9 Challenges that Push Ports to Become Smart

port cranes logistics

Ports worldwide face challenges every day due to infrastructure, global trade, production capacity, finances, regulation compliance, safety and security, sustainability, digitalization, and lack of community support. With globalization and a growing maritime transport industry, these challenges will only become more apparent and have a stronger impact with time.  

These maritime challenges however can be converted into opportunities through Smart Port transformation so long as ports remain open to change with the digital transformation taking place in the maritime and shipping industry. A Smart Port is a port that integrates new digital technologies, like big data, Artificial Intelligence, and a 5G network, cares for the environment, and cares for the community, ecosystem, and stakeholders.  

As ports are a major node in the supply chain and must keep up with digital advancements to remain competitive, Smart Ports are seen as the way of the future for sustainable maritime industry development.  

Now we will look at the 9 challenges pushing ports to adopt Smart Port strategies.

1. Port Infrastructure

Ports face an infrastructure problem. The shipping industry is old and so are many European and international ports. As the maritime industry and shipping industry continue to grow, the infrastructure no longer accommodates current vessel traffic and port operations.  

As ships get bigger and global trade by sea increases, infrastructure must be changed by expansion and construction. This puts stress and pressure on port hinterlands. Ports also face depth and size problems; therefore, many must perform construction operations to deepen and widen port waters, which puts stress on the marine environment and surrounding public.  

How a Smart Port Project Resolves Infrastructure Problems 

The infrastructure must change to keep up with the transport industry. A Smart Port strategy for infrastructure incorporates the idea that residents, the community, and the port ecosystem are re-included into the port infrastructure.  

For example, Copenhagen Malmo Port has re-designed its port to be attractive to citizens and re-include them in port activities. This can be something as simple as adding more trees to surrounding areas.  

Smart Port technologies, like a Digital Twin which is a digital representation of the port, help with port infrastructure since this enables quay operation predictions that will affect other stakeholders. Technologies can monitor the essential conditions of a port. 

To accommodate the growing need for port expansion, certain large ports have decided to merge into one Smart Port city complex. For example, Le Havre HAROPA is transforming into a Smart Port city which includes Port Le Havre, Rouen, and Paris. 

Smart Ports also use technologies to predict precise estimated time of arrivals (ETA) which reduce port congestion, another side effect of increasing global trade and unchanging port infrastructure.  

2. Global Trade

As the world population grows each year, so does global trade. Global trade puts pressure on ports since they are often unable to accommodate the number of vessels required to keep up with the increased shipping industry activity and traffic.  

Increasing global trade also causes many other issues for ports. With a lack of transparency between vessels and ports, they are often unprepared when a vessel arrives at the dock. Normally vessels do not arrive according to the ETA predicted by the captain, and many ports do not have access to real-time ETA prediction systems for better organization practices.  

When a vessel arrives to dock, certain resources and crew must be available. If the port does not have an accurate ETA for each ship, they are wasting resources since crewmen may be waiting around or simply unprepared when the vessel arrives.  

How a Smart Port Project Resolves Global Trade Problems 

A Smart Port strategy helps ports to better accommodate growing vessel fleets in the maritime industry since technologies can instantaneously track vessel locations. 

Smart Ports integrate technologies, like big data, iot sensors, and Artificial Intelligence, which help them track the precise ETA of vessels. This reduces port congestion and allows for efficient resource planning.  

3. Production Capacity

Due to infrastructure constraints and increasing global trade, production capacity is an issue. With this global trade increase ports could be augmenting their production capacity, but due to their old infrastructure, lack of resources, and lack of technologies, this proves to be a constraint.  

How a Smart Port Project Resolves Production Capacity Problems 

Smart Ports use key technologies to be more efficient. By being more efficient, they can handle higher capacity and serve a higher demand.  

For example, many have automation of cranes and vehicles. Automation allows containers to be processed more quickly, which allows the port to handle a higher number of vessels and cargo. For instance, Port of Singapore, a well-known Smart Port model, will become the largest automated port in the world with automated cranes and unmanned vehicles to improve operating systems and production capacity.  

4. Finances

As ports face many challenges, this, in turn, hurts them financially. Unable to keep up with demands, they cannot take advantage of all production and activity opportunities.  

As without technology ports cannot adequately plan resources, they can for instance spend more money on crews that end up working overtime only because they are waiting for a vessel to arrive.  

Related to port infrastructure problems, a port infrastructure unable to accommodate larger vessels and higher cargo volumes will also be costly since they will lose business.  

Due to inefficiency, the operating costs increase while productivity decreases.  

How a Smart Port Project Resolves Finance and Cost Problems 

Smart Ports help to operate at full capacity by providing supply chain transparency. For example, with the help of a real-time digital dashboard, port authorities can see all activities in a port which allows for better planning.  

Predictive technologies enable lower costs and expenses while increasing productivity. For instance, when a port knows when trucks will arrive to pick up the cargo, they can be better prepared to reduce traffic congestion and process more trucks and cargo in a shorter time frame.  

5. Regulation Compliance

Regulation compliance is another issue. In Europe, for example, ports must follow different regulations and directives to be compliant. If the laws are not followed, they can be heavily fined.  

There are different regulations regarding the environment and water quality. Ports must comply with these by monitoring environmental qualities. However, this is often an inefficient process as most take samples by hand and do not provide environmental measurements in real-time.  

