Smart Ports: Staying Competitive, Safe, and Efficient with IoT

Posted by on July 19, 2017 at 5:00 AM Carmi Brandis  
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The rules of international maritime technology are changing. More and more ports around the globe are investing in private networks to support their own cloud-based Internet of Things (IoT). Seatrade Maritime reports that the Port of Singapore is incentivizing small IoT tech start-ups with challenges and seed investment, and Forbes writes that the Port of Hamburg’s recent expansion and revitalization largely hinged on IoT upgrades to boost efficiency.

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Ports require thousands of people, computers, and industrial machines to work together each day. Making sure that schedules are met on time and without incident is a true challenge. Analysts with the Wall Street Journal speculate that shipping delays can cost the industry as much as $37 billion annually, quickly souring business relationships. Even a single accident can cost the maritime industry millions. Splash 24/7 writes that one recent crane crash in Slovenia’s Port of Koper cost the region an estimated $20 million. Further, with coastal cities across America reinvesting in port renewal, competition within the industry is fierce. Investment in technology that improves both port safety and efficiency is the best way to remain competitive.  

IoT-Driven Digital Manifests for 21st Century Container Management

To set the stage for widespread adoption of IoT across the shipping industry, ports must lead the way with infrastructure development, providing a platform enabling each ship’s IoT network to join upon arrival. What are some ways to get started? Ports may want to begin by promoting adoption of digital manifest devices. For ports still using paper manifests or manifests not directly attached to the container, losses, mix-ups, and misplacements are by no means infrequent. Manual cargo tracking slows down delivery and even can be dangerous depending on the nature of the cargo being offloaded. Working from less-than-reliable tracking records also places undue strain on customs and Homeland Security for international arrivals. By contrast, IoT-driven manifests are quick to send and read, and may even be used in conjunction with tracking technology.  

Ideally, each shipping container that arrives or leaves a port should have an IoT device attached to identify, in detail, the container’s contents. The device then can connect to the port’s network to be read through the cloud by port officials or even authorized commercial partners waiting on specific deliveries. Likewise, inspectors passing by with handheld devices can connect instantly to the manifest and stop worrying about lost paperwork. Certifications, warnings, and safe-inspection protocols also can be tagged on manifest devices.  

While the transition to digital manifests may require some negotiation with shipping companies, ports can head off this effort by writing new standards for shipping partners based on their new IoT network standards.

Faster Repairs and Enhanced Operational Safety with Maritime IoT

What other transformations and innovations can IoT bring to bear for ports wanting to stay ahead of the game? For maritime safety professionals, the robust monitoring applications of IoT may be this field’s most attractive asset. Safety always is a concern for ports, but planning and scheduling regular maintenance and inspection is challenging. Decisions often are based on speculation rather than dynamic, up-to-date data, and mistakes place countless lives at risk. With ports constantly racing against the clock to avoid the added expenses, penalties, and delays associated with fixing gear after it breaks, a better safety cycle management program is long overdue.   

As Forbes notes, IoT simplifies repair planning with performance sensors / monitors that can be attached to almost any engine, pump, or gate to provide live data on the speed and reliability of a specific component’s performance. When combined with cloud-based data analysis that benchmarks performance, monitors can be used to predict failure so that repairs always are made before disaster strikes. Port Technology notes that even should mechanical failure occur, performance monitors allow repair teams to quickly locate the problem and get the system back in operation faster.

Ports concerned about security breaches also may take comfort in IoT enhancements. Alert systems that can connect to the cloud will facilitate faster loss prevention response. Likewise, Hellenic Shipping News writes that digital seals can authenticate the chain of custody after products are inspected by customs so as to provide assurance against tampering. Attached seals can be combined with other security applications to provide a robust, whole-port security system and can be updated at each security check point.  

IoT-Guided Fleet and Traffic Management and Port Growth Planning

Ports are busier than ever, but as Forbes notes, reliable traffic pattern data for each fleet is easily collected, stored, and analyzed along an IoT network. Integrated sensors that monitor everything from the number of ships that pass through a lock each day to each ships’ class and tonnage communicate directly with your cloud and can be used to plan port expansions, justify major repairs, or create new safety procedures to reduce port congestion.

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Establishing a solid infrastructure for the future will attract new clients, make the port’s work easier, improve safety across the fleet, and provide ample data to guide complex decisions. From trucking to airports, IoT already is common in other logistics-based industries across the globe, and it is time for ports to join this revolution in efficiency.  

Aeris stands ready to assist Port Authorities who might be looking to invest in IoT. We can help you identify a suite of customized technologies for your desired applications and can establish and maintain your port’s cellular network to provide immediate information about each data point throughout the port.

Contact us today to find out how IoT can make a difference for your city’s port.

Topics: IoT, ports, maritime technology, container management, smart ports