Across the region, logistics equipment and vehicles ferry containers and goods from the ever-expanding range of hubs and ports. The environment that transporters are entering is changing around them as a wave of digitisation hits the industry and TOC Europe, T&FME was able to get an understanding of how this rapid evolution has not been without its teething troubles.
There was a lot of talk about intelligent ports, using data to create digital trips through the terminal operations. However, the industry is currently at its latest impasse despite these advances. Port owners are increasingly interested in using the data that is being accumulated on their sites to create simulations for augmented reality and deploy artificial intelligence with the two technologies seen as key to improve efficiencies.
Holding all of this data together is the cloud or internet of things, giant servers based on site or elsewhere that accumulate information from the vehicles, equipment, camera, sensors and much more entering or part of the port’s infrastructure.
The industry has obsessed over recent years in finding a standardisation for this data that can be put to practical use – essentially placing the onus of port equipment- and vehicle-makers to agree on not only the way the data is formatted but also how it can be transmitted to where it is needed a port operation.
There may have been rapid advances in information technology and, in particular digitalisation, machine learning and IoT but as much as they have created new possibilities, there remains challenges for the industry. It is under more pressure to perform and to run its operations in an efficient way than ever. And while equipment, systems and solutions are more and more connected, interfacing them can be a complex and costly exercise.
Frank Snijders, business development director of OrangeNXT, has been working in the supply chain industry for 20 years, helping logistic companies to digitally transform their operations with innovative solutions and new business models. The company is currently working to see how assets can generate the right sort of data that could allow for greater automation.
“It’s a pretty straightforward solution nowadays. A lot of companies are trying to implement it requires a multitude of different data sources so it can be integrated. And that it could be in real time and those data sources need to be combined in a central place or hub,” he says.
“Now what does it look like? On the bottom end you will see all kinds of data produced. And it could be any type systems not just IT systems but also your ERP system might get it. It can contain any sort of information, like weather information – so wind speed or the amount of rain that might influence your operations.”
OrangeNXT is currently working with terminal operators to pool that data raw as possible into adata hub.
“We analyse the data, enrich the data so you improve the data quality overall. But once you have the data a central repository you can start creating correlations between your assets and your businesses,” he continues. So, orders that are coming into your ERP needs to be executed by your equipment. You have one central repository to corrolate the data.
And then you can apply nice things to it, for example, artificial intelligence.”
At that point, it becomes possible to use the logorithms generated to set KPIs for the operation, optimise the movement of vehicles and equipment and set preventative maintenance routines.
“It might be tracking trades or a tyres or inbound shipments or exchange information with your stakeholder, an ocean carrier for example. It is the basics of orchestrating data which is very essential to port and terminal operator because there’s a lot of data. Getting the central data and getting a repository of high quality data is essential.”
It has been recognised that getting that high quality data and the benefits described by Snijders is going to require an establishment of standards that the whole industry can adhere to. Ports sit between the ships moving from one port to another and haulers that transfer the cargo to landside destinations. The entire industry stands to benefit if data can be used to create more efficient hubs.
Frank Kho of Kho Management was installed as the co-ordinator of a Port Equipment Manufacturers Association (PEMA) and FEPORT (The Federation of European Private Port Companies and Terminals) steering committee last year to set-up the standards and specifications for the container industry to help improve efficiencies throughout the whole logistics supply chain. The initiative, TIC 4.0, has already made progress after a meeting held in May 2018.
TIC 4.0 was ultimately established to allow a closer technical interaction between terminals and manufacturers, says Kho, with the objective of outlining and defining industry standards that will favour the development of Internet of Things. Having worked on both the terminal and the equipment side of ports, he was the ideal choice – although he is characteristically modest about his appointment.
“I was asked to be the spark to get the fire burning. Now I don’t whether I’m an accelerant or a spark but I wanted to get people together. For the first time in 30 years in the industry, I saw terminal operators and equipment suppliers – 15 organisations – sitting together in one room.”
He says TIC is now working to find ways for the industry to work more effectively at all levels. “It’s kind of a grass-root movement,” says Kho. “A pragmatic approach.”
Other meetings have followed to lay out the mission of the group and, “and how we climb this giant elephant. It is a very big environment so we are going to work from the terminal upwards and the most important processes as a starting point.”
Having defined what they are the working groups, including representatives from companies like Konecranes, Kalmar and Liebherr, are going through each individual process to clearly define what they are, what they are called and how they fit with the wider terminal operations. He says the initiative has been able to gain funding from the EU to see how ports can be digitalised.
“This has resonated with the regulatory bodies. The EU were looking to fund digital infrastructure pilots and several TIC members applied. We want to use the definitions of
TIC 4.0 to test out the definitions and implement them in their own operations. There now will be several pilots over the next three years in terminals across Europe.”
Giving a terminal operator’s view on the TIC, Luisa Kempf, site director at Eurogate terminal, works for the technical services division of the operator; overseeing the maintenance and technical improvements to the equipment it operates in Europe, Russia and Morocco. She uses a thought experiment to explain what would happen to digitalisation without standards.
“Imagine you have a container terminal using cloud technology, ear pieces on everyone, analytics, everything you need to make good decisions. Then you’ve got the equipment: straddle carriers, terminal tractors, ship-to-shore cranes, reach-stackers but hardly any of it is able to talk. Getting digital means using I0T to get the equipment to talk but each manufacturer’s equipment has its own language, it is talking about different content so you can’t implement a data-driven decision process.
“I believe TIC 4.0 is so important because it actually makes the industry defines those standard languages.”
The original 15 members has grown to 18 and a further seven are being processed. Kho says that the group is now exploring industry association status, broadening its legitimacy and scope – as well as provide a pathway for terminal operators and equipment manufacturers to share information, knowledge and importantly experience.
“This technology that has been coming in the last decade will finally be utilised in an efficient way.”