By: Mehdi Rastegary Ports & Maritime Expert
The merchant shipping, troubled by the high winds of new environmental requirements and other market issues, is gearing up to smartify its businesses in order to enter into the new era: many novel concepts are emerging, including (and not restricted to) the smart ship, the autonomous ship, the green ship, the Just-In-Time (JIT) shipping, and the revolutionizing technological trends in digitalization, industrial automation, Big Data analytics, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, 3-D printing, etc. On the other hand, the ports are also involved in a similar process of smartification and many of them are investing heavily to emerge as a smart port in near future. Yet, in spite of billions of dollars of investment and tons of promotional material on this subject, it seems that ‘smart port’ is more used as a buzzword in the industry level. Therefore, it is necessary to outline a clear understanding of ‘smart port’ concept in the port development discourse. First and foremost, I think that we shall discern the difference between the ‘Intelligent port ‘ and the ‘Smart port’ concepts: although these two concepts are very close together and one may find many overlapping areas between them, there are outstanding differences in their purposes and approaches. Let’s have a brief overview on them.
An intelligent port is a port that is focused on elevating its level of intelligence on the events and the occurring in the port businesses and their context, and developing the highest level of understanding and/ or control on them. The stream of intelligent port development has been pursued for more than three decades, by increasing the reliance of ports on informatics, digitization, instrumentation and automation. ICT developments have had a great impact on this concept, and among the most vastly used ICT-based solutions in the past thirty years, we can point to : - Internet and World Wide Web - E-commerce ( and introduction of EDI) - Port Community Systems - Terminal Operations Systems - Traffic Control Systems - Security & Surveillance systems - Industrial Automation Systems - Simulation Software and Systems - Various Transaction Processing Systems From 2015, by stepping into the 4th Industrial Revolution era, a number of novel ICT developments have been signified to be highly influential in raising the intelligence of the ports. It is believed that these new developments can boost exponential growth in ports that will use them, and provide them with outstanding competitive advantage in the existing port markets. Among numerous emerging ICT developments, the following ones are the greatest contributors towards a higher level of intelligence in ports:
Connectivity is like oxygen to intelligent port ecosystems. It provides the development of data and information flows between all members and parts of the port, its customers and clients and other stakeholders. These data flows foster the synergetic interaction of these entities with each other and contain tons of explorable information on the maritime supply chains, the port operations systems and different components in them, and the required information by regulatory bodies in the port and its hinterlands. Moreover, connectivity is the main facilitator of the interrelated functioning of a great number of systems and services in the port, and its foreland and hinterland. Among the great number of such systems and services we can point to Electronic Data Interchange, Vessel Traffic Management System (VTS), Terminal Operations System (TOS), Port Community System (PCS), Terminal Equipment fleets, etc. The communication infrastructure in ports is revolutionized by use of optical fibers which according to researchers have recorded the capacity of internet speeds of over 100 petabit× kilometer per second. Moreover, the ports are heavily investing on wireless communication infrastructure to augment the internet of things application. Table 1 compares the most used wireless technologies in ports.
As logistic centers, the main mission of ports is to facilitate the flow of commercial goods, money, and the big data related to them in supply chains. Moreover ports and terminals also generate a huge amount of data in terms of their operations in seaand land, observing the state of port facilities and equipment, monitoring of efficiency and quality of port services, the security of port premises, etc., which are generated and stored in the port infostructure. In this sense, the port is naturally a venue to develop big data on international trade and its supply chains, the industrial and logistical clusters, and the port’s facilities and services. The information and data included are closely related to each other: for instance the port throughput is closely related the cargo flow through the port and the value added services demand in the logistical and industrial clusters in it, and the planning of port operations is mainly based on such big data. Similarly, the transport flows and the logistical and industrial activities in the portare impacted by the productivity and quality of port services and facilities. Like many other industries, ports and terminals have been concentrated on processing high-information-density data by use of applied mathematics and descriptive statistics to develop Business Intelligence. In the fourth industrial revolution era, the ports and terminals are expected to further their focus on mathematical analysis, optimization, inductive statistics and concepts from nonlinear system identification to infer laws (regressions, nonlinear relationships, and causal effects) from large sets of data with low information density to reveal relationships and dependencies, or to perform predictions of outcomes and behavior.
In this sense the big data and its analysis will impact nearly everything in ports and terminals: from technology development to port operations, from customer relations to financial analysis, from energy consumption to environmental protection, and many more. Although most of port systems have generated and stored colossal data sets on their activities and transactions, these data sets are mostly stored in data silos and not referred to as a valuable economic resource. By use of the new technologies, not only the size of these data sets will proliferate, but also important steps will be taken in order to enhance the storage, analysis, sharing, and utilization of them throughout the port value chains.
