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Unlocking the power of digital port transformation

The Covid-19 pandemic caused many problems worldwide, including a somewhat unexpected one: people who are stuck at home, through a combination of necessity and boredom, buy a lot of things online.

That’s not necessarily surprising, but when clicking “add to cart”, and “proceed to check out”, consumers rarely consider the effect it will have on the world’s major shipping ports.

Then came the headlines leading up to and during the holiday season of 2021: ports worldwide, particularly some of the busiest in Los Angeles and Long Beach in California, were clogged like a rush hour freeway, with ships languishing in nearby waters for weeks.

It turns out pandemic quarantines resulted in a 25% increase in shipping containers moving from China to the US, combined with a worldwide supply chain crisis, causing a logistical quagmire that took months to sort out.

Similar problems had been reported earlier during the pandemic in ports around the world, particularly at India’s Chennai and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, a gateway to east and central Africa.

“Part of the problem in all these ports — along with the increase in shipping caused by pandemic online buying — were outdated and fragmented communications and management systems that simply could not handle the increased load,” says Uwe Jasnoch, director of EMEA government, transportation and defence for Hexagon’s Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial division.

“To head off these problems in the future, the shipping industry must look to the example of smart ports such as the Korea Superconducting Tokomak Advanced Research (KSTAR) port or the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, one of the largest seaports in Europe and among the most modernised.

“Modernised ports today incorporate a port community system (PCS) that digitises and streamlines processes, eliminating most of the paperwork and semi-electronic data transfer via fax. A PCS enhances communication between stakeholders and promotes standardisation within the port community,” says Jasnoch.

By providing a common operating picture to all stakeholders, PCS allows better access to production inputs, streamlines information flow and improves communication and co-operation among customs, shipping agents and port authorities. A port’s PCS establishes dedicated communication channels for each ship, facilitating information exchange and document sharing among all involved parties.

The information channels organised per-ship are either pre-defined by contracts between parties or ad hoc, depending on the needs of a particular ship/shipowner. Real-time data capture and sharing enables more efficient processes and better decision-making.

A PCS operates on automatic identification system data streams and nautical charts but can also include street traffic and rail information. In addition, links to sensors like CCTV cameras bring the possibility of livestreams to the harbour master’s fingertips. A PCS can also exchange data with related ports, streamlining communication and interchange in the wider network of ports.

“In addition to serving as a centralised platform for sharing real-time information and data among stakeholders, enhancing collaboration and decision-making,” says Jasnoch, “a PCS integrates various high-value data sources such as Automatic Identification System data, nautical charts, sensor information, video streams and geographical data, creating a comprehensive view of the port operations.

“A PCS can also be purchased ‘as a service’ from the vendor which means managed infrastructure and no local installation. The managed infrastructure is accessed through a web browser and provides cyber security for the entire system. With an adaptable framework, PCS can adapt to the specific needs of small and medium-sized ports, ensuring compatibility scalability, and flexibility.

“By digitising and centralising port operations, perhaps the maritime world won’t be plagued by pictures of stacked up containers and clogged shipping lanes such as were prevalent during the worldwide pandemic,” concludes Jasnoch.

To learn about Hexagon’s port community system, visit this URL.

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