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The benefits of port automation for navigation and piloting

Dec 23, 2020
5 min read
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By: Tommy Guldhammer Mikkelsen, managing director of Trelleborg’s marine and infrastructure operation

As one of the oldest industries in the world, shipping and ocean freight is also one of the most vital, accounting for up to 90 per cent of global trade. Congestion within ports is a well-known issue throughout the industry and as the population rises, so does demand, resulting in an increase of vessel numbers and frequency. Due to this, ports worldwide are struggling to keep up with increasing financial, economic, and environmental demands.

It is especially difficult for countries within the EU, where ports are often hundreds of years old and located at the heart of cities. Accommodating increasingly larger ships for cargo transfer is proving to be ever more challenging, space is limited in these areas and access can be confined to rivers with minimal room to manoeuvre. Due to their inland placement, expanding is also out of the question as there simply isn’t the space.

When transportation does not move efficiently and congestion occurs, port owners and operators can face additional costs within their already stretched operations. This can be due, not only to limited space, but also to labour productivity issues, unexpected surges in cargo volume, a vessel operator’s schedule reliability or simply a port terminal’s lack of control over congestion.

As a result of its popularity and competitive nature, the shipping industry is already running on thin margins and shipping rates are under constant market pressure. Good practice in reducing costs and operational efficiencies are therefore imperative. Not only are port owners and operators looking at alternatives in order to support global sustainability efforts, they understand the importance of keeping up with progress and bringing ports into the future for survival; one option to do this is the integration of smart technologies within operations.

Port Automation and its Benefits

Historically, ports have adapted to automation and new technologies slower than comparable sectors. Since the early 1990’s, port automation has developed in Europe and there are now over 40 partly, or fully automated ports around the world, with an estimated $10 billion plus invested in these upgrades so far. Due to the repetitive and structured nature of port operations, integration of smart technologies are a logical and effective solution.

The benefits of port automation are well documented. Not only can it reduce operational costs, but there are also health and safety advantages. Recently, a west coast port in the US announced that port automation was one of their 60 upcoming cost efficiency projects. Whilst 59 of these are projected to yield 20 per cent of their savings, port automation is projected to yield 80 per cent.  This incredible difference showcases the value of investment in smart technologies. A recent three-year research project by the Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks (MUNIN) predicted that during a 25-year period, savings of over $7 million from fuel consumption, crew supplies and salaries would be possible per autonomous vessel.

It is estimated that 75 per cent of maritime accidents are caused by human error,  and there is also evidence to suggest that there can be a significant reduction in risk by integrating navigation and piloting software. This allows for visual communication, which reduces the chance of misunderstandings and provides constant access to valuable data that can enhance situational awareness of other players within the vicinity, such as the port, tugboats and pilots. Having all this information in real time can help pilots make fast and informed decisions, avoiding collisions and other situations that could cause injury.

Technological Solutions

Confidence in the reliability of navigation and piloting technology within operations is at an all-time high. With investments on the rise, opportunities are opening up for the companies that can offer technological solutions to adapt and improve their product portfolio based on trials, advancements in technology and consumer feedback.

Port owners and operators should look to utilise products that can offer real time data customisable to their operations. Due to improved situational awareness, this data can be analysed to help operators make informed decisions and accurately execute piloting and navigational tasks with ease.

By integrating smart technologies with other offshore assets such as fenders, mooring equipment and environmental monitoring systems, port personnel can have a clear overview of all operations. Data such as weather (sea level, height of tide etc.), Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) and radar targets can be made available, and software that helps support docking, lock approach and single point mooring, can help save on precious operational time.

Case study: Trelleborg’s SafePilot Navigation and Piloting solution

Trelleborg’s SafePilot navigation and piloting system is being used successfully in ports across the world and is proving especially beneficial where space is limited. A port in Europe required a reliable and portable navigation system to assist in the piloting of a large vessel in confined waters. Trelleborg supplied its SafePilot system with high accuracy “Cat Max” portable pilot units (PPU).

Trelleborg’s technology supports the correct and safe positioning of the vessel within the turning basin, offering predictions of its eventual location, allowing the pilot greater opportunity to make adjustments. The system automatically measures distances between the turning basin edge and other moored ships. Relevant data such as this can be analysed to help support critical decision making.

What made SafePilot the ideal solution, was the real-time speed in which it was able to provide the pilot with the necessary and accurate information they required, to perform a safe and efficient manoeuvring procedure in its limited capacity. The small and lightweight PPU system is portable, making it easy to transport and enabled the pilot to move without hesitation, ultimately ensuring the safe arrival of the vessel.