Ports Navigating an Ocean of Technology

By Lori Musser

Seaports are navigating through an ocean of technology that includes automation, 5G, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, cybersecurity, digitalization, extended reality and blockchain. Deploying the right technology at the right time is mission critical.

Mario Cordero,executive director of the Port of Long Beach, said, with the global community in the midst of a technological revolution, “Digital transformation is of the essence. Technology, as we know it today, addresses three factors that are extremely important for a port to be successful and competitive in today’s world: efficiency, reliability and predictability.”

In addition to helping to optimize supply chains, transportation technology is being used to increase sustainability, enhance operations, safely transfer data, and, of course, improve ROI. Everything and everyone that moves through a port is touched by technology.

Digitalization, roughly defined as improving business by leveraging digital technology, will continue to shape supply chains. Seaports have e-commerce to thank for that. E-retailers cracked the whip and supply chains introduced machine learning and predictive analytics and other technologies that consistently put a delivery on a doorstep at an appointed time.

Smartest Ports

Seaports wishing for continued success, especially those with high-volume container business, are incorporating technology and becoming smart ports.

On some level, every port qualifies as smart, but a select few have truly redefined the way cargo and services move by deploying technology en masse, or via a few truly crackerjack technological applications.

In 2019, Enterprise IoT Insights identified the world’s five smartest ports: Shanghai, Singapore, Rotterdam, Los Angeles and Hamburg. Shanghai International Port Group opened its massive $2.15-billion automated terminal, run by a tailor-made operating system, in 2018. Singapore is boosting capacity up to 65 million TEUs by 2040, by reportedly digitizing almost every port function, developing a next-generation vessel traffic management system, fostering smart port start-ups, and developing a one-stop maritime data repository and management gateway. Rotterdam plans to welcome autonomous ships within the decade, and is already deploying sensors, software and intelligence to create a digital twin site to mirror, track and pre-pilot everything.

Although Enterprise IoT Insights reported much less brouhaha in the Americas, it highlighted the Port of Los Angeles for its clear technology strategy and shared data portal, the Port Optimizer, which addresses transparency, security and use of data through a collaborative process.

The Port of Hamburg was an early technology adopter, with automated container handling, stakeholder data sharing, and digitally mapped vessel traffic control; it is now reportedly looking at the futuristic Hyperloop system (transporting shipping containers at 1,000 kilometers per hour in a vacuum tube), and has played a role in testing 5G-enabled IoT applications (for connected shipping, remote control of traffic lights and augmented reality).

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