Internet of Things
Internet of Things is another surging ICT development in ports and terminals within the coming years. It is defined as a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines that are provided with unique identifiers (UIDs) and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or humanto-computer interaction. In the fourth industrial revolution era, IoT is seen as the infrastructure of the information society. According to IHS Markit reports within the coming decade, the number of connected devices in the world will rise by a 12 percent average rate and will increase to 125 billion in 2030. The emergence of IoT will embed and enhance intelligence in every aspect of human life. This will lead to an estimated increase of global data transmissions from 20 to 50 percent per year, on average, in the next decade. IoT is finding vast application in the transport systems as it can facilitate the integration of communication, control, and information processing in different parts of them. It can develop a dynamic integration between different components of transport systems and enable inter/intra-vehicular communication, enhanced vehicle control, intelligent fleet management, better preventive maintenance, higher safety and security, etc. In the fourth Industrial revolution era, the IoT will converge with the big data and the machine learning developments to augment higher levels of Artificial Intelligence in the transport systems. Among the transport systems, ports and terminals are among the most capable sectors for application of IoT: the industry is moving towards developing the port system as an Ocean of (connected) Things1 that can communicate, and interact from each other, and learn from one another in a highly dynamic operational environment.
The most prominent feature of fourth industrial revolution is the exponential growth in Artificial Intelligence (AI) related concepts and widespread use of cyber-machines in all industries throughout the world. In ports and terminals, this is most reflected in the increasing development of port automation. Within the past two decades, the industry has experienced an ascending appeal to telematics and industrial automation of port systems and their operations. Digitalization and telematics have been two great initial drivers to automation, as they enabled the ports and terminals to automate many activities and transactions (e.g. tally writing, physical checks of cargoes and vehicles, documentation, etc.). Also great investments have been made on automation of mechanical handling operations: this originated from full automation of the horizontal transport system, and gradually led into developments in automation of yard handling systems (e.g. autostrads, RTGs, and RMGs) and automation of Ship To Shore Handling systems (Quay cranes). The industrial automation is spreading in the industry throughout the world, and contrary to the initial perceptions of capital-intensiveness of port automation technologies, even ports with low labor costs (e.g. ports in China, UAE, and Saudi Arabia) have joined the port automation league. The automation process cuts the labor costs, reduces the energy costs and environmental impacts of port operations, and enables prevention of break downs and down time. Moreover, it provides a more predictable, consistent and stable operational performance. According to J.P.Rodrigue until mid-2018, 47 container terminals around the world were either fully or partially automated, which represents 8.8% of all terminals, and 10.3% of the total global footprint in terms of hectares. It seems that the development of port automation will lead to thorough transformation of the dominant designs of ports and terminals in the two decades ahead.
Dynamism in port management
The intelligent port concept is a total departure from the static approach to port management and a breakthrough movement towards accepting the natural dynamism in it. Instead of being passively affected by the events and occurring in the markets and business environment and developing colossal reserve capacity that is considered to be necessary for coping with the streams of change in their business, the intelligent port is able to react (and even proact) effectively and \ in adapting itself with the current and future circumstances. One good interpretation of this breakthrough 1) loan word from DARPA movement has been suggested by Dr.T.Vitsounis. He suggests that by rising the intelligence, the economic firm can spin out of the customary PDCA cycle that is underpinned on a lengthy decision making cycle over static data; instead it will engage in a more efficient dynamic info-centric continuous improvement cycle as shown in the figure below. In other words, intelligence is a key achievement that will let the ports to transform into proactive economic firms that can do more with fewer resources, and find (and reach out for) unexplored sources of economic value generation. Yet, the author believes that an intelligent port needs a number of other qualifications to be recognized as a smart port.
The smart port concept has a more strategic essence and tends to transform the port into an ‘agile’ economic firm. Agility is defined as ‘the ability of an organization to thrive in a continuously changing, unpredictable business environment.’ (Dove,R.-2000).This is a critical characteristic for ports that are facing several disruptive trends in every day of their economic life. Disruptions are coming from different sources, including conditions of global and regional economy and trade, environmental impacts and requirements, technological developments, competitive regional markets, upper hand and lower hand industries, etc. Within the coming decade, the fourth industrial revolution is taking the disruption trends to a very higher level, and under the VUCA conditions it is like entering ports and terminals into the belly of the whale. That is while the terminals industry is considered as a semi-manufacturing industry, with high capital intensiveness, least mobility of assets and resources and strict constraints in extension of their capacity; therefore, development of agility in them is intrinsically a very hard task.
