In Depth: Port of Rotterdam Wants to Be the Smartest

Ports are major hubs in the supply chain. In Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port, countless proceedings are happening every day. In the optimal supply chain, each link seamlessly connects to the next. That is why the Port of Rotterdam is looking into new developments to make the port services more efficient.

A collaboration was recently announced in order to make Rotterdam a smart port of the future. The Port of Rotterdam Authority and IBM teamed up for a multi-year digitization initiative to transform the port’s operational environment using Internet of Things (IoT) technologies in the cloud to benefit the port and those who use it. The initiative will also prepare the Port of Rotterdam’s entre 42 km site to host connected ships in the future.

It begins with the development of a centralized dashboard application that will collect and process real-time water (hydro), weather (meteo) sensor data and communications data, analysed through the IBM IoT platform. This will enable a new wave of safer and more efficient traffic management at the port.

Tides and currents

“Here in Rotterdam, we are taking action to become the smartest port in the world,” says Paul Smits, chief financial officer of the Port of Rotterdam Authority.

“Speed and efficiency is essential to our business, and requires us to use all of the data available to us. Thanks to real-time information about infrastructure, water, air, etc., we can enormously improve the service we provide to everyone who uses the port, and prepare to embrace the connected, autonomous shipping of the future.”

Previously the port relied on traditional radio and radar communication between captains, pilots, terminal operators, tugboats and more to make key decision on port operations. Now, as the
Port of Rotterdam begins its digital transformation, sensors are being installed across 42 km of land and sea – spanning from the City of Rotterdam into the North Sea – along the Port’s
quay walls, mooring posts and roads. These sensors will gather multiple data streams including water (hydro) and weather (meteo) data about tides and currents, temperature, wind speed
and direction, water

Maximum amount of cargo

This data will be analysed by IBM’s cloud-based IoT technologies and turned into information that the Port of Rotterdam can use to make decisions that reduce wait times, determine optimal times for ships to dock, load and unload, and enable more ships into the available space. For example, the Port of Rotterdam will now be able to predict the best time based on water level, to have a ship arrive and depart Rotterdam, ensuring that the maximum amount of cargo is loaded on board.

The Port of Rotterdam’s digital transformation project is enabled by IBM’s cloud-based IoT technologies and will see the Port of Rotterdam and IBM are working together long-term to uncover other innovative applications of IoT and artificial intelligence. Cisco and Axians are also involved in the project.

With the new initiative, Port of Rotterdam operators will also be able to view the operations of all the different parties at the same time, making that process more efficient. In fact, shipping companies and the port stand to save up to one hour in berthing time which can amount to about USD 80,000 in savings.

Blockchain

The Port of Rotterdam is also looking at other new technologies that can make the logistics process more efficient. Take containers.

“Of the 40 days that containers travel from central China to central Europe, they spend around 24 days actually on the move, and 16 going nowhere,” says Tim de Knegt of the Port of Rotterdam.

“One factor is the extensive paperwork, with the consignment note as the main registration and control document. But it is primarily due to the fact that the parties involved do not share information in real time. If a ship enters the port half an hour earlier or later, the lorry driver is unable to alter his own process.”

Blockchain appears to be a suitable solution, but most relevant parties are still unfamiliar with the technology. Using a case study, TNO and the TKI Dinalog Blockchain Consortium highlight the real opportunities for the container transport that blockchain can bring. The Port of Rotterdam will be the party that supplies information and facilitates the logistics process.

“A transport operation involves at least 20 to 25 parties: customs, port authorities, stevedore, freight forwarder, road carrier, shipper, consignee, bank, and so on,” says TNO senior advisor Wout Hofman. Among the areas he focuses on is that of blockchain for logistics.

“And these parties do business not just with Rotterdam, but with other ports as well. That is why we would like to move towards having an open environment. The ports already share information via the Port Community System, but it is expected that blockchain will help improve efciency and further reduce costs. In the TKI Dinalog Blockchain Consortium, we are investigating how blockchain technology can be applied in the logistical setting of the port as effectively as possible.”

“By combining our technical knowledge of logistics and blockchain with our knowledge of the market, we believe we will find the answers to the many questions that that will raise,” continues Hofman.

“Take legacy, for example – businesses are used to working in a particular way and have a certain apprehension about new technology. There is also the mater of commercial sensitivity. Companies are not necessarily keen to share their data. And there are issues relating to liability as well. If a company shares data, is it then liable in the event of adverse consequences?”

Everybody wins

The partners in the consortium are envisaging a scalable environment that new parties can join very quickly.

“As well as the legal and IT issues, it is scalability in particular that is a challenge. If you examine the bitcoin mining process, then the majority of parties has to approve the transaction in question. If you do so in a private environment, then that could run to thousands of parties in due course. We therefore need to find a way of securing agreements with each other very frequently,” De Knegt said.

“Blockchain benefts everyone who uses it,” says De Knegt.

“That is a major difference with large e-commerce companies, for example, or social network sites that attract large quantities of data and claim ownership of that data, thereby becoming even more profitable. Here, it’s all about live and let live: we help each other to improve the process. Every additional hour that a vessel is moored up represents between EUR 50 to 100 thousand in additional costs. Thousands of vessels enter the Port of Rotterdam every year, so the savings can be considerable.”

Things are moving so fast that the first commercial applications will be ready within two to three years.

“We are going to develop an environment that offers smart contracts – that is, software that interested companies can use to link up to the technology and others can develop innovative services,” concludes Hofman.

“I would be very pleased to invite interested businesses and app developers to get in touch. We are also taking our ideas onto the European market, by supporting the Digital Transport and Logistics Forum.”

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