Port operations, historically, have not been very high tech. That all stands to change, however. The Port of Rotterdam Authority and IBM announced they will collaborate on a multi-year digitization initiative to transform the port’s operational environment using cloud-based Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. The initiative will also prepare the Port of Rotterdam’s entire 42-kilometre site to host connected autonomous ships in the future.


Key to the initiative is the development of a centralized dashboard application which will collect and process real-time water, weather sensor data and communications data, analyzed through the IBM IoT platform. Products from Cisco and Axians are also part of the solution. The initiative will enable safer and more efficient traffic management at the port, according to the port authority.


“Here in Rotterdam, we’re taking action to become the smartest port in the world,” says Paul Smits, chief financial officer of the Port of Rotterdam Authority. “Speed and efficiency are essential to our business, and require us to use all of the data available to us. Thanks to real-time information about infrastructure, water, air, etc., we can enormously improve the service we provide to everyone who uses the port, and prepare to embrace the connected, autonomous shipping of the future.”


As the largest port in Europe, the Port of Rotterdam handles more than 461 million tons of cargo and more than 140,000 vessels annually. Previously, the port relied on traditional radio and radar communication among captains, pilots, terminal operators, tugboats and others to make key decision on port operations. Now, as the Port of Rotterdam begins its digital transformation, sensors are being installed across 42-kilometers of land and sea—spanning from the City of Rotterdam into the North Sea—along the Port’s quay walls, mooring posts and roads, the port authority explains. Collected data from the sensors—including water and weather data about tides and currents, temperature, wind speed and direction, water levels, berth availability and visibility—will be analyzed by IBM’s cloud-based IoT technologies and turned into information that the Port of Rotterdam can use to make decisions.


Writing in an IBM THINK Blog post, Vincent Campfens, Business Consultant, Internet of Things, Smart Infrastructure, Port of Rotterdam, explains that coordinating the berthing of each vessel is a complex task that involves multiple parties and must be executed safely and securely—and may take several hours. With a new digital dashboard, the port authority will be able to view the operations of all parties at the same time and increase volume and efficiency of shipped goods that pass through the port, he continues.


“In fact, shipping companies and the port stand to save up to one hour in berthing time, which can amount to about $80,000 US dollars in savings for ship operators and enables the port to dock more ships each day,” Campfens writes.


“Having access to data about air temperature, wind speed, (relative) humidity, turbidity and salinity of the water plus water flow and levels, tides and currents, enables us to better predict visibility on a given day, helping us calculate clearance heights for ships. In addition, by predicting water conditions, wind direction and speed, we will be able to determine how smooth a ship’s entry into port is likely to be,” Campfens writes. “This data will also have a significant positive economic impact on shipping costs. Calm water and weather conditions allow for lower fuel consumption rates, facilitate cost-effective per-ship payloads and help ensure the safe arrival of cargo.”


What are your thoughts on a “smart” port, where the port authority is able to make better-informed decisions that increase volume and efficiency of shipped goods that pass through the port? How would such capabilities have an effect on your company’s supply chain?