Categories: a-port-information, BusinessPublished On: 12.08.2022801 words4.1 min read

Automation is set to play an increasingly important role in the world of the smart port. Authorities are increasingly exploring the opportunities of Private Networks to connect today’s ambitions to tomorrow’s realities. Catherine Gull, Head of Private Network Sales at Cellnex UK and Member of the UK5G Advisory Board, takes up the story.

Private Networks may not be new news, but they are big news, particularly when you consider the impact they can have for communications across a huge and complex site such as a port. Sea ports have previously relied on public wireless and WiFi. These options are no longer able to shoulder the increased connectivity requirements that a modern Terminal Operating System (TOS) needs to work at its very best. A Private Network, however, can.

Today, Private Networks are playing an essential role in helping ports improve their logistical controls.  They offer the guaranteed connectivity to enable the analysis and scanning of cargo and land freight. They help boost worker safety through location tracking and video surveillance. Crucially, they deliver the all-important data to support predictive analytics in ship loading and unloading schedules.

Private Networks are also powering artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in ports. ML can rapidly replicate and imitate human decision-making processes via digital simulation.  AI can, among other things, improve vessel turnaround time; estimate vessel arrival and waiting times; predict when particular ships will need additional logistical support, and more.

Private Networks are also playing their role in the essential activity of keeping people safe, and are a key enabler in how many repetitive or dangerous tasks traditionally undertaken by humans are augmented, even automated.

Skills shortages and automation

It is also our belief that Private Networks – by enabling automation and remote control – will play a crucial role in addressing the business impacts of a shortage of skilled crane operators in UK sea ports. The shortages, which have been heightened by factors such as Brexit and Covid-19, are also a result of the rigours of working 40 metres up. Operators face enormous pressure moving valuable and sometimes hazardous containers, at speed, from ship to shore. It is a highly skilled occupation and finding the right people is becoming hugely difficult.

Against a challenging backdrop, ports will need to answer some critical operational issues. Do they, for example, factor in the lost revenue impact of under-utilised cranes and risk vessel operators looking for more efficient ports? Do they compete in a price-inflated recruitment market, invest heavily in training, or rely on changes to legislation to make recruitment from overseas easier? Or do they take a different approach and deploy 4G and 5G Private Networks to

realise the advantages of remote control and automation?

Connecting today and tomorrow

This is where science fiction becomes a reality. Private Networks are increasingly pivotal in how some cargoes are loaded and unloaded. Autonomous vehicles such as lorry tugs are already being used for roll-on roll-off loading, unloading and the movement of containers and bulk around ports. Automated processes that won’t be affected by driver shortages, of course.

The remote control of cranes from ground level facilities using video technology, sensors, and precision sensitive joysticks, offers yet more opportunities to tackle the skills shortage and boost performance. It will also mean a change in the type of person required to operate cranes – a move that will most likely see a new breed of workforce, one that has lived their lives in a digital world. These new operatives will have the skills to enable them to interpret and act upon the operational, performance-related or diagnostic data being fed back to them in real-time.

While it’s the applications that ultimately deliver the business value, these robotic processes, machines, and people cannot be effective without fast and ultra-reliable communications infrastructure.

Six transformational applications enabled by Private Networks

  • Data analytics – Monitor operations in real-time and utilise smart sensor data – increasingly in combination with artificial intelligence and machine learning – to make fast and well-informed decisions.
  • Digital twins – Enhance port operations through the creation and analysis of real time, data-enabled digital twin technologies and applications.
  • Video analytics and geolocation – Secure sites and show the location of workers. ‘Wrong place’ alerts can be sent to keep people away from dangerous operations.
  • Automation and remote-control – Automate processes, track moving assets and remotely control and monitor loading equipment, machinery and vehicles.
  • Predictive maintenance – Ensure the operational continuity of key assets such as cranes through assisted and proactive maintenance.
  • Remote inspections – Deploy aerial and marine drones for remote inspections and measurement.

Having deployed more Private Networks in more places than anyone else, Cellnex recognises the above is just a snapshot of the smart applications possible when your coverage and connectivity is always-on, private and fully secure.

Catherine Gull

Head of Private Networks Sales at Cellnex UK