminal operators, and every other wharf-side player a way to manage and plan their interactions with the port. They get a two-week planning window, to book in, and the organise inbound and outbound supply chain around their cargo.

In a blog post, Gene Seroka, executive director at the authority, describes the portal as a digital bridge. “A bridge is a piece of shared physical infrastructure that allows businesses to efficiently move the box; this is a piece of shared digital infrastructure that allows businesses to efficiently deliver information about the box,” he says.

The box and the information remain the property of the owner, he makes clear. “Concerns about security, transparency, and use of data have been addressed through a robust and collaborative process.  Port Optimizer is a reflection of what our stakeholders want and what they don’t want.”

The Port of Los Angeles and GE have since expanded the programme to include all container terminals and shipping lines at the Port of Los Angeles. They have also announced “commercial agreements” worth up to $12 million, supporting approximately nine million TEUs, more than 15,000 truck providers and thousands of cargo importers. The Port of Los Angeles anticipates efficiency gains of between eight-to-12 per cent.

5 | PORT OF HAMBURG (GERMANY) – c. 9m TEUs (18th in 2017)

The Port of Hamburg, on the river Elbe, 110 kilometres from its opening on the North Sea, is Germany’s biggest port, and Europe’s third biggest, behind Rotterdam and Antwerp – to which it has lost business in recent years, as dredging of the river has been repeatedly delayed.

But the river-deepening has started, a process that will allow for another 20,000 TEU container-ships per year, and the prot autority’s tech charge is under way. Most recently, in December, the port authority green-lighted a project to test Tesla founder Elon Musk’s futuristic Hyperloop system for transporting shipping containers at 1000 km/h in a part-vacuum tube between the quayside and the container yards.

The joint project, between port logistics company Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA) and the US-based research firm Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), formed to develop a transport system based in Musk’s original Hyperloop concept. HHLA operates three container terminals at the Port of Hamburg.

A Hyperloop test track for transporting people and goods is under construction in Toulouse, in France, home to the Airbus consortium. The first test journeys in Europe are set to take place here next year. The first job for the port authority in Hamburg is to build a transfer station for testing purposes, and a capsule to fit standard containers.

Hamburg was a pioneer for port automation long before the ‘smart’ epithet started to be attached to the maritime industry. It has processed containers automatically through its docks for years. More recently, it has engaged IoT technologies to make smarter use of its urban setting, which has bounded its expansion.

Its work five years ago with German software outfit SAP on a series of so-called ‘smartPort logistics’ projects, using the SAP HABA cloud platform, showed the way for the rest of the industry, as the wider industrial sector was navel gazing, scratching at questions about the implication and implementation of Industry 4.0 technologies.

The principle was the same as with the Los Angeles data portal, to connect stakeholders in the port environment – taking data from shipments in and out of Hamburg on sea, road, and rail. It is also running a marine traffic monitoring system, like an air traffic control system at an airport, which makes use of digital maps and identification data to provide guidance on traffic flow, weather conditions and other variables.

Meanwhile, Deutsche Telekom has been testing 5G-enabled IoT applications as part of the European Union’s 5G MoNArch (mobile network architecture) project at Hamburg’s port area for at least a year. The key applications are connected shipping, remote control of traffic lights and augmented reality.

The resident shipping fleet has been equipped with sensors to provide real-time location, movement and environmental data. Cellular-enabled traffic lights are being remotely operated by port workers to be more responsive to traffic flows. AR glasses is showing workers how to operate machinery with 3D imagery. “

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