When port operations run into problems, it can affect the entire global supply chain. Whether it means empty store shelves, undelivered medicine, or something worse, port backlogs and inefficiencies slow down the global economy and cost billions to consumers, companies, and governments alike. The pandemic showed us that our shipping ports require an overhaul to streamline operations regardless of the number of personnel on-site. When operators could not physically tend to the loading and unloading of cargo or organizing docking, ships sat outside ports for weeks before getting clearance. Smart ports using IoT, AI, and machine-to-machine learning are the answer to this problem.
The promise of IoT is increased efficiency in every area it is applied. Significant government and global trade organizations are looking at this as an opportunity for the future of commerce. In 2019, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe commissioned a Business Requirements Specification (BRS) template for a "Smart Container" and how they fit into global shipping operations.
"The 'smart container solution' is based on different technical pillars: 1) an active smart device fixed on a container or included in the container, 2) a platform collecting the data, processing it and sharing with the different stakeholders, and 3) various communication protocols including those wireless communications technologies enabling multi-hopping and collaboration between devices." - UNECE.org
Combining IoT with big data will provide companies on every level of the supply chain with more accurate ETA's (among other benefits). The addition of smart containers utilizing GPS allows for real-time location-based operations. Port operators can see when and where inbound containers will arrive and adjust system resources (including personnel) to where they are most needed.
Are too many container ships arriving at 4 pm Tuesday that can create excess ship traffic? A port operator with AI assistance can adjust the docking frequency to alleviate the backlog, streamlining the docking and offloading process. Take it a step further. Does one ship have many containers with perishable items like food or medicine? That ship will receive top docking priority. The more information port operators have at their disposal, the better they can run their operations. With AI being trained to maximize system efficiency, the future of global shipping is poised to look much different than it does now.
Widespread adoption in the maritime industry will take a few key steps. The first is IoT-enabled container management and digital infrastructure implementation. Current ports still using paper manifests lead to losses and misplacement of physical documents. This creates logistical nightmares and delays in operations. Manual cargo tracking slows down delivery but can also place an overwhelming burden on customs operations for international shipments and payments. Think of the pandemic and container ships sitting offshore for weeks. It was partly due to the backlog of containers that needed customs inspection and partly due to the use of manual clearance. Ports using no Smart Container or Smart Port systems were the worst affected.
But, in the future, every container entering or exiting a smart port will have IoT devices to help identify the contents of the container in detail based on the digital manifest. The device is connected to the smart port's digital network via the cloud, which allows port personnel (or persons with authority) to access the container data. Device manifests can also provide critical information like container certifications, safe inspection & handling protocols, tag warnings, or other critical information. A digital manifest allows operators to determine what personnel or equipment are needed for compliance if a container requires a specific set of transport safety protocols because of its contents.
Think of volatile chemicals, combustion fuels, or even weapons during wartime. These cannot be handled the same way you handle containers filled with jeans and t-shirts. Safety compliance when moving dangerous materials is necessary for staff and marine wildlife safety. To prevent spills and damage to containers, operators need to know what is in any shipping container in real time. It is not helpful to learn the contents of a container after it has spilled into the ocean and created an environmental disaster.
Safety at ports is a top priority, but it can be challenging considering the size and scope of many global port operations. IoT-enhanced monitoring improves overall safety, which cannot be achieved with the manual operation of port activities to the same degree. This is because manual processes rely on speculation and the decisions of individual human port operators. With consistently updating container IoT data, machine learning protocols can make the most intelligent decision for the network's overall health, including safety, without “thinking” about it. Thereby reducing or eliminating costly manmade mistakes.
Smart Ports using IoT can also provide better maintenance and repairs with sensors that monitor the performance of engines, gates, pumps, crane function, cable strength, and more. Suppose something experiences complete mechanical failure (like a port gate). In that case, sensors can send data quickly to an on-site repair team to locate the problem location immediately and conduct repairs with minimal delay. This is critical in a port with massive structures, thousands of moving parts, and highly interconnected systems (not to mention inbound ships from all over the world).
Things go wrong in the real world. One of the responsibilities of port operators is to get things fixed and moving when something delays operations or shuts them down completely. IoT-enhanced Smart Ports do just that. Better maintenance, safety, and resource management; all equate to a more efficient and robust port ecosystem.
EDEN further optimizes logistics using AI machine learning to establish your port's protocols to operate at maximum efficiency. Current cyber security solutions are insufficient to prevent major breaches and attacks by bad actors. Eden creates an environment with security beyond cyber with blockchain-validated data streams and Zero Trust protocols.