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Smart ports: increasing efficiency and cutting costs

Smart ports: increasing efficiency and cutting costs
18 July 2018

Connected technologies are moving ports into the digital age and helping to boost productivity and cut costs. Joe Baker takes a closer look at some of these technologies and where they are being used to good effect

Today’s ports are complex networks spanning a wide number of stakeholders, from port operators and authorities, to hauliers and shipping companies. However, experts from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) claim that some aspects of port management are stuck firmly in the past, with paper-based documentation and manual labour still the order of the day.

“This is clearly not a business which is ahead of the pack in terms of digitalising or using new technologies,” says Francois-Xavier Delenclos, BCG director and co-author of a recently released report entitled ‘To Get Smart, Ports Go Digital’. “At container ports especially you are still running fairly big yards with very limited systems and it’s still very manual in the way you are moving boxes around.”

As global trade has increased, vessel sizes and cargo volumes have surged upwards, placing additional pressure on ship berths and yards. Ports are therefore becoming increasingly interested in smart solutions that will help optimise operations, promote efficiency and reduce logistics costs, all without requiring major investment in new infrastructure and equipment.

“Ports want to improve their operations because if they don’t, they’re not going to be able to put as many boxes through every year and they're going to have to build new infrastructure, when what they would rather do is have their own infrastructure,” says Alexander Rasmussen, BCG principal and another co-author of the report.

The move towards Internet of Things (IoT) technologies has led to speculation about the potential of truly futuristic technologies, from augmented and virtual reality solutions, to autonomous ships. However, for now, here are a few examples of ways in which ports are becoming smarter.