Ports across the globe have been slow to embrace digital technologies in comparison to other supply chain industries. Most container ports still rely heavily on manually operating massive container yards, which presents several challenges, especially in large ports.
The biggest port in the U.S., the Port of Los Angeles, handled 5,039,363 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2018 alone, for example. In ports of this size, finding a specific container would be a considerable challenge without technology.
Certainly, many obstacles faced by ports can be overcome with the introduction of technology. People, equipment, infrastructure and other critical assets can all be connected across the ports using Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such as sensors and digital radios. This would not only improve productivity but also reduce operational costs in the future.
With a significant number of potential benefits, many may wonder why port operators are hesitant to embrace the Industrial IoT (IIoT). This is because many port operators focus on the cons of port automation as opposed to the long-term benefits of automating their key processes.
Emergence of the IIoT and Its Benefits
Industries across all sectors have taken advantage of the technology revolution, using IIoT devices to increase efficiency and reduce costs. IIoT devices are often more sensitive and precise than IoT devices, as they are often used in environments where precision is critical. Examples of these applications include the monitoring of health equipment, using robotics in factories, and analyzing data so users can better understand the performance of their operations.
A significant benefit of IIoT is that is has opened up opportunities to automate services for a number of industries, in particular ports. Automation can completely transform ports from mostly manual operations to a much more machine lead process, which can result in optimized operational productivity and efficiency.
Pros of Port Automation
The significant reduction in potential errors and the opportunity to introduce more services are just some of the reasons port automation will be an unmissable opportunity for many port operators. As many industries have already discovered, the pros certainly outweigh the cons when it comes to automation.
Increased efficiency is a significant benefit of port digitalization, with reports stating that productivity could rise by 10 to 35 percent. Examples include:
-Helping to predict and forecast demand by monitoring the arrival-and-departure patterns of container ships
-Easy to schedule the maintenance of equipment for optimal availability
-IIoT devices used to allocate equipment and frontline staff, as well as adjust the allocation in real-time
-Machine intelligence used to make plans ever more accurate
-Data collection standardized and used to help make ports and terminals more efficient
Port automation is also highly cost-effective; this is because while the initial start-up cost may be high, in the long-term operational expenses can fall by 25 to 55 percent. There are multiple reasons for this reduction in operating costs. For example, with the right network in place, operators can predict performance across the network, reducing human failures.
The landscapes of ports, in which their physical environment is structured and predictable, makes them a great platform to introduce new and innovative IIoT technologies. Ports are also able to generate large amounts of collected and processed data, which can be used by IIoT devices to increase efficiency and reduce costs massively.
Cons of Port Automation
The digitalization of ports is not without its drawbacks, though. Due to the ever-changing environment of ports, making sure data isn’t misaligned—or even absent—is extremely difficult. Any potential dead zones will prevent ports from collecting and exchanging information efficiently. This is particularly an issue for automated ports as unlike conventional ones, they can’t contain problems at individual functions or process steps, so there must always be close collaboration among activities.
Equally, with the extremely complex nature of ports, such as the necessary operational and security functions involved in the successful movement of cargo, the network used will need to be highly secure and highly mobile.
The initial investment cost of automation is exceptionally high with such a complex network being needed and is not affordable for every port, particularly those in developing nations. There are also potential updates that need to be considered to ensure ports can keep up with advancements in software. Ignoring these advancements could leave ports open to security breaches, which would be highly damaging.
On top of this, installing and maintaining an automated port requires a new skill set within the port industry. Finding these specialized technicians will not only be challenging but also costly for ports.
Enhancing the Pros, Reducing the Cons
Rajant’s Kinetic Mesh technology can provide robust and mobile-enabled connectivity that ports need to capitalize on the opportunities of IIoT fully. By using Rajant’s innovative BreadCrumb radio nodes with patented InstaMesh software protocol, connected port infrastructure has the ability to communicate wirelessly peer-to-peer, via multiple simultaneous connections. Information can be shared back and forth in a fully mobile, highly resilient web of communications.
Rajant’s BreadCrumb nodes are easy to install, as well as cost-effective. More BreadCrumbs can be introduced seamlessly to the network depending on the needs of the ports. The BreadCrumbs can also be directly deployed on a port asset—for example, a vehicle, quay crane, RTG, straddle carrier, light mast or drone—essentially turning that asset into a network node. These can then communicate not only with centralized access points but with other moving nodes within the network as well, meaning that all can share information back and forth in a highly interconnected web of communications—providing total network mobility.
DP World Antwerp
Rajant’s wireless Kinetic Mesh technology was chosen by BT to help form a wireless data backbone that could meet DP World Antwerp’s complex demands. Rajant’s “Make-Make-Make-Never-Break” method of forming connections played a significant role in this, ensuring that no connections have to be broken for new ones to be made, minimizing DP World Antwerp’s interference challenges.
What’s more, the Rajant network dynamically adapts to an autonomous, mobile environment of moving vehicles, such as containers or large ships, guaranteeing that DP World Antwerp can keep up with its ever-evolving, in-motion environment. Rajant’s ability to combine fixed, wireless, and mobile nodes together ensures that DP World Antwerp’s critical data always gets to where it needs to go–rapidly.
Handling more than 2.5 million containers every year, 3,000 trucks daily and almost 950 ships annually, it is vital that DP World can carry out its operations efficiently and effectively. With the help of Rajant and BT, DP World is now able to provide secure and resilient connectivity to 900 of its employees at Antwerp Gateway. Furthermore, DP World can analyze and optimize its processes and operations, such as the movement of vehicles around the terminal. This ensures that DP World Antwerp’s employees have an end-to-end view of operations, enabling timely analysis and decision making.
The Living Network of Tomorrow
In today’s competitive world, the demand for IIoT devices in ports will only increase. With the help of Rajant’s Breadcrumb nodes, which can be easily installed onto any object to turn it into an IIoT device, meeting this demand will become easier than ever.
By creating a living network such as this, port operators can protect their assets with proactive monitoring and improved situational awareness, whilst meeting the increasing demand to move a higher volume in and out of their ports.
With Rajant’s Kinetic Mesh technology, any potential cons associated with port automation will disappear, while the possibilities for the future of ports expand.
Gary Anderson is senior vice president of Business Development with Rajant Corp., a Malvern, Pennsylvania-based provider of wireless telecommunication equipment. Anderson’s background includes several high-tech business start-ups, including the founding of AEI, where he served as president and CEO, and the director of sales at Vivato. Selling AEI in 2001, he was subsequently nominated by the Bush Administration to serve as the Assistant Secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, after Sept. 11, 2001, he withdrew his nomination and volunteered to assist the White House in establishing he Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. The retired U.S. naval officer joined Rajant in January 2006.