What is a Smart Port?

05 March 2020


With ships getting bigger and global trade flowing in larger and faster rates than ever, the world’s major ports are struggling to keep up. Many are turning to artificial intelligence, big data, blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT) to better manage the flow of goods, save money and improve efficiency. This digital transformation is taking place across the global supply chain, and ports are becoming ‘digital nodes’ within that network.


In this new industrial revolution, port managers can use digitalisation to better understand how a port is used. They can create a ‘digital twin’—a virtual copy of the port in which simulations can be run before and during the port’s lifespan—which will allow them to simulate how a port will react to certain scenarios and incidents, and how efficiently it will manage the flow of shipping. It can use this information to help port managers and automated systems react in real-time.


What are the benefits of smart ports?


Smart ports and digitalisation have several major benefits to global shipping. The port of Hamburg, which has adopted an IoT platform in cooperation with local and federal agencies, has significantly reduced negative externalities such as traffic congestion, pollution and road safety, and made massive improvements to efficiency and energy usage.


For instance, the digital twin can be used to optimise the way the port is used, efficiently allocating parking spaces and gathering and analysing data about weather and traffic to manage the movement of ships; this, in turn, can help the port handle even greater levels of traffic, and improve security automating screening processes and traceability.


Secondly, digitalisation can help ports save money, both by minimising cargo loading and unloading times and by streamlining and optimising the flow of traffic. In Rotterdam, autonomous cranes and tracks handle the loading and unloading of cargo, making the process seamless and cheaper—there, port operators move 30% more containers per hour than any other port in Europe. Smart ports can also lower overheads, and those savings can be passed on to making improvements to infrastructure.


And finally, smart ports can improve environmental sustainability. Ports are currently too reliant on fossil fuels, and the environmental impact of shipping is enormous: automation and smart technologies optimise energy use and the flow of traffic, which in turn considerably lowers emissions.


What are the challenges of smart ports?


One of the major challenges of smart ports in cybersecurity. By linking physical and digital processes, smart ports are opening the door to determined hackers and cybercriminals who can use exposed back doors to disrupt port operations and even hold ports to ransom. This can, consequently, put physical assets and client data at a significant risk.


Meeting cyberthreats requires cooperation between ports and government—this means digitalisation needs to manage a huge number of stakeholders, and to get government on board smart ports need to guarantee they won’t lose money. However, the benefits to efficiency and cost should offset this risk.


Understand smart ports at Intermodal Asia 2020



Intermodal Asia 2020 will host a full conference programme covering the major developments within smart ports. Discuss the emergence of sustainable and smart technologies, learn from real-world case studies and meet some of the people and organisations behind this digital transformation.


Get your free ticket to Intermodal Asia 2020 and don’t miss out.