Ports Turn to Tech Solutions for New Levels of Efficiency

Industry Focus

ports turn to tech solutionsIn the eyes of some, the port industry once appeared reluctant to adopt sophisticated technological solutions to strengthen their operations. In fact, for years, Jonathan Daniels, CEO and port director of Port Everglades in Florida, said carriers, ports and the rest of the shipping industry seemed loath at times to “go away from paper and pencil.” However, that has shifted dramatically in recent years, and Daniels, among others, believes that today, technology is being integrated into the port field in a way that represents “a true change.”

“Technology is no longer a buzzword,” Daniels said. “It’s an actual application of a variety of actions, which allow you the opportunity to be more efficient and therefore more competitive. We are a hyper-competitive industry. And because of that, everybody’s looking for that next opportunity to stand out from their competition. So, in order for us to be competitive and cut our costs and improve efficiency, we have to be able to deploy the latest technology—backed up by the science, the analytics and the data—to meet the needs of shippers and carriers today.”

Technological Strides

Karim Jumma, vice president of product management at e2open, believes ocean shipping and ports remain behind other industries in technological innovation, but progress is evident.

“Investments have gone into port infrastructure to strengthen connectivity, better the surrounding roads and in some regions (e.g., Europe and South America) build windmills 10-30 miles out to generate electricity,” Jumma said. “Outside of infrastructure, ports have begun working with robotics (e.g., cranes to unload cargo from ships) to increase port efficiency but also to use data gleaned to reduce accidents and improve safety.”

Adam Schipper, director of business development, transportation and logistics at Ericsson North America, agreed that the ports have made considerable strides in their approach to technology. “We’re seeing quite a digital transformation,” he said.

“What we’ve seen is improved security, improved safety, improved communication and reduced human error,” Schipper said. “Also, condition monitoring, meaning tracking. Those are some quick and important impacts that we’ve seen.”

Post-Pandemic Port Improvements

Jumma believes the most recent innovations in the port industry are a result of fallout from the pandemic and the challenges the port industry faced, including high-profile congestion problems at some major ports that slowed the nation’s supply chain and attracted intensive media attention.

“Governments quickly learned that our system is broken and that ports operate very siloed,” Jumma said.

Schipper agreed that the pandemic brought more visibility to ongoing challenges in the port industry and their importance to the nation’s supply chain.

“It let the public know what really has been going on for many, many years, which is that the port community from a technology standpoint was very, very underserved,” Schipper said. “Because there was a light shining on that, now you’re seeing a lot more investment and funding, which has been great.”

Communication and Monitoring

Among the most notable advancements, Schipper said digital communication provides an invaluable foundation to enable a variety of technologies, making recent investments in private cellular networks at individual ports an important trend. This step allows for fast, connected communication throughout the port, improving efficiency and sharpening real-time communication, Schipper said.

In addition, Schipper said the Internet of Things (IoT) and sensors are able to monitor if equipment is running at optimal levels and to provide real-time notifications if there are issues.

“They’re able to proactively catch these things so equipment can be fixed before it breaks down and causes problems,” Schipper said.

Artificial intelligence, meanwhile, offers ports and others the potential to draw invaluable analysis from the large collections of data now available to ports and their partners.

“We’re seeing all this data, but then how do you take that data and do something with it? How do you make actionable items?” Schipper said. “We’re getting a lot more information and data, but how do you take action?”

In the realm of AI, Daniels said Port Everglades has used digital twinning to run a variety of scenarios to see how different changes would affect port operations or create environmental impacts, such as evaluating the effects of a planned deepening and widening project at the port.

“We really utilize AI as a predictive measure to understand long-term impacts,” Daniels said.

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