HomePorts And ShippingSmart Port: The Future of Ports

Smart Port: The Future of Ports

A smart port is a port that uses smart technologies like the Internet Of Things (IoT), blockchain, Artificial Intelligence (AI), digital twin technology, and Big Data to improve the quality and the performance of the port ultimately reducing the cost factors.

Asian Development Bank describes a smart port as a port that ensures “no waste of space, time, money and natural resources.”

The whole world is running towards a data-oriented platform with innovations towards sustainability. There is no exception for the ports rather than joining the competition. A Seaport has a dynamic environment as it includes activities not limited to logistics, transportation, warehousing, and value addition. Being involved with shipping lines, logistics service providers, and client ports are big data generators.

Port of Hamburg is one of the leading ports taking initiative towards the smart port concept. The Hamburg port uses an IoT platform for managing traffic congestion, pollution, and road safety which consists of the 3 pillars, Smart Port infrastructure, intelligent traffic flows, and intelligent trade flows.  For example port of Hamburg uses AGT International SmartPort Solution to track barges using RFID tags. This enables getting real-time information on the barges.

Ports being in the unique place of a supply chain, conduct experiments on different types of technologies to become smart. Thus technologies aggregated from the Internet Of Thing (IoT) Artificial intelligence, big data, blockchain solutions, and other smart technologies for the development of performance, economic competitiveness, and sustainability in the industry would be the baseline in most cases. These technologies connect the digital and physical world enabling real-time data and optimizing resources.  The words look simple, yet ports have a long way to go even with the current initiative to become truly a “Smart Port”.

Smart Ports: The Future of Ports- Smart Port Criteria- Daily Logistics

Even the basic function of a port is to facilitate trade, the use and the requirement of ports are changing with time. At the initial stage, ports were used to load and unload cargo. A study by Deloitte shows Ports in Western Europe are faced with a concentration of ports in a stagnating mature market where efficiency and protection of market share become central. The survival of a port no longer depends on its capacity but on how efficient and smart the port is.

A port could adopt the smart technologies for Electronic Data Interchange, Vessel Traffic Management System (VTS), Terminal Operations System (TOS), Port Community System (PCS), as well for Terminal Equipment fleets management.

Smart Ports: The Future of Ports- Port generations- Daily Logistics
Generations of Port: UNCTAD

A smart port increases its efficiency in services, resource use, minimizes wastage and idling of resources. More streamlined work of the port would definitely cut down the cost factors in monetary and non-monetary terms.  

The Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has implemented mobile technology and wireless connectivity to improve efficiency, communications, and crew satisfaction in the Port of Singapore (PSA)

The Port Authority of Cartagena uses the Posidonia SmartPort application to share instant information on vessel movements, operations, traffic history, and forecasts.

Some ports go beyond the concept of smart ports and work towards the “Smart City” concept. For example port of Antwerp has taken five pillars initiatives to develop the Belgium city with IoT technology.

Smart Ports: The Future of Ports- sideview of a port- Daily Logistics
Cross View of the Port with the city

Hamburg, Singapore, and Rotterdam ports try for a top-down approach and NxtPort has a bottom-up approach of becoming a smart port.

Maersk, the global leader in container transportation has partnered with IBM to explore the implementation of blockchain concepts in cross-border cargo clearance. They have tested the blockchain on customs declarations submission and cross-border supply chain solutions.  IBM has also tested a payment solution based on blockchain to facilitate international trade.

Becoming a smart port may not be feasible for every port around the world due to the investment in resources including human and IT infrastructure. Thus the smart ports will be well efficient, it could become a burden to the small ports which are unable to adopt the changes.

“Smart ports are the only ports that will survive.” prof. dr. Olaf Merk

The majority of the ports are changing their port model from fully owned government ports toward landlord ports and privatization. As such, the number of parties involved in the port operation is higher and they may not willing to agree on a data sharing policy. Looking at the broader concept of the smart port from a different perspective, it requires the collaboration of the parties involved with the port. Hence eliminating paperwork and relying on digitization may not be the choice of every party. Of course, the cross border trade may need paperwork for border controller inspection purposes even the trade gets slowed down.

We have spoken on how hard it could be to become truly a smart port and how it becomes stressful to small ports. Having said that, do small ports have a way forward? Can they become smart ports?  No doubt they can.

 Any port can become smarter

Being smart doesn’t have defined limitations or a scale for the solutions or size for the port. All ports may not be able to adopt the same smartness, there could be limitations. But they can become smart ports within their capacities.

Being a smart port is a long term concept. It may require partnerships with clients and the collaboration of port users. If the port is unable to invest in smart solutions or automation, they may go for joint ventures with shipping lines for developing terminals, or with other logistics service providers to have automated warehouses or to provide end to end business solutions.

Digitalization and telematics are the two great initial drivers of automation while Artificial Intelligence will be the main factor in port automation. Avoiding human errors, faster turn around time, and reduced port congestions are a few benefits of automation.

The most important component of the smart port is data as all the spoken technologies develop with the data. Hence the availability of accurate data in a timely manner is essential to implement technologies.  Concentration on cybersecurity is second to none as the big data are fed to the systems.

Smart ports require continuous innovations, improvements, and adoptions over time.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), International Maritime Organization (IMO), and European Union (EU) have implemented regulations and policies to make sure the necessary regulatory frameworks towards smart ports.

What are the drivers for the adoption of smart port technology

Operational efficiency

Improved productivity while reducing the operational cost could discuss under this. Automation, using intelligent infrastructure, and productivity could discuss under this.  A container terminal can have a system where the system identifies the container number which mounted to a truck and open the automatic gate after verifying the container details through the system. Or automated cranes at the quay are also good for operational efficiency.

