What does it mean to be a smart port?

Lee Kok Leong, our special correspondent, talks to Raoul Tan, business manager digital development, Port of Rotterdam, and finds out that a smart port is not all about having the latest and most advanced technology.  It is, in fact, using technology to create value for customers. 

The Port of Rotterdam is Europe’s largest sea port.  Using examples from the Port of Rotterdam, Raoul tells us what is a smart port.

Raoul is on a mission towards global connected ports.  He is a strong believer that co-creating and collaboration are vital for sustainable port models and that doing business is about creating the most added value for your customer.

Driven by Big Data Analytics and Internet of Things, the smart port collects, analyzes and distributes data that can be turned into useful information to guide decision making.  For example, data can be used to reduce a ship’s waiting times and cut COemissions.  Also, by digitizing data, ports can get ready for the future when shipping lines introduce new technology, say, autonomous vessels.

Data is the raw ingredient for a smart port as it answers questions about processes and performance such as: Will a vessel arrive on time? Is the terminal free? Which modality will the cargo use to go further inland?

These are just a few important issues in which data can provide port operators with insight. A lot of the data generated could act as a building block for new, innovative solutions that will result in additional competitiveness and advantages for all parties, which we’ll see in the following examples.

On time saving

Using digital technology, the Port of Rotterdam has reduced, on average, 20 percent waiting time for ships before departure.

“In the end, it’s about using smart technology in order to enable all parties within the port, especially during port calls, to collaborate with each other by exchanging data electronically in a standardized manner, via a set of predefined definitions.

“We did a pilot with Shell, where we were able to obtain a 20 percent reduction in waiting time for ships before departure.  For all companies like Shell, if you look at it from a global perspective, then the potential savings in regards to emission and also efficiencies gained are very huge,” says Raoul.

“Our main goal is never about the technology.  It is about what kind of business process, what kind of customer value we want to create, and how can a certain technology enable that.”

On sustainability

“We have huge global goals in terms of emission reduction that we have to live up to. We believe that efficiency is the first step to achieve sustainability.  You don’t always have to do things differently but you must do them smarter in a more efficient way.  For example, you can reduce the turnaround time of ships within the port so that in tandem, you also reduce the bunker cost and COemission,” says Raoul.

The shipping sector is a major contributor to greenhouse emissions. Every year, vessels travelling from Rotterdam to another port or vice versa collectively release some 23 megatons of COinto the atmosphere. By 2050, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) wants to reduce the COemissions by 50 percent.

On anticipating the future

Raoul says that smart ports also have to anticipate future technological developments. He illustrates with the example of autonomous ships.  Although not operationally ready yet, they are now being built and tested and have so far shown good results.

According to the Port of Rotterdam, in future, shipping companies and shipbuilders will have a need for different sets of data so that their ships will be able to take decisions autonomously. 

For example, without infrastructure data (master data), autonomous ships will never be able to decide whether it is safe for them to berth; without event data (e.g. is the berth still occupied?) autonomous ships will not know whether they can sail into the port.

The Port believes that the collection and accessibility of data through a central platform is a responsibility that goes perfectly well with the role of port operators.

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