Innovation

It makes so much sense – why didn’t we have this already?

01 November 2019
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Making waves #8

In Rotterdam, we are continuously searching for answers to make the port smarter, more efficient, better and more sustainable. How have partners in the port addressed this, why, and what could they have done smarter?

“It makes so much sense that it’s hard to imagine it didn’t exist already, in Europe’s smartest port.” Nextlogic manager Wouter Groen is talking about the integrated planning for handling inland container shipping flows in the port of Rotterdam.

Wouter Groen
Wouter Groen

‘As a student at the institute of technology, it gradually became clear that I wasn’t a techie at heart. I switched to systems engineering, policy analysis and management, which suited me a lot better. This mix of technology, processes and decision-making can also be found in Nextlogic. I think Nextlogic offers the port of Rotterdam a smart means of increasing its competitive edge even further. Three years from now, we won’t be able to imagine what it was like working without Nextlogic.”

Effective quay plannings

“We came up with the idea for Nextlogic after determining that we needed to improve the handling of inland container shipping flows: there was – and is – a strong need for a more efficient quay planning process. Every year, around 2.5 million containers are loaded or unloaded onto or from inland vessels in Rotterdam, during some 18,000 port calls. Several terminals have indicated that 10% of the planned quay capacity ultimately isn’t utilised. Due to a change in the planning, for example, or delays. Which is a pity, because they do have a crane and a team standing by for the job. This means far more containers could have been handled in that period – so vessels would have been ready to go sooner.”

Bizarre situation

“It’s a bizarre situation right now. One of the barge operators put it quite succinctly: his planners spend 20% of their time drawing up plannings for their active inland container vessels. The remaining 80% is spent on adjusting and adapting these original plannings on the fly! At present, barge operators, terminals and empty depots seem to have accepted that it’s all part of the job. But more than anything, this approach is inefficient. The parties also say that they’re better at adapting their plannings than their rivals. And that this is where their competitive edge lies... Handling hitches better than your competitors – I don’t think that’s the USP you should be aiming for.”

Solution: integrated planning

“These past five years, we’ve been working on a solution at Nextlogic. After extensive consultation with partners in the chain, it turned out the solution lies in integrated planning – via a digital system that tracks all barge calls on individual terminals. Nextlogic will ultimately need to provide the daily planning for some 200 inland vessels and 15 terminal locations in Rotterdam. This is something of a challenge, since it requires participation and commitment on the chain parties’ part. They’ll be surrendering a bit of their autonomy, which could make them feel a bit nervous.”

“Nextlogic’s integrated planning is currently in the trial phase. The initial results are promising. It’s the first time we have a comprehensive picture of supply and demand – a truly unique overview. It makes so much sense that it’s hard to imagine it didn’t exist already, in Europe’s smartest port. Of course, I’m well aware that fundamental systemic changes like this are tremendously complex. Companies need to be in it for the long haul. The tricky part is both keeping people interested and getting as many market parties on board as possible. After all, the more companies make use of Nextlogic; the more effective it becomes. Right now, we plan to go ‘live’ in the first half of 2020. My goal is to launch with at least 70% of the market parties – I want to start with a big bang!”

Turning an idea into reality

“I’m a results-oriented fellow. If it were up to me, Nextlogic would have already been up and running. Last year, I bought a house that still needs to be built. I have the same feeling with this project. I’ve looked at the plans for the house so often – I know it like the back of my hand – but it still only exists as a drawing. Now that the contractor is starting to finish parts of my house, this image I had in my head is becoming reality. I can see the same thing going on in Nextlogic’s case. Parts of the system have become operational and the participants are very enthusiastic. In the period ahead, everything that until recently only existed on paper will be realised. It’s great to see things coming together!”