Port technology: 6 features that are transforming the sector

  • 10/10/2023
  • 16 minutes

Port technology has always been a subject directly related to the development of a country’s economy, from the production of raw materials to the arrival of the finished product at the consumer.

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Therefore, understanding what these transformative innovations are today is to look to the future of the sector, especially with regard to how optimization and efficiency in ports will directly affect maritime transport.

If you want to understand more about the subject, we have prepared this special article on the topic, showing 6 essential features. Check it out.

How is the evolution of port technology happening?

The evolution of port technology has had several stages throughout history. More recently, we have undergone a broad process of industrialization and computerization in the sector.

However, the next step in this evolution is much more related to data and process optimization. Following the global trend of digital transformation, ports are seeking to invest in information technology and automation to create more controlled and traceable environments within their areas.

This is a consequence of the concept called Logistics 4.0. It’s the idea that technology is used to create “smart” operations, in which all stages are integrated into a single system with top level control and high visibility.

As a result, managers, employees and even clients of port services achieve much greater traceability of processes, thus being able to monitor cargo movements in real time and contribute to the optimization of the sector for all involved.

What these technologies promise today is quick and complete access to logistical data, coupled with rich processing and reporting tools. Thus, the entire economic ecosystem influenced by port operation can benefit from a smarter transport chain.

What are the 6 most transformative port technologies?

The best way to understand the relationship between technological evolution and digital transformation in Brazilian ports is to know what the most important solutions are currently applied.

For this, we have prepared a list of 6 port technologies that not only improve the performance of the sector, but profoundly change the way it works. Keep reading.

1. Systems that automate processes

In the logistics area there are some solutions that help automate tasks that were previously manual or very dependent on human operation. This is the case of WMS (Warehouse Management System) and solutions such as Navis

These types of systems integrate and centralize management and operation processes in all aspects of the operation of a port, such as yard management, warehouse, berths, even mooring windows.

This type of technological solution has several benefits for the port routine. First, it shows itself as an aggregator of information, allowing all professionals involved to have visibility of processes and be able to work even more focused on optimizing them.

In addition, process automation means the reduction of repetitive tasks by humans, who are always subject to registration failures and reduced productivity.

In this way, automation systems give efficiency and reliability to port processes, in addition to making the participation of professionals more strategic in the management of optimization and increase of handling capacity within the port.

2. Internet of Things (IoT)

We talked about collecting information for management systems, but do you know how this can be done efficiently today?

The answer lies on the Internet of Things (IoT). They are intelligent devices capable of measuring, monitoring, processing data and communicating with automated systems without any need for human interaction.

It is these technologies that bring the transformative visibility of Logistics 4.0, a journey of digitalisation and automation of the search for relevant operational information.

In this case, smart sensors are able to track cargo and port handling as well as serving as a starting point for optimizing these processes.

The future of IoT is the concept of IoE (Internet of Everything). The idea is that, in the near future, there will be a real network of automated control in logistics routines so that the system and the people who control it have a total and permanent view of what happens in the port — from large cargo movements to the control of each individually stored item.

3. Computing in the cloud

Smart devices and automated systems have opened a new path for data use within the port sector. But where can this absurd and frequent volume of information be stored?

Cloud Computing started as a simple idea of virtual disks: remote storage space contracted as a service.

Today, however, the cloud is much more than that. With its use, it is possible not only to store large volumes of data but also to process and segment them to generate rich reports and allow fine control over each logistical aspect.

This all adds up to another transformative feature of the Cloud: as a remote service, it frees port control from its physical limits. Employees can have an operational view and act in the optimization and monitoring of processes even though they are very far from the place where the action is taking place.

Cloud computing, combined with IoT and AI, is even allowing the remote operation of vessels. The vessel is in the port area but the operator may be at home or at a control centre. 

This view can even be passed on to companies that use the port, monitoring in real time and in more detail the current situation of their cargo within the complex.

4. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)

Another question about the volume of data generated today in ports is how to make the best use of them in a routine focused on operational efficiency. After all, Big Data represents an amount of information that is impossible for humans to interpret in a timely manner to make a positive impact on management.

This is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) comes into port technology. These are algorithms programmed to process huge volumes of data and generate reports relevant to the decision-making of the responsible professionals.

The most impacting technology in this regard is the concept of Machine Learning (ML). It consists of the ability of these programs to understand necessary actions on their own, through interaction with humans while tasks are being performed, thus being able to recognize patterns of operation and learn from them.

Using projections from numerous possible models, AI learns how best to address an optimization need and points these results to prepared managers. Soon these systems will make decisions on their own, being able, for example, to define in which stack the crane should place a container.

With this, it is much easier to decide where to invest, how to reorganize the port space and which processes should be reformulated to obtain maximum efficiency in the routine.

5. Augmented Reality (AR)

There is a lot of talk about the development of Virtual Reality in market sectors, but did you know that Augmented Reality is already transforming Logistics worldwide?

Augmented Reality is the use of cameras, mainly mobile phones, connected to remote systems to expand the view on products and processes.

Currently, it is widely used in the customer experience, but it can also be useful for training employees and in tracking cargo movements with the verification and tracking of codes related to it.

AR also contributes to the training of qualified professionals, especially when they involve situations of risk to people and property. This is the case of logistics operations, especially port movements. When real-world training involves too many risks, which the employee may not yet be ready to take, AR is the solution.

6. Drones in maritime space

Finally, after talking so much about data visibility, why not also point out the physical visibility of the port space, vessels and maritime?

Drones are increasingly capable and autonomous to offer other points of view on cargo handling in ports.

With their use, it is possible to better control ship traffic, manage the positioning of cargo and equipment, as well as monitor the efficiency of loading and unloading in practice.

Another use of drones is in controlling atypical situations. Imagine that an accident has occurred and is suspected to involve toxic products. The Drone helps to get close and assess the situation so that action can be taken.

In addition, all this information can be added to the AI management system and used more accurately for predictive analytics and even accident prevention.

Why is this evolution important?

For many people, investment in the development and application of new technologies can be seen as unnecessary, or that only increases the cost of ports that is passed on to operators and charterers. In fact, this is a limited view that does not take into account the long-term benefits of this type of solution.

At first glance, transformative initiatives like these help port managers optimize logistical processes within their premises. This means more reliable and agile handling and storage steps — it can even increase the port’s operational capacity without having to expand space or the number of employees and equipment.

That is, more customers are served in less time. But that’s not the only advantage of automation and business intelligence. We also must think about the impacts of this type of investment.

A more efficient and better monitored logistics chain means reduced costs and cargo processing time within the port.

The result is the possibility that these savings will be passed on to charterers in the form of cheaper freight, shorter terms and more flexible trading conditions.

In addition, the traceability of cargo and processes means less waste during their movement. Customers ensure that more of their product reaches its destination for less.

Another important point about port technology is the ability to obtain and process rich information in real time. Thus, those who seek this type of service have more predictability about maritime chartering and can strategically plan to extract the maximum profit from long-distance or even international buying and selling.

Port technology transforms relationships

Bringing all these benefits together, we can say that today’s port technologies promise to transform the relationship between charterers, operators and ports. It is an opportunity to revolutionize the sector, giving more intelligence and efficiency that reverberate throughout a country’s economy.

Want to learn more about innovations in the maritime shipping industry? Access our Maritime and Port Startup Mapping now.