How a Smart Port Project Resolves Regulation Compliance Problems 

There is an idea that Smart Ports encompass care for the environment. Strategies involve monitoring environmental key indicators to ensure compliance and avoid fines.  

Technologies, such as sensors, are placed in port waters and surrounding environments to take instantaneous measurements of water quality, air quality, and noise quality. With access to these measurements, ports can easily monitor projects and activities to ensure compliance with regulations and avoid costly fines.  

Problems can be seen and prevented before they happen.  

6. Safety and Security

Ports face security and safety issues. The jobs of the port employees can be dangerous. They involve operating large equipment, being around heavy machinery, and many operate in the same areas such as sulfuric plants which could potentially leak toxic gases.  

How a Smart Port Project Resolves Safety and Security Problems 

Smart Port technologies, with the use of Artificial Intelligence, enable heavy port machinery to be automated. This means that employees who once used to work manually with dangerous machinery instead control it from large towers. This also allows the employees to be more efficient with other tasks, and human-related disruptions are less likely to be an issue.  

Smart Port technology allows port authorities to see port operations in real-time. For example, they could predict if an accident might happen and prevent it. If there is a sulfuric acid plant at a port and it begins to leak, technologies can immediately identify the issue so that the toxic leak is taken care of as quickly as possible, and surrounding areas could even be evacuated if need be.  

7. Sustainability

Sustainability and environmental concerns are becoming more important. With the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, ports are being forced to reduce carbon use and care more for the environment.  

Nowadays, ports can not only be focused on economic goals but also environmental and social responsibilities must be integrated into business plans.  

How a Smart Port Project Resolves Sustainability Problems 

A large part of becoming a Smart Port is not only the aspect of going digital, but it also incorporates going green. With the use of advanced technologies, ports are adopting new forms of energy. Strategies can include developing green energy sources that can even provide green energy to entire Smart Port city complexes, for example, offshore wind farms.  

As the world is concerned with adopting healthy environmental policy for ports, the shipping industry is also going green and adopting new technologies. Smart Ports thus could provide green energy service to adapted vessels.  

8. Digitalization

Digitalization, new software, and advanced 5G networks only pose a problem for ports that have not yet adapted to new technologies. Digital systems are the way of the future for the entire maritime industry. These systems make ports and vessels more productive, autonomous, and save energy. 

Port management that fails to adapt to these new technologies will not remain competitive.   

How a Smart Port Project Resolves Digitalization Problems 

Smart Ports are essentially digital. Therefore, by becoming a Smart Port, new technology solutions can be integrated into their organization. This involves autonomous cranes and vehicles, advanced analytics, shared dashboards, real-time data, Digital Twins, enhanced maintenance, accurate predictions, and new digital solutions.   

9. Community Support

Lastly, a port can also struggle to gain community support due to its operations which can be harsh on surrounding lands and communities. Known for their pollution, environmental disruption, stress on hinterlands, and use of coastal land, community support can be difficult to achieve.  

How a Smart Port Project Resolves Community Support Problems 

With a Smart Port philosophy, the community is reintegrated back into port operations. They consider how they affect the community by focusing on developing the attractivity of their ports for residents and tourists, caring more for the environment, and providing jobs for surrounding residents. 

A Smart Port strategy cares for all stakeholders involved in port activities and solutions.   

Key Takeaway

The main challenges that ports face can be resolved by integrating Smart Port solutions and strategies. Adopting smart port solutions does not happen overnight. It is important to analyze and understand current port operations to adopt the best smart port strategy. Plus, multiple smart port strategies exist, so it is important to choose the best one based on current challenges and pain points and business activities.  

To help Smart Port transformation, Sinay created the Sinay Hub which provides a 360-degree holistic view of all maritime activities in the industry.  

Sinay also offers a one-on-one workshop to help to create solutions that meet specific Smart Port strategy needs. Sinay helps ports organize, deploy, and manage their operational plan tailored to specific requirements.   

With help from Sinay’s solution or workshop, adapting a Smart Port strategy can be the next step towards increasing your port’s competitive advantage.  

Frequently Asked Questions About: CHALLENGS PORTS FACE

A Smart Port is a digital port. “Smart” means being more attractive and innovative in a competitive sense.  

A Smart Port is more effective, more performant, and more economically competitive port. Not only that, but Smart Ports consider residents a key stakeholder of their activities. They use real-time information, a collaborative management approach, and essentially provide more with less.   

A Smart Port is green, digital, and more connected to logistics, industrial environments, and sustainable development resources. They are automated ports using new technologies while caring more for the marine environment 

Smart Port technologies include Big Data, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain technology, and 5G connection 

  1. Port of Rotterdam
  2. Port of Hamburg 
  3. Port of Antwerp
  4. Port of Singapore
  5. Port of Shanghai
  6. Port of Le Havre HAROPA
  7. Port of Los Angeles
  8. Copenhagen Malmö Port
  9. Port of Valencia 
  10. Port of Barcelona

Click here for the top 10 Smart Ports in the world

Ports mainly face one problem: a lack of digitalization. Lack of digitalization is the number one reason for the intense port congestion present across the globe today. 

Port congestion happens when too many cargo ships need to dock at berth to unload/load than a port can handle. Ships can then wait at anchorage (outside the port) for up to two weeks. 

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