The port industry has always played a significant role in global trade and commerce and, like all other industries, is facing a transformation toward sustainability and better performance. This period is challenging but exciting as new technologies will drive all initiatives to a more promising and connected future.
The evolution of ports shows the changing needs for trading and transportation over time. From 3000 BC, with the construction of the Valley Civilization's first port in the ancient city of Lothal (now India), to the 20th century with globalized economies. When containerization was introduced, the shipping industry was changed by starting the construction of specialized container ports, and finally, in the 21st century, with the emergence of smart ports.
Nowadays, ports are not just a connection point between land and sea but much more; they are a nodal point between cities, supply chains, emergency response, and industrial centers. This is why it is essential to transform the port sector digitally.
A "smart" port is equipped with embedded systems and advanced technologies that use methods; such as automation, integration of services, and digitalization for a more efficient, secure, sustainable, and reliable workflow.
Smart ports employ innovative technologies such as:
The use of sensors and other devices interconnected with each other; to gather information, like temperature, humidity, etc., and to analyze and process to create better applications and procedures that will change the functioning of the port and supply chain.
AI allows computers and machines to analyze data from sensors and devices to predict steps and future events for learning and reasoning to optimize operations and create more suitable automated procedures.
Blockchain is a technology that allows handling data transactions securely and transparently. In a port, it can track cargo movements, reduce fraud, and improve supply chain management.
A decentralized architecture manages data through a network of distributed computers and devices rather than having a centralized server or authority. The decentralized model is a collaborative management network where each computer and device contributes resources, power, and storage and shares the same access to and control over the data.
There is a large amount of raw data generated through IoT and other sensors which, analyzed by big data, generates high-quality data that can be used to provide better insights to develop smart solutions for better performance, sustainability practices, maintenance, safety, and cost savings. Big data and analytics enable companies and stakeholders to optimize their operational performance.
These machines can operate autonomously by learning, adapting, and responding to changing situations in real-time, having the ability to make their own decisions based on valuable data; for example, self-driving cars, drones, and robots.
The mix of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AG) can be used for education and training, making it easier to gain experience from interacting with simulated environments for management, maintenance, and safety procedures, as well as engineering and design. A digital twin is an example growing in popularity as it's ideal for training on specific equipment in a digital environment before working on something in the real world.
5G provides a network to handle the high level of IoT connectivity with low latency, keep data in real-time, avoid disruptions in operations, and help enable remote operations, such as search and rescue operations.
It is challenging to trust in such a complex transition. Still, the upgrades in the latest technologies have helped to make everyone more interested in digital transformation, thinking about improving infrastructure, operational efficiency, sustainability, and cost savings. As technology evolves and the supply chain keeps increasing, there will be a necessity for ports to become a 'digital node' within the network.
Altogether, all these technologies deliver advanced embedded systems that play a crucial role in allowing the evolution of smart ports. Real-time data and analytics will change ports' operations, improving performance, safety, and sustainability.
The benefits are significant. Existing Smart Ports are already changing the future of the maritime and shipping industries. In this way, a smart port provides opportunities for evolutionary changes in other business activities, helping everyone involved in the sector.
The upgrade to embedded systems with the innovative technologies mentioned is highly beneficial to essential aspects, such as:
The adoption of smart ports will help automate procedures and create better application solutions for optimizing the flow of goods, congestion, and improvement in the delivery time for vessels.
The fusion of IoT sensors and other advanced technologies helps monitor and respond to potential safety risks, like weather conditions, security threats, etc.
Smart ports will help reduce emissions and energy consumption; by using renewable energy sources and more efficient procedures.
Advanced digital technologies, such as blockchain, will provide better security and transparency for all data management, as better visibility for cargo movements and enhance supply chain management.
Transforming the port sector into smart ports will help optimize infrastructure, optimize operations, and reduce delays. It will reduce shipping costs for companies and other stakeholders in the supply chain.
Digitally transforming ports will help to optimize real-time information for customers, improving the experience and providing more security for clients' data.
A great example of how smart ports work is the Tianjin Port in the Beijing Port Area in China, which is leading the digital transformation role to push sustainability. Its section C Terminal was the world's first smart, driverless, zero-carbon emissions. It began its functions in 2021, and currently, it is planning to build a digital twin (a virtual copy of a system or process used to simulate and analyze performance in a virtual environment) to enhance the port's capabilities.
Here are some examples of the advanced technologies Tianjin Port uses in its embedded systems to improve overall performance and safety; and deliver a zero-carbon emissions infrastructure:
While smart ports offer several benefits, we have to take into consideration the challenges too; for example:
Legacy systems are not designed to integrate most modern technology, making adopting new technologies challenging or deploying the full benefits of smart port solutions.
The interconnection of the infrastructure gives full performance benefits but makes it vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Thus, high measures are implemented to protect it.
The interaction of several stakeholders makes data sharing and management complex, as they may have different systems that do not interoperate.
Investing in embedded systems for smart solutions can be expensive. There is not much funding available, mainly for developing countries, which will be the most affected when trying to stay updated with digital transformation.
It may be challenging to implement smart solutions when it requires time and training for the employees.
At IoE Corporation, we have designed the Eden system, a sustainable embedded system that offers all the advanced technologies needed to make digital transformation a success.
Eden can help transform ports into more productive and sustainable transportation centers. It can enable an efficient supply chain and better communication between all stakeholders in the sector; and help provide optimized logistics to improve every factor of infrastructure management, maintenance, and safety.
The Eden system can be used with existing equipment that may be underutilized to leverage the legacy infrastructure that can store data and perform complex IT tasks. Eden allows companies to utilize their existing infrastructure and hardware, leveraging available power and resources. This will reduce monthly management, traffic, and bandwidth costs due to no need to send everything to the central server.
Eden is a decentralized infrastructure designed to improve efficiency by managing data in real-time and closer to where the data gets generated. It does not need a centralized server to handle and store the data, reducing latency and traffic and allowing faster decision-making. In addition to sustainability, a decentralized system does not emit carbon emissions like a centralized system, where you have to move all the data back and forth through the 'cloud.'
Overall, Eden system and our Planet Partner program can be what you are waiting for to start your digital transformation. If you would like to join, please apply here. We look forward to hearing about your plans and showing you how Eden can make them a reality.