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SDP 2021: Rotterdam outlines smart port priorities

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Smart ports have continued to evolve and 2020 highlighted the need for high levels of digitalisation at ports in order to be efficient during times of crisis.

As PTI prepares for the Smart Digital Ports of the Future 2021 conference we spoke to René van der Plas, Director of Port of Rotterdam International, about why being a smart port is more relevant today than ever.

Disruptive trends that are being seen today include climate change, the energy transition and digitalisation that enhances efficiencies of the logistics and supply chain.

“The fact that these are disruptive is very important for each and every port,” Van der Plas said.

“For example, in energy transition this will really change the name of the game in each and every port,” he said.

He noted that ports can be vulnerable to these disruptive trends because of the amount of long-term capital investment.

“This requires ports to be agile and resilient to changes. This means you have to sort of reinvent yourself to be able to face these challenges of these disruptive trends.”

Van der Plas said there are three areas in digitisation that are of most important from the Port of Rotterdam’s viewpoint: smart infrastructure, smart digital applications and smart innovations.

PTI’s Smart Digital Ports of the Future will take place from 29 March to 1 April 2021. Click here to sign up! 

Smart infrastructure

“What used to be infrastructure was a game of forecasting the future. In our part of the world, you had very stable growth figures and you could easily say ‘in the next two years I need new infrastructure at this point in time’ and you started to plan your new investment.”

This, Van der Plas said, will change. He suggested that ports must now look differently at the kind of infrastructure you need and the way it is managed.

“Asset management from design until the end of use, what moment in time do I need to change or to be investing in infrastructure will change dramatically.

Of course, digitalisation will play an important role in this.

The Port of Rotterdam is already working on smarter infrastructure with sensors installed which measure several data points to be able to improve asset management. This ultimately leads to better predictions regarding what needs to be reinvested in.

Smart digital applications

Automation has been the first step in a chain towards digitization, Van der Plas noted.

“Digitalisation is about connecting other links in a transport or supply chain. As a port authority you cannot do this alone.”

This includes all parties in the supply chain and other ports in the supply chain as well. Van der Plas highlighted a recent partnership with PD Ports to help Teesport begin its digital transformation and enable greater data exchange between the two ports.

In the big picture, shippers, freight forwarders, operators, infrastructure managers and contractors will all be connected resulting in a need to think of swifter, safer and smarter solutions to be able to get a seamless supply through the transport chain.

Smart innovations

Management boards at ports ought to be very active in innovation to mitigate the impact of the previously mentioned disruptive trends.

Van der Plas said port management boards need to be looking for new solutions, new markets, new business models and ultimately new ways of working.

“These smart innovations, you should always do that in cooperation and collaboration with others and as far as I’m concerned always internationally,” he said.

“The Port of Rotterdam is a big port but still it is only one port and you need to exchange knowledge with others. You need to learn from the experiences of other ports and from other sectors to be able to learn and to boost your innovations at your port.”

Speaking about the upcoming Smart Digital Ports conference Van der Plas said he expects these topics to be addressed and will be of high interest to other ports because all ports are facing similar challenges today.

Written by Beth Maundrill