The port is getting smarter and smarter

More efficient, faster, cheaper, cleaner...

  • Vessels and ports are becoming more connected digitally
  • The Port of Rotterdam Authority is responding to this with apps and other innovations
  • One experiment has resulted in a 20%-reduction in waiting time for vessels in the port
  • Three examples of innovations that make the port even ‘smarter’

Approximately 30,000 sea-going vessels call at the Port of Rotterdam every year; over 80 per day. And there’s a lot involved in each port call. Piloting, tugs, linesmen, loading, unloading, bunkering, processing waste, restocking food supplies, and much more. This requires precise coordination. ‘It means a lot of contact to and fro, certainly if arrival times change’, explained Nathalie Fransen from the Port of Rotterdam Authority.

It is, of course, much smarter to coordinate these services digitally. But until recently this wasn’t possible because ports and shipping companies all used their own ‘language’. Until September 2017, when a global standard was introduced. This was the result of many years of efforts and negotiations by different international nautical and logistics parties, including the Port Authority. Shipping companies, ports and other logistics partners can now exchange nautical and other data unhindered by ‘language difficulties’. This has enabled all kinds of issues around a port call to be coordinated digitally. And that is exactly what Pronto does. This application was built by Digital Business Solutions, a new Port Authority department, established to make the port smarter through digital innovations. ‘Within the application, every vessel is given its own timeline’, explained Nathalie. ‘Shipping companies, terminals and other service providers all have access to vessels that are relevant to them - you could compare it with Facebook, where you can only see the timelines of your friends.’

Pronto enables all service providers to make a good estimation of when they can start. Progress is updated real time and, if necessary, the users can receive alerts in the event of status changes, delays and planning conflicts. The first pilots with the application are in any event promising. Nathalie: ‘The participating vessels reported a twenty per cent reduction in waiting time in the port. That’s great for the crew as well as for the port. This means more cargo processed in less time and with lower CO2 emissions.’


Innovation 2 - Smart port through the internet of things

If you install sensors everywhere in the port and ensure a smart combination of data streams, you learn how to run the port more efficiently than is currently the case. This is the basic idea behind the internet of things project that the Port Authority started in cooperation with technology partner IBM. A lot needs to be measured in the port, including water levels, salt levels, wind speeds, visibility and current. You can distil all kinds of information from these data. For example, what is the best time for a vessel to berth so that it has sufficient depth for a maximum load, or when is the optimum current for the most efficient and sustainable voyage. But also: when is it time to dredge a navigation channel. After which, the dredger can just get to work independently. Because that is the next step for which this network of sensors is essential: autonomous shipping, or robot vessels that can find their own way through the port and ‘talk’ en route with the quay walls, dolphins and loading and unloading cranes. Welcome to the future.

Innovation 3 - Lower CO2 emissions through blockchain

Bitcoin and blockchain were perhaps the buzzwords of 2017. But is there anyone who understands how crypto currencies work? You don’t? Don’t worry. Even without understanding the underlying technology, we know what it is ideal for: realising transactions in a secure and reliable way without intervention from an external party. Whether that is payment traffic without a bank, or a decentralised energy network, which is really interesting for the Port of Rotterdam. Using blockchain, companies in the port can supply a ‘residual product’ such as excess heat to a company that needs it. The same applies to the electricity that city dwellers generate with their solar panels. If you produce too much, there’s always a neighbour who could use your electricity. This is how blockchain contributes to more efficient energy consumption (and thus lower CO2 emissions). It’s one of the reasons why the Port of Rotterdam Authority is participating in the BlockLab. This ‘laboratory’ has already delivered four innovative applications for the energy market.

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