We all know that new technology and innovation are the buzzwords in so many industries across the world – and the maritime sector is no exception. At the recent Intermodal Asia conference, I chaired a panel discussion on Smart Ports, talking about how advances in port technology are resulting in increased availability and that usage of automation and digital tools are helping the port community to interact more effectively.

What is a Smart Port?

Smart ports aim to be just that … smart! They look to use new technologies to maximise efficiency and productivity by making better use of the available space, time, energy and natural resources. Using innovations such as Smart Asset Management, ports are now able to use predictive maintenance, 3D modelling and digital data collection to perform digital simulations and scenario testing, saving time and money and providing highly accurate results to aid decision making. Many of these assets and methods are enormously exciting, having never before been used in the maritime industry.

These developments are not only hugely beneficial to internal systems, helping in-house operations to take place more efficiently than ever before, but also benefit external partners by improving the interface and communication with customers.

The Way of the Future 

This is of course a huge step forwards from traditional port systems, which are historically very labour-intensive. However, human resources have become ever more limited over the last decade, precipitating the current push towards automation and smart ways of working.

For example, engineering inspectors no longer need to physically scale port structures in order to assess them … we can now use drone technology to remove the need for manual climbs and relay information more safely and accurately than ever before. Drone technology is particularly developed thanks to leisure users, who are constantly seeking the best in new technology, with advances filtering through to industrial applications to create some truly exciting capabilities. Even significant terminal equipment such as trucks and cranes can now be controlled remotely, rather than by drivers in the cockpit. It’s a little like playing on a Playstation!

The maritime industry is still catching up to some others where technology is concerned, but Smart Port developments continue to show the enormous progress that has been made. 

How do Smart Ports benefit us?

For a start, Smart Ports are undoubtedly more cost effective – although upfront investments in technology may be higher, this can be justified by the long-term savings on operational costs, thanks to the increases in efficiency and productivity that tech and digital management solutions are able to facilitate. 

They also allow ports to interact with external businesses with vastly increased accuracy, openness and transparency, improving relationships and efficiency. For example, ports can communicate with haulage companies via tech such as GPS and Google Maps to monitor progress of vehicles in real time, giving up to the minute information without needing to stay in regular telephone contact. This capability is only getting better … for example, ports can use Google Maps to access information such as bad traffic and use this real-time insight to schedule for the driver to arrive at the terminal at a less congested time. This allows the most efficient communication possible, helping to nurture relationships with the business community.

The environment also benefits; as pressure grows on industries around the world to reduce pollution and emissions, new energy management systems are available to monitor energy use and help ports to stay as environmentally friendly as possible.

Smart Ports are unique in that they provide not only advances in equipment, but also create a total solution which addresses sustainability, efficiency, productivity, communication and transparency. We are seeing port advances occur all around the world, with Europe leading the charge, and Australia and Asia not far behind. It is a truly exciting time for the maritime industry, and we look forward to all the benefits that Smart Ports bring!