 Sensors, GPS/DGPS, RFID/OCR/LPR, GNSS, DGNSS, TOS, Bluetooth, WLAN, mobile devices, the Cloud, port community systems, port monitor system, port road management system, intelligent railway, smart maintenance, vessel traffic management, and parking space management, are few applications of intelligent infrastructure.

Asset management

Asset management requires the regular maintenance of the resources. This is to avoid sudden system failures and unexpected operational costs.

Business resilience

Business resilience speaks on the tools that support commercial business operations. The technologies we have discussed could become the business resilience of the port.  For example, using digital twins could identify the ability to berth a new vessel at the port which ultimately supports the port’s revenue generation.

Safety and security

Safety and security are applicable to both cargo and humans as well as to the technologies. The less the cybersecurity of the system more the database becomes vulnerable to risks. CCTV could use to improve the security of cargo.  Container screening is another good example of using smart technology for security.

The International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS) is a security measurement by IMO (International Maritime Organisation) while International Safety Management Code (ISM) is for security purposes.

Energy efficiency

Energy efficiency is another framework discussed under the smart port concept. Moving to electric power and other sustainable and future fuel could discuss under this. Cold ironing is an example of efficient energy use.

ISO 50001, an international standard for energy management systems is a policy framework for energy management by the International Organization for Standardization.

Environmental management

Environment management could discuss under 4 main subcategories as an environmental management system, emission and pollution control, waste management, and water management. Contributing to GHG reduction would be a good environmental management practice a port could have. Ports are bound to adopt environmental-friendly practices with the international conventions of climate change.

 The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed the ISO 14001, which is the framework for environmental management. The EU EcoManagement and Audit Scheme (EMAS), Environmental Review System (PERS), and MARPOL (Convention on Marine Pollution) are other frameworks on environmental management.

Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0- industrial revolution of ports- Smart ports- Daily Logistics
Industry Revolution

Industry 4.0 is the fourth industrial revolution which is the current and ongoing automation of traditional practices. The automation of Industry 4.0 is a revolution that comes with the machine to machine (M2M) communication and the Internet Of Things (IoT).

Mr. Klaus Schwab, a German engineer who was the executive chairman of the World Economic Forum has introduced the concept in 2015.

Industry 4.0 is expected to be a breakthrough for the technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, the internet of things, the industrial internet of things, decentralized consensus, fifth-generation wireless technologies, 3D printing, and fully autonomous vehicles.

Royal HaskoningDHV described a 5 development stages framework on becoming a smart port.
Smart Ports- Steps to become smart ports- Daily Logistics
Steps to become a smart port- Daily Logistics

1. Data capture

Capturing data would be the initial step of becoming a smart port. Gathering data is required to validate, justify, to actively feed into decision-making support or an automated tool, and to monitor the improvements. Even it is easy to capture the basic and small set of data, collecting bid data is much broader and requires IoT for big data management, presenting new and varied data to port stakeholders.

Digitization plays a key role in data capturing as it converts manual and paper-based data into digital form. Digitized data shows clearer pictures of analyzed results.

2. Collaboration

Collaboration is needed to share the information extracted from the data. Analyzed data could share internally and with external shareholders. Sharing information could be customized according to the stakeholder type.

3. Decision support

Smart ports present visualized and more organized information to make decisions.  Real-time data could capture and improve the operation efficiency, compare with the set target, and set optimized routes to transport cargo.

4. Learning

Since the data visualizing, analyzing, and presenting part is done by the system, humans can go beyond and think of methods for better performance. Strategies could be set for port development.

This could manage either by a theoretical simulation or by an actively managed digital twin.

Simulation allows recreating of the port and the required area using technology. This helps to compare and make decisions on different scenarios by simulation.

The digital twin is a method beyond statistics. It uses real-time port data to create the scenario as in the real world. This could use for engineering requirements while doing port constructions as it could use to create quey walls, breakwater, and other areas using digital twin.

Real time visualized information support with more accurate decisions too.

5. Digital transformation

Digital transformation is the ultimate step of the port being matured or being a smart port. Here the human who was doing daily processes will be replaced by machines/robots.

Digital transformation can be used for unmanned gates and auto stevedoring or land and delivery calculation and invoicing.

Quick Wins & Long Term Strategies

Asian Development Bank has introduced short term and long term strategies to become smart ports. They have introduced the strategies under four frameworks.

Quick and long term strategies to become smart ports- Daily Logistics

“The new rule for the future is going to be, ‘Anything that can be connected,’ will be connected.”- Forbes

Some Smart Port Applications

  • Automated mooring systems to mooring vessel safely
  • Automated cranes for que transfer of cargo
  • Robots to load and unload containers at the yard
  • Using RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) in warehouses to track the cargo location
  • Vessel traffic management systems( VTMS) to coordinate vessel traffic at the port
  • Link real-time data using a terminal management system (TOS) to an application to which client/port user has access with login
  • Use big data and alert the consignee on cargo arrival at port
  • LED lighting
  • Renewable energy to generate electricity ( solar power, wind)
  • Use electric vehicles

Challengers to become smart ports

  • Cybersecurity would be a major challenge with the development of technologies
  • Employee adoption of technology would be a critical factor. Some may resistant to learn and adopt the new skill needed. Some may not want to adopt the technology due to the risk of losing their jobs
  • Stakeholders’ expectations could be varied. It will be difficult to make them all have the same view
  • The capital cost for implementing projects will be costly. A proper budget should be allocated to reach the goal of being a smart port in the long term
  • Some government-owned ports focus on generating jobs rather than being efficient where implementing technologies becomes a hassle
  • Proper data sharing policies must be established as users could miss use the data/ information

Subscribe to our newsletter

To be updated with all the latest news, offers and special announcements.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Read More Articles