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The need to invest in port ecosystems which are better able to cope with adversities of all kinds is growing every day. Historical events are nothing new, but since globalization became a fact, it has brought with it immediacy in information and geographic, cultural and economic interdependence, in addition to many other things. 

Due to globalization, today any disruptive phenomenon that affects one country or company impacts the rest of the chain and this has been confirmed by the continuous events of the last few years, the pandemic crisis, the collapse of the Suez Canal and Russia’s war against Ukraine. Unfortunate situations that have led to problems such as rising freight rates, ports at the limit of their cargo capacity, delays, etc.

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Port transformation

Until now, port infrastructures were the main competitive advantage of ports to ensure their development and growth, and the difference was also made by the cargo volume of each dock and its capacity to channel goods. 

Most of the nearly 5,000 ports in the world are not digital and 80% of them use manual solutions, which complicates the capacity for improvement corresponding to the current challenges. Such challenges at the same time set certain requirements when facing them, collaboration, after covid-19 is inevitable and that is largely due to the vision of ports as a key element to enable supply chain resilience.

Another challenge to which the necessary collaboration is added is, attending to the technology used by the various actors to be standard and accessible to reduce the digital divide. Because resources, capabilities and dispositions vary greatly in each port and as we mentioned earlier, interdependence drives or affects the development of the entire chain.

Based on the above, innovation is recognized not as an option but as a necessity and at the same time as a path of opportunities to be followed.  In order to generate innovation, the involvement of the different sectors is needed and efforts must be focused on the three pillars that lead this process: safety, automation and decarbonization.

«Decarbonization is a challenge that no single player could address in isolation. We need the infrastructure, understanding, regulations and financial support that are only possible when everyone is moving towards the same goal» DNV Company.

The world’s largest ports are using technological advances in order to prepare for a vast ecosystem and a digitally enhanced global supply chain. 

The most innovative ports

Digitalization is the great opportunity for ports to increase their competitiveness while adhering to new, more efficient and environmentally friendly standards. Some of the areas that offer more possibilities correspond to the implementation of Industry 4.0, with technologies such as Big Data, Artificial Intelligence or Predictive Analytics, or recently blockchain solutions. These are just a few examples of what some ports are already doing:

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  • Drones help monitor port traffic management and improve safety.
  • Drones are also being designed to transport goods – Hamburg has tested the largest cargo ever transported, 200kg within a 40km radius.
  • In order for a port to develop this technology, the Port of Rotterdam points out the need for land-based infrastructure such as «vertiports».
  • In the port of Antwerp, Belgium, drones are used for oil and floating debris detection, environmental control and ship traffic.
  • The port of Tuas, Singapore, is expected to be ready by 2040. It will become the world’s largest automated container terminal with the capacity to handle 65 million TEUs per year. It will feature major innovations: fully automated yards with electric cranes, drones and digital platforms.
  • TradeLenns, a digital logistics platform launched between Maersk and IBM. Based on Blockchain technology, it shares data through permits between the different actors in the chain bringing together the global logistics activity in a single interface, achieving absolute traceability of the cargo.

Spanish ports have begun to use innovation and new technologies to improve their management, environmental processes and operational efficiency.

«The latest report on maritime transport of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) mentions three Spanish ports (Valencia, Bahía de Algeciras and Barcelona) which are, behind Piraeus (Greece), the most connected in the Mediterranean. In the same report, Spain is highlighted as the third economy in Europe and the seventh in the world where the dwell times for container ships to be served are the shortest (0.66 days on average)».

Innovation and collaboration, the two necessary actions to continue generating competitiveness, new solutions where interdependence is the source of the connection between a global chain of intermediations.

Camila Hurtado

Coordinadora de proyectos subvencionados y de marketing en Navlandis.

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