Ports with a focus on digitalisation have gained a significant advantage over those that do not during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Hamburg Port Authority (HPA).
The pandemic has made digital solutions more attractive to major ports and given the edge to those which had already invested in smart technologies.
“The pandemic has definitely accelerated the innovation and the transformation of ports and port authorities like the HPA,” Dr Phanthian Zuesongdham, Head of Division Port Process Solution, told PTI ahead of Smart Digital Ports of the Future 2021 (SDP 2021).
“The ones who had already been advanced in the digital solutions and services gained a large advantage over the ones who don’t.
“The pandemic brought new mindset to many organisations which is a key ingredient for innovation.”
This new mindset is something the HPA has grasped and looked to make the most of. In December 2020, it launched the Port Process Solution division that Zuesongdham now leads, with an emphasis on engaging the HPA’s customers, stakeholders and partners through “innovative and cooperative approaches”.
Additionally, Zuesongdham explained the division is also focused on identifying new business opportunities and developing models with “innovative topics” and has already begun doing so.
“Recently, we have launched a digital platform for innovative collaboration called homePORT,” Zuesongdham explained.
“The physical platform will soon also be launched. In this year, the ITS World Congress will take place in Hamburg.”
Sharing data to improve the supply chain
Initiatives such as homeport help the HPA explore digital solutions and encourage partners to participate in the process by creating a digital and physical community and networking platform.
Within homePORT there is an emphasis on zero emission operations, 3D printing and automation, and an opportunity for members to test products.
According to Zuesongdham, homePORT will also include drone technology “to demonstrate drone solutions from the HPA and also from different business partners”.
Utilising smart technology is vital to the HPA’s efforts to processing trade in as efficiently as possible while cutting the risk to the environment.
Other initiatives include real-time navigation for the thousands of lorries that pass through the Port of Hamburg every day to using shore power from renewable energies.
It also includes an intelligent railway point that is fitted with sensors that transmit data to a central IT system in real-time and ‘smart maintenance’, which allows for the condition of key infrastructure to be monitored remotely 24/7.
Part of the HPA’s wider smart port goals, homePORT is one example of the HPA trying to utilise data and encourage its partners to innovate and collaborate.
Zuesongdham explained that the HPA recognises how important data sharing is, not only to its own operations but also to the wider supply chain as ports try to position themselves as indispensable digital hubs.
“Data is key to doing business today and it works like a lubricant to support seamless logistics operation,” Zuesongdham said, before reiterating how the pandemic has emphasised the importance of innovation.
“Ports that are a node in a logistics chain can recognise the importance of this trend and this has even been intensified in recent years.
“The pandemic makes this more apparent, what a significant function of logistics has to our daily routine and social lifestyle. I am certain that this will continue even though the pandemic is overcome.”
Furthermore, Zuesongdham said initiatives such as homePORT and events like SDP 2021 bring together experts to facilitate discussion and idea sharing and are critical to helping the industry move forward and overcome its biggest challenges.
“We always learn from each other and continue after the event. Our challenges are so huge today and we can really cope with them by joining force and collaborating with others.
“Bringing the best together to find the great and sustainable solutions for our future defines well our approaches on this challenging journey.”
Improving sharing of digital solutions and data will be as important to the HPA as expanding and upgrading physical infrastructure and technology is.
Increasing volumes in a sustainable way
In addition to the digital initiatives, the HPA has also been working on the expansion of the Elbe River to allow bigger vessels to call more frequently.
The newly dredged waterway is big enough for two seagoing vessels up to an added width of 104m pass through at the same time, Zuesongdham claimed.
“With the completion of the encounter box, an important first step in the fairway adjustment has been completed.
“Until the final completion of the fairway adjustment there is still some work remaining such as removing obstacles or bearing.”
Recovering from the pandemic is not the only major challenge the industry faces. Climate change is another and Zuesongdham said the HPA wants to make the maritime sector “more environmentally friendly”.
“As a port, we can contribute to this by promoting the use of alternative energy resources like on-shore power supply.
“We are building on-shore power stations on our cruise and container terminals so the ships berthing in Hamburg will emit less pollution while staying in the Port.”
Written by Max Schwerdtfeger