What to expect from 5G at logistics and port management?

Seven of the world’s busiest container terminals are in China but one of them is completely void of workers. Back in 2017 the eastern port of Qingdao became Asia’s first fully-automated port with the Qingdao New Qianwan Automatic Container Terminal, a change which was likely to revolutionize the global shipping business.

All controlled by artificial intelligence, through laser scanning and positioning, the program was able to locate the four corners of each container. It accurately grabs them and puts them onto the driverless trucks.

With its implementation, labor costs were reduced by 70 percent because of this automatic terminal, while efficiency increased by 30 percent, being able to operate at night.

Nowadays more ports have considered a form of automation and smart design to remain competitive in a crowded maritime market. At the end of 2019 during the Smart Maritime Network summit held in Singapore, the debate was focused on the development of smart port technology linked with 5G.

With the arrival of 5G, applications will improve efficiency and optimise logistics supply chain and port operations. There are several ports currently investigating these practices, including Rotterdam, Singapore, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Hamburg as well as Qingdao, this last one being the first to apply these technologies.

What is 5G?

5G moves our world closer to harnessing the Internet of Things (IoT). It is an enabling technology that not only connects people but objects, such as the things we own.

How does 5G change logistics and port management?

Current port and logistics systems are limited by the amount of data / information sharing capability with current technology.

For this reason, there are three central elements that gives 5G an advantage over existing platforms: data density, transfer speeds and latency. In simple terms, 5G can support a million sensor devices per square kilometre as opposed to 4G’s 100,000 devices.

With the proliferation of base stations connected by satellite, it enables seamless ship-land communication that optimises port operations, such as offloading / onloading vessels. China has taken a leading role in this, evidenced by it rolling out of 200,000 5G base stations that connect via satellite communications.

Furthermore, data and information allow complete visibility of cargo in transit. By allowing real time monitoring of goods in transit it can remotely manage them. It not only gives details as to location, but can give updates on temperature, humidity, “G” forces etc on goods in transit. The net result is an optimised supply chain as the data allows carriers to streamline complex intermodal processes. By always being “on” it will give accurate data to substantiate responsibility for the cargo and ownership, particularly when corrective action needs to be taken or insurance claims are made.

What is actually happening in this sense?

Singapore PSA is currently progressing tele-remote-controlled equipment coupled with automated guided vehicles. A port’s competitive advantage lies in its ability to optimise performance by improving loading and unloading vessels. The equipment and assets required to perform this task constitutes about 75% of the total costs of a port.

While current system takes four days to offload a 12,000 teu vessel at the rate of 30 lifts a day, with 5G, the lift capability is raised to 50 in a day, reducing the time the vessel alongside the berth to only two days. This brings multiple savings, ranging from a reduced requirement for expensive cranes, laydown areas on the land as well as better utilisation of vessels. It also reduces the need for large vessels that require expensive port facilities such as cranes with extended spreader bars. Strategically, Singapore will enhance its port transhipment status, not by the size of the vessel it can receive, but by the number of container vessels it can turn around in the shortest possible time. This would optimise cargo delivery to the end consumer.

China’s 21st Century Maritime Silk Road

Whilst there are several other ports that are currently looking at 5G applications to better connect intermodal cargo carriers, China has already taken the next step forward by announcing that it has formed two new teams to research and study 6G. This comes on the back of the formation of the Smart Port Innovation Lab of China Merchants Group that is taking the construction of 5G smart ports in the likes of Guangdong and Wuhan. This is the forerunner for the development of an intelligent logistics platform that connects small and medium sized inland ports as part of China’s digital silk road. It is being designed to enhance core capabilities of ports and develop the port sector within BRI countries.

Currently, China is leveraging 5G to foster development of what they call intelligent port centralisation, a move towards full automation of container terminals to reduce costs and improve efficiency. This allows port activities to be operated remotely and from a central location. They are currently pursuing this in the ports of Xiamen, the Yangshan deep water port in Shanghai, with Qingdao being the first to apply 5G technology to port operations.

Where this data remains?

Much of the debate centres around who / what will control the data as well as access to that data. Central to the debate is the role 5G providers such as Huawei and China’s progress in the application of 5G to areas outside of the gaming world. Some would argue that the US has stirred up the debate around privacy issues and cybersecurity as a reason to delay the implementation of 5G. It can be argued that this was designed to give the US time to play catch up to other countries that are ahead of the 5G game.

Source: Forbes, Splash247.com