The smart technologies changing port operations

A Smart Port is a port that uses automation and innovative technologies including Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data and Internet of Things (IoT) to improve its performance. Evolution in ports is needed to meet with the changing demands of global trade: ships are getting bigger; goods are moving faster; and geopolitical issues are creating new challenges for ports. In December last year, a British Ports Association study highlighted the five smart port technologies changing the way UK ports operate for the better

Published in collaboration with Royal HaskoningDHV and the Connected Places Catapult, the Smarter UK Ports paper summarises five examples from ports that were explored last year, including a constantly learning digital twin, remote infrastructure and asset monitoring, and upstreaming of border administration.

The intention for the British Ports Association (BPA) was to explore how new technology use cases can be better shared across the industry in 2022. Mark Simmonds, BPA Director of Policy, said: “The whole concept of ‘smart ports’ can be a bit confusing to some, but these use cases highlight how new and existing technology can be put to use in innovative ways to increase port resilience and efficiency. We are constantly looking for new ways to share stories like these and are exploring how we can better collect these sorts of interesting use cases in the new year.”

The themes for the studies were based on real port challenges, collaboratively defined with five partner ports from across the UK, including: Portsmouth International Port; Shoreham Port; Port of London Authority; Port of Tyne; and Port of Milford Haven.

Freeports are hubs for business and enterprise for both manufacturing and services trade, reducing costs and bureaucracy, whilst encouraging manufacturing businesses to set up or re-shore. In 2019, the then Department for International Trade announced that the first new Freeports would be established after the UK left the EU, to turbocharge growth and ensure towns and cities across the UK benefit from Brexit trade opportunities. Liz Truss, who headed the department at that time, said that a newly formed Freeports Advisory Panel would be established to advise the government on the creation of up to 10 freeports.

In February the following year, the government outlined the benefits of the 2020 Freeports model as including: goods brought into a Freeport not attracting tariffs until they leave the Freeport and enter the domestic market; no duty is payable if they are re-exported; when raw materials are imported and processed into a final good, duties are only paid on the final good; freeports could be located inland as well as adjacent to ports. The latter point has the potential to reduce relocation or investment costs for existing manufacturing sites near ports; and a full customs declaration would not be required to move goods into a Freeport. This saves businesses time and makes it easier to import goods.

Stimulating foreign investment

Much attention is given to the trade and tariff allowances and tax benefits associated with freeports, but the opportunities associated with freeport status go far beyond this, particularly in relation to their potential to stimulate foreign direct investment in port communities. For example, UK freeports are split across discrete ‘virtual’ sites, which will require goods to be tracked and monitored, obliging freeports to employ digital solutions for improved supply chain integration.

The British Ports Association says that, through establishing a clear, globally relevant investment prospectus based on regional and national strengths, there is significant potential to attract investment to fuel innovative initiatives and contribute to regional economies through new jobs and wealth creation. Innovation will not be confined to freeports, where benefits will be felt across the whole maritime sector and the UK economy.

Portsmouth International Port: Connected Logistics
The Connected Places Catapult has recently completed a Phase 1 project with Portsmouth International Port based on the connected logistics theme discussed in the ANPR pre-clearance use case. The ‘SpacePort’ feasibility project, funded by the Geospatial Commission in partnership with Innovate UK, successfully established a novel geospatial solution to streamline port operations, improve efficiency and reduce the environmental impacts of port operations on the city of Portsmouth. This project was a collaboration between MSE International, the Catapult, Portsmouth International Port and Portico, working to show how transferable solutions in port operations can make significant contributions to the UK’s decarbonisation of freight and logistics infrastructure.
The project considered the challenges for the port including; the impact of maritime logistics on the city’s air quality; the requirements of the 2050 maritime emissions targets; the congestion in the city centre and surrounding areas and alignment with the city’s transport strategy including the Solent Freeport. The project assessed the diverse geo-spatial and other data resources that could offer solutions as well as undertaking a detailed technical appraisal of available geo-spatial solutions. In addition, the port’s existing logistics systems were reviewed and a detailed use-case mapping exercise conducted to check that all the data resources and positioning and sensing technologies could deliver the functionality required by the port.

Shoreham Port: infrastructure condition monitoring
In Shoreham, Royal HaskoningDHV has applied its AI-based CREATE platform to identify road and pavement defects in the port. This tool enables inspections of pavements to be undertaken in a lower cost, quicker and safer method, by capturing video images using a camera attached to a vehicle. Images are passed through the Envision engine for defects to be automatically identified and classified. Royal HaskoningDHV is looking at combining this with drone technology so that the condition of large, functional areas of the port can be routinely monitored quickly and safely. Thus, allowing them to quickly prioritise areas for maintenance and plan future maintenance more effectively. Royal HaskoningDHV is continuing to expand its AI-based inspection toolkit for ports to incorporate other extensive structures from quay walls to warehouse roofs.

Port of London: Energy Diversity Strategy
In the Port of London, Royal HaskoningDHV are working on an Energy Diversity Study for the Thames. The purpose of the study is to model the future energy demand and supply on the tidal Thames as the Port of London Authority (PLA) looks to shape the zero-carbon port for the future. Over the course of the study, researchers assessed the energy solutions (available and emerging) and infrastructure needed to support decarbonisation of the vessels using the Thames, including the PLA’s own fleet and to support both the PLA and the wider Thames community in making their next steps towards a lower carbon future.

Factors considered included the speed of technological change for both the inland and international shipping fleets, future growth, geographic constraints, safety, supply chain, current regulations, and commercial viability. The first phase of the study has highlighted some of the remaining challenges with respect to regulation and safety, but also the opportunities for stakeholders on the Thames as energy supply and demand patterns change. The second phase will consider the feasibility of delivering identified solutions at potential sites, gauging the pros and cons of the best suited options for relevant end users.


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