Ports are on the cusp of transitioning to being fully Smart. This includes facilitating growing spacial requirements, increasing efficiency and safety in port operations, ensuring sustainability and environmental protection. This is being achieved by implementing innovations and technologies that have upgraded other industries and those specifically designed to increase the productivity of ports. What will future ports look like?
The increasing negative side effects of port activities, such as traffic congestion and pollution, have spurred ports to implement digital technologies to mitigate these problems. One of these technological solutions is the use of the Internet of Things (IoT).
IoT can help businesses make use of value-generating opportunities by using software and sensors to connect physical devices, vehicles, and buildings into a unified network. In terms of ports, IoT helps to store, communicate and monitor data and, using better data analysis tools, come to better decisions, make processes more efficient and cleaner. This means that port operations become smoother, safer and more environmentally-friendly.
For example, IoT can provide real-time information about the estimated time of arrival of vessels, which can help avoid congestions and free up handling capacity. Efficient data management can also save time with going through customs, making sure all cargo is secure and minimizing the risk of loading and unloading of containers. Another added benefit of IoT in ports is better monitoring of port activities which enables companies to evaluate ongoing processes and fix any problems without considerable delay.
However, the higher level of digitalization also means there is need to be aware of heightened risks of cyber attacks, so ports have to update their cyber security measures.
The automation of port equipment, such as cranes and horizontal transportation vehicles, can improve the efficiency of cargo handling into and out of port. Automated processes can boast of increased speed, fewer errors and reduced emissions. This makes ports more efficient, productive and clean.
Port terminals can be semi-automated and fully automated. The latter promises to be more reliable and bring better operating performance in ports. This is demonstrated by Qingdao New Qianwan Container Terminal (QQCTN) in China, which has become the first fully automated port terminal in Asia. To ensure the accurate pickup of containers, the terminal uses laser scanners and positioning systems that detect container corners and help transfer the cargo into driverless trucks. This process doesn’t require additional lighting, meaning that operations can continue during the night with a 30% increase in efficiency.
The biggest issue with automation lies in the human factor. For companies this technology means reduced labor costs, for workers – it’s loss of work. In the previously mentioned Chinese terminal, out of 60 workers who used to unload a cargo ship, only nine are still required after the automation.