A port full of smart solutions
The port is rapidly digitalising and renewing its operations. All passengers now pass through SmartPort ticket gates, and more smart solutions are in the pipeline.
SmartPort is an umbrella term for a variety of digital port projects. Globally, it covers a range of very different projects and there is no single approved definition for it in any source.
“A port is smart if it uses automation and new, innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence, Big Data, IoT solutions and blockchains,” says Jussi Malm, the Port of Helsinki’s Development Manager.
The redevelopment of the West Harbour is boosting Smartport projects in Helsinki.
“We were wondering how to manage the annual increase in vehicle traffic in the vicinity of the new terminal, as the surrounding area has become smaller and challengingly narrow. Manual traffic flow management will no longer work.”
Since 2006, the port has already implemented several projects related to vehicle identification and gate functions with Visy Oy.
“We set out to further develop this automation.”
Similar projects were launched in Tallinn at the same time.
“Shipping companies were concerned that we would end up with different systems. Kimmo Mäki, who was the Port of Helsinki’s CEO at the time, invited operators from Tallinn and other adjacent areas to sit around the same table.
The result was the SmartPort standard, which governs message traffic between different systems. Malm says that it made development work much easier.
“We’re now able to carry out independent projects with our organisations, while also ensuring that data can be transferred smoothly between systems. It also means that we’re not tied to any single system supplier.”
SmartPort ticket inspection
The refurbished West Harbour no longer has separate ticket inspection gates for different shipping companies – all passengers pass through the same gates.
“This was a big change. Viking Line and Eckerö Line used to have their own gates. The port has now taken responsibility for the system, which forwards information to the shipping companies. This saves space and boosts efficiency.”
The gate system ensures that a passenger’s ticker is correct and valid, and passengers can only pass through the gate at the right time. Initially, tickets were only checked on the ground floor of the terminal, but a second checkpoint was later added just before boarding.
“We found an excellent partner for the project in the startup info24, which was already developing a similar solution for the Port of Värtan in Stockholm. Our project was, however, completed earlier. Fortum soon acquired the company for its own needs, and divested it to the Finnish company Weasel Software this spring.”
SmartPort ticket inspection was introduced in Katajanokka in conjunction with the terminal renovation in 2020.
“And last April, we were able to install a new gate system at the Olympic Terminal while it was under renovation.”
In other words, all of the Port of Helsinki’s passenger terminals now have their own gate system that shares data with three different shipping companies.
“Additional shipping companies can also be integrated into the system, and we’re still actively developing it.”
No corresponding gates are needed in Vuosaari, as passenger numbers are too small in relation to the cost of the investment.
In the SmartPort system, vehicles are identified with the aid of a camera and permits are also checked automatically. Before check-in, vehicles are also measured, trucks are weighed, and their condition is photographed.
The boom rises when everything is in order.
“There’s no longer any unnecessary waiting or idling.”
Passenger cars and heavy-duty vehicles embark through different gates. Both systems are currently being piloted at the West Harbour.
“Although development work is well underway for passenger cars, a lighter version is currently in use for heavy-duty vehicles.”
Malm says that the goal is to get both projects finished before the end of the year, and to introduce the system in Katajanokka as well. Vuosaari has been using camera identification for trucks since the outset. However, the driver must still check-in at the Gate House in the traditional manner before driving through the operator’s gate.
“The system has not yet progressed quite this far at the West Harbour. There are some challenges involved in switching to a single-gate system due to the number of operators in the area, all of which have their own systems.”
The reform of the hazardous substance notification system is also in its final stages.
“The final pieces of the puzzle will definitely be in place by the summer. The port has already completed its part of the work, and operators and other actors are now being integrated into the system.”
Smart traffic prevents congestion
The West Harbour’s smart traffic project also falls under the SmartPort umbrella, and focuses on ensuring smooth flowing traffic in nearby street networks.
“We’re cooperating with the City of Helsinki, which has the largest role in this project. Others involved in the project include Aalto University and Conveqs Oy. This is a very interesting package that employs artificial intelligence and a variety of devices.”
A smart controller based on realtime data aims to identify emerging congestion and alter the phasing of traffic lights to suit each individual situation.
“We’re providing traffic data to the operators who will be developing the system on the street network side.”
The project is currently still in the development phase.
“Equipment has already been installed all the way to Länsiväylä highway.”
A situational picture of Vuosaari Harbour is already being shared, and shows things such as the current traffic situation and any queues. There are also several options for monitoring containers in the Vuosaari transfer area.
“More real-time information can be obtained from the images transmitted by both fixed cameras and drones flying over the area. These images are then analysed by artificial intelligence. There are several ongoing discussions about these apps.”
How long a container spends in the transfer area and how quickly an operator can find it both have financial significance.
“Naturally, this also increases security. A lot of potential benefits have already been identified.”
Optimising goods transport
Malm says that there’s much more going on under the port’s thinking cap.
“There have been enormous developments over the past decade. The Ministry of Transport and Communications’ digitalisation strategy for logistics is much more than just an attempt to get rid of the paper documents circulating between operators.”
The Port of Helsinki is involved in several domestic and international projects aimed at optimising freight logistics.
“It will be even more important to share information. Digitally shared information also constitutes real-time data that provides greater predictability. This will benefit the entire sector. The amount of manual labour will decrease, and completely new business models may also arise.”
Supply issues a hindrance
The impacts of the coronavirus pandemic have hindered developments for the past couple of years. And implementation of the second phase of SmartPort projects, both at the West Harbour and in Katajanokka, is now being held back by component supply issues arising from the Ukraine war.
“Order delivery times are now very long. We’re trying to complete whatever we can. This will enable us to begin installing the equipment as soon as it arrives. However, we hope that completion of the projects will not be substantially delayed.”