The Smart Port concept is the result of a new systematic and all-encompassing view of port missions and functions that pursues achieving higher levels of agility in the face of the tsunami of disruptive trends and events. It is essential to understand that Smart Port is the new way of thinking and conception, rather than a collection of costly new technologies for vanity shows in a port. Among several presented models for smart ports, the Smart-Port Project in MED Maritime Integrated Program seems to maintain such a systemic, birdeye view on this concept. The project is run under a consortium between IAT (Andalusian Institute of Technology), ICCS (Institute of Communication and Computer Systems), TICASS (Innovative Technologies for Environmental Control and Sustainable Development), PROMETNI (Prometni Institute Ljubljana/ Institute of Traffic and Transport Ljubljana) and UCA (University of Cádiz), and it aims contributing towards sustainable growth by establishing the appropriate conditions for the adoption of new management energy models based on low environmental impact and triggering innovation of both technologies and processes in Europeanports of the Mediterranean Sea. The project conceptualizes the smart port with three key areas in its scope: operations, energy consumption, and environmental management.
In this sense, a smart port is a green, intelligent, and integrated ecosystem that is oriented towards excellence in its operational performance, efficiency, innovation, safety and security, energy consumption, and management of its environmental impacts. The concept incorporates 23 criteria with 68 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to elaborate the three key areas of smartness in ports. A brief overview on the main criteria of the concept can indicate that ICT developments and intelligence do not establish the entirety of a smart port. In fact a smart port is also characterized by its capacity, market penetration, safety and security, sustainability, environment friendliness, etc. There is also a discourse on preliminary works and modifications that should be made to the smart port conception.
The development of smart port should be harmonized with smartification of other industries and stakeholders. We are also witnessing the evolution of smart shipping, smart cities, smart Cargo Transport Units (CTUs), smart road and rail transport, and many more. There is a current debate on international standardization of information and data in ports and terminals: a number of professional entities including ITPCO, IPCDMC, IPCSA, and BIMCO are workingto harmonize the definitions of port call and port efficiency in the global level. The tides of change in shipping require a proper response in ports and terminals; among the most significant issues one can point to development of services to the emerging ship concepts (e.g. automated and unmanned ships, and modular ships), regulating on implementation of the new IMO environmental regulations (including the sulfur cap regulations, the Ballast Water Management convention, the CO2 and NOx footprint control scheme, etc.), revising the security and cybersecurity protocols, digitalization , preparation for Just-In-Time shipping, and so on. There are also discussions around some basic presumptions of the smartport concept. In one of the most significant arguments, it is discussed that regionalization of international trade will transform the geography of transport, and it will bring a new focus on the gateway ports for handling smaller call sizes in smaller ships. Even the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) ( which is acknowledged as the greatest measure to maintain and drive the globalization ahead in the 21st century) is concentrated on investments in gateway ports. Although the emphasis on improving the port productivity is still essential in this kind of ports, the configuration of operations and the priorities in them is quite different with transshipment hubs. There are significant differences in the quay side operations, and moreover there are critical differences in the weight of intermodal transport and the connection of port to its hinterlands.
Yet, the smart port concept is mainly constructed to serve the mega-ports with major focus on transshipment and it shall be revised and modified to be practically usable for port development in the coming years. In a nutshell, it is obvious that ports need to grow smart to sustain the tsunami of change and disruption in the coming decade. Although smart ports utilize ICT and many other technologies to grow their intelligence, but getting smart is much more than that. A smart port is a port that can effectively outline its strategic outlook, and develop and leverage the needed intelligence to realize it with the highest possible efficiency. Ports and terminals need to become more agile to step into the unknown future, and that is the greatest motivation for an accelerated rush for smartification in the industry level.
Abaie,H.R., Rastegary,M. (2017). The Emergence of Smart Ports and Their Impactful Implications . 14th TRANS Middle East Conference, Tehran.
Dove,R. (2000). Agile production: design principles for highly adaptable systems. Maynard’s Handbook of Industrial Engineering, 5th edition. McGraw Hill Publishing Co.
Rodrigue, J.P. (2018).The geography of port terminal automation. Port Economics Website (https://www.porteconomics. eu/2018/10/08/the-geography-of-portterminal-automation)
Smart-Port Project in Med Integrated Maritime projects (http://www. medmaritimeprojects.eu/section/ smartport
Vitsounis, T. (2014). Embrace the change: How data analytics transform shipping, ports and supply chains. CILTA Webinar. Port Economics Website.
Wheeler,A. (2019). What constitutes a smart port?. Splash24/7 website (https:// splash247.com/what-constitutes-a-smartport )
Wikipedia. Internet of things (last visited Feb.2020). (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Internet_of_things) Wikipedia. Big Data (last visited Feb.2020). (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_data)
Yang,Y.,et al. (2018). Internet of Things for Smart Ports: Technologies and Challenges. IEEE Instrumentation & Measurement Magazine.