A port for the modern age

By - World Manufacturing Journal

A port for the modern age

World Manufacturing Journal spoke to Kevin Martin, Principal Port Operations and Technology Consultant at Royal HaskoningDHV about the future of ports and their impact on the global supply chain.

How can port operations be streamlined in the future to improve freight flow and the supply chain for manufacturers?

Ports work hard to keep freight moving but the shipping industry is a dynamic environment. On any given day, it can be impacted by a myriad of factors beyond its control. Weather, for example, can affect vessel schedules or disrupt cargo handling operations. This often creates challenges with labour and plant availability.

However, most ports react well to changing circumstances. Some are already using technologies such as data analytics, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) to create predictive solutions that improve the flow of cargo through the terminal. As these solutions continue to develop, diverse datasets are being combined to make more informed predictions. In the future, armed with greater insights, ports will be able to take proactive steps to mitigate the impact of external factors on the flow of cargo.

How is new technology boosting efficiency and productivity within UK ports?

Most ports have already moved to implement Terminal Operating Systems (TOS) to support the administrative process and drive operational efficiencies. Now, the next generation of systems are deploying AI solutions to optimise yard operations and even predict, with increasing degrees of accuracy, the next inland transport mode of container to streamline operations.

At the gate, vehicle booking systems are commonplace. Optimising the flow of vehicles through a terminal not only improves the operational process but can also have a positive impact on urban traffic congestion. Dynamic collaborative truck appointment systems are now emerging in the marketplace, bringing terminals, hauliers and shippers together in one system. These systems aim to optimise truck movements and reduce empty journeys, which account for 29 per cent of all truck movements in the UK.

By reducing container movements and improving the flow of traffic through the terminal, ports can have a positive impact on productivity. More efficient use of mobile plant can also help reduce operational costs through lower fuel consumption and reduced tyre wear.

What can ports do to reduce carbon output and are there any examples of best practice?

The tightening of regulations in 2020 is placing increased pressure on global shipping to reduce emissions from vessels. Concurrently, ports are also being challenged to reduce output from activities within the port. Interestingly, operational activities only account for around 15 per cent of total emissions from a port estate. The majority of emissions in ports are generated by shipping, hauliers and tenants.

Using a broad spectrum of environmental and operational data gathered from a wide range of systems and sensors, ports can understand the key areas of concern and take targeted action to deliver improvements. Some of their improvements include introducing operational systems to optimise cargo movements and shifting to zero emissions power sources. Using a combination of technology, infrastructure and incentives, ports can also make a positive impact by improving the flow of information, encouraging the use of clean fuels and more efficient transport modes, as well as influencing the behaviour of port users.

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, supported by state legislation and working closely with the City of Los Angeles, are great examples of how ports can address air quality issues within the communities they serve. Meanwhile, in the UK, the port of Southampton works closely with the city on air quality issues and, elsewhere in Spain, the port of Valencia is experimenting with hydrogen-fuelled vehicles as it seeks to become the first port to implement dedicated supply infrastructure. Fifty-seven ports globally offer financial incentives to vessels registered with the Environmental Shipping Index, the Clean Shipping Index and a number of other industry-led rating schemes.

“The open flow of information between ports and stakeholders is essential to an efficient supply chain

- Kevin Martin, Principal Port Operations and Technology Consultant at Royal HaskoningDHV

What can ports do to ensure the supply chain remains as efficient as possible?

The open flow of information between ports and stakeholders is essential to an efficient supply chain. Most ports use TOS to manage their activities. There are many different off-the-shelf systems with varying levels of functionality to suit a diverse range of port activities and, in some instances, ports have been known to build their own systems to suit their specific needs.

The biggest challenge with these systems is the lack of interoperability. The data is held within a walled garden. Many ports do communicate externally with local stakeholders through Port Community Systems (PCSs), which are growing in popularity. However, information exchange can be limited by outdated standards while implementing messaging processes can be time-consuming and costly.

Ports can contribute to a more efficient supply chain by investing in systems that offer secure access to the data via open application programming interfaces (APIs). Ports and software vendors must work together to develop common standards for information exchange, enabling the free flow of information, not only between systems but to third party software providers as well. With the increased availability of information, the doorway is opened for new, exciting and transformative digital services.

What are Smart Ports and how can it help the port industry become smarter?

A Smart Port is generally defined as a port that uses automation and innovative technologies, such as data analytics, AI, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Blockchain to improve its performance.

Ports are diverse. There is no one-size-fits-all model and it doesn’t necessarily follow that all these technologies have a place within a port’s technical landscape. A truly Smart Port creates an innovation team to evaluate all technologies. The port must understand the needs of all stakeholders and identify relevant solutions to meet these complex requirements. Smart Ports also move fast to assess impact and value and, after successful trials, deliver quickly to achieve maximum benefit. Integrating systems and opening up access to data creates a more efficient flow of information. This, subsequently, provides wider benefits to industry, especially when multiple Smart Ports work together.

Which skills will be needed to support the ports of the future?

I don’t expect the requirement for traditional stevedoring skills to disappear in the near term. In most cases, ports still have a long way to go to reach the levels of digitalisation that have fundamentally transformed other industries. Currently, there is a need for analytical skills and change management professionals to work alongside the traditional workforce. These new teams must create and deliver digital tools that support and improve the current business models and practices.

Ports have yet to embrace digitalisation in its truest sense. I’ve not yet seen any evidence of a killer app that provides a disruptive solution to fundamentally transform the concept of a port. Ports are gradually introducing greater levels of technology and automation in their processes, generating unprecedented levels of data in the industry.

In future, there will be a high demand for skills in emerging technologies such as data analytics, AI and ML to process and deliver business insights that inform decision-making. I also see a need for the adoption of creative talents as ports seek to capitalise on the new-found wealth of information to build exciting new digital services and opportunities.

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