May 2017

Disruptive Technology and Smart Container Industry

by Marco Fehmer

& Claudio Boer

— Posted in World Port Development on May 2017

Automation and big data, where we are and where we are going

It is a common motto to refer to disruptive changes in our lives and business, referring to new technical tools, methods and style of communication which have been made possible by new technologies and mentality of new generations.

This will inevitably affect even the conservative world of shipping and dockers and we are learning that the feedback is no more: “it will never happen here”, “ it is not possible, we always did in this way!” but open questions like: “how much will it cost?” or “what about return of investment?”

It might sound obvious, but it is not.

To tear down the walls of suspicion about IT, automation, technical advisors, process specialists took a significant time but the new rules of the container industry that requires big investments linked to the size of the new giant vessels, the expected level of service increased by competition forced the operators to rethink themselves and their business.

And we cannot ignore that a dozen line operators through three main alliances, manage about the 80% of traffic of container traffic worldwide.

Technology is indeed ready for the challenge and will drive quickly to new disruptive directions.

Speaking about Process and Equipment Automation,

  • Ten years ago we were scared by touch screens mounted on a reach stacker or tablets in the hands of a gate clerk, this is now an industry standard and we are already implementing OCR.
  • Remote drivers including Quay Cranes, is a reality and the new benchmark to ensure safe and secure operations, reduce maintenance costs but even improve quality of life of drivers and extend their professional lifecycle.
  • GPS is now reliable enough to provide localisation services to all equipment in the port and is a standard add on to any device in our hands, including smartphones.
  • And would you be scared thinking about drone monitoring your terminal operations instead or on top of TVCC system?
Artificial Intelligence Planning and Dispatching, Business Intelligence
  • The knowledge and quality of data collected during operations by the most advanced TOS in the market, enables them to use a high quality optimisation algorithm for work instruction dispatching, dynamic yard and vessel planning that tunes himself accordingly to external conditions that are variable during the day and from one day to the next.
  • The analysis of data, real time dashboards and KPIs that put in relation, revenues, costs and performance are accessible on portable devices and pull the organisation to dynamic resource and planning reviews.
Supply Chain digitalisation
  • Global supply chains are advocating in favour of more integration of information systems and emerging technologies such as Smart containers, Blockchains, IoT are ready to bring revolution in the way information is processed in maritime transport, port terminals, port community systems, administrations (Customs and OGA).
  • Digital documents can be changed, submitted, approved much quicker and enable a more flexible process that will reduce transit time and increase efficiency for actors of the chain.
  • Financial transaction can be enabled and facilitate management of the whole process in a transparent and secure way.
  • What we normally referred as Port Community System is now a Smart EcoSystem for Ports, but due to the nature of the shipping itself, it will turn into a global social shipping chain, changing the schema of the industry and appointing shipping lines and big intermodal operators at the helm of the business with less and less intermediaries.
Integration between shipping line, shippers and terminal operators
  • To open the access to cloud based data which were in past considered as private, confidential or not useful to others, turns to be today the best way to make progress and optimise the whole process, including visibility and better control of shipped goods (container and cargo tracking)
  • Sharing BAPLIE’s, MOVIN’s, Load and discharge instruction, yard stowage in “real time” may:
    • Reduce vessel restows
    • Reduce yard shifts
    • Optimise vessel capacity
    • Anticipate optimal working plan (gang splits, berth allocation, transhipment connections, port stay)
    • Optimise Empties management and relocation

If we mix all this elements together, (information availability, flexible process both operational and documental, real time planning and execution) it won’t be science fiction to figure out dynamic tariffs landside and seaside for container operations that can be managed by end users from their portable devices.

This will give value to normally uncongested timeslots at the gate or unused berth allocation or to create priority tickets bought in real time by the truck driver right before or at pre-gate staging area in case he is needs to finalise the pick-up/drop-off quickly to perform a second valuable trip on the same day.

What is coming if we look at what is happening in the road transport industry?

The self driving cars guided by AI are almost a reality and they start to roam on our roads together with man-guided vehicles. But the self driving truck has already been announced and prototypes are in the testing phase. They are also fully electric and therefore CO2 neutral.

What will happen when these automated intelligent trucks come to the gates of the ports? Will they directly interface with the automated port terminals? This will be one of the many science-fiction or science-technology reality challenges we will face in the not so distant future. If we draw the parallel with the new paradigm for production and manufacturing called Factory 4.0, what will be the new paradigm for container ships automated ports? The Factory 4.0 is based on CPS or Cyber-Physical Systems, entities that are intelligent and fully autonomous but also fully integrated with the factory and the supply chain. Will the Container 4.0 also be composed of CPS interfacing with the CPS of Factory 4.0 and create a fully automated intelligent supply chain?

But between the situation today and the future situation there is an intermediate situation that will last for some time where men and machines will be working side by side and among them. The communication among the workers in the field and the offices is an essential component of day-by-day operation and it is mainly based on the voice. The personal assistants based on the voice are becoming more and more intelligent and research is on-going in the major IT players to develop Intelligent Vocal Personal Assistants that could be used by every actor in the port supply chain. 

So, from isolated components of the supply chain from the factory to the transportation to the markets and the consumer, we are having intelligent components able to perform autonomously to integrated systems of men-to-machines or man-to-man guided by Intelligent Vocal Personal Assistants and then the new paradigm of Factory 4.0 and Container 4.0 with machines-to-machines communication based on CPS.

Intelligent Voice Processing will be one of the most revolutionary innovation factor in next decades, supporting argumentations, dialogues and chats between all Ports operators and interacting with containers, good and things: work more efficiently and more secure. DSP, in alliance with SmartWare and Valorsec merchant bank, is working strongly on this Mythical challenge.

The change is happening, before our very eyes.C

About the authors

Marco Fehmer is Civil Chartered Engineer with a specialization in transportation and logistics. He is General Manager of DSP, responsible for business development and active on consulting projects worldwide. Marco served as officer in the Italian Navy Coast Guard and started to work in container terminal business in 1998. In 2007 he was IT Director in the construction and go live phase of the greenfield site Eurogate Tangier Terminal in Morocco (EGT). Marco joined DSP in 2007 and led the company to the partner program of NAVIS for implementation, support and extension of SPARCS N4.

Claudio Boër is Vice-President of the Board, SUPSI, University of Applied Science of Southern Switzerland, Vice-President of the Board, Valorsec Anstalt merchant & investment, President of the Board, Smartware – Switzerland. Claudio worked for 20 years in the Swiss industry. He is also Senior Advisor, swissnexChina, China, Annex to Consulate General for Education, Research, Innovation, Guangzhou and Shanghai. He is Visiting Professor, HITSZ, Harbin Institute of Technology in Shenzhen and Shenzhen Polytechnic, Shenzhen, China. Claudio got his Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Politecnico of Torino (1972), the Master of Applied Science of Mechanical Engineering from University of Waterloo, Canada (1975) and his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada (1978).