10.12.2018 17:08:26 //
Text: Raili Leino

Speed and power with digital technology

Digitalisation reduces congestion and speeds up port operations. This is a result of co-operation between several parties. The biggest digital revolution is still ahead. 

Port operations have been digitised in Helsinki, particularly in Vuosaari and the South Harbour. 

Automatic gates read the licence plates, length, and weight of each incoming vehicle. The gate only lets in cars with a reservation for a departure happening within the next few hours. The cars are automatically guided to the correct queue. Cars coming in for later departures will wait for their turn outside the gate.

Marina Hasselblatt, the Sales Director of Tallink Silja, is waiting for the same to happen in the West Harbour. From there, as many as 600 lorries and trailers and over 2,000 passenger cars depart for Tallinn on the company’s ships. 

Such large ferries can operate profitably only by combining freight and passenger traffic.

High need for manpower 

At the moment, cars in the West Harbour are manually directed to their places, which requires extensive manpower.

Cars may arrive at the port five or even six hours ahead of time, when the more appropriate time would be a couple of hours at most before departure.

The port area no longer has room for cars waiting to be loaded, as the surrounding area is reserved for residential construction. Overly early arrivals can cause traffic congestion and gridlock. This is not necessarily the drivers’ fault; in part, vehicles arrive too early in order to avoid exceeding the driver’s mandated working hours due to extra stops.

Hasselblatt is complimentary about the new terminal and the docks, which serve the passengers well. 

– We would like to see a lorry parking area somewhere further, where the drivers could wait. A display panel would indicate the appropriate time to head for the port.

However, the city has no plans or reservations for such an area.

Timely arrival

Wärtsilä is exploring solutions to better connect ships and ports. At the moment, ships usually drive towards port at maximum speed, but may be forced to wait for hours or even days to dock at their destination. 

The aim of Fredrik Östman, Wärtsilä’s director of digital solutions, is a platform that allows for data sharing and communication. This would help the port to know the location of a ship at all times, and the ship could adjust its speed based on the recommended time of arrival. 

The biggest benefit would be fuel saving.

Added value for all involved

– Digitalisation and electronic functions make our work easier, brings new possibilities to our company and added value to our customers, states the operations director of clearance providers C&C Port Agency Finland, Ville Björk

According to Björk, the company is “the shipowner’s eyes, ears, and hands”. The company manages nearly every service a ship needs at the port while keeping in contact with different parties. It acquires regulatory permits and transmits information, arranges dockworker shifts and overtime, and provides pilots.

Eighty per cent of the work is completed even before the ship arrives.

The most recent digital changes include tablet computers for pilots. Pilots are now able to record all information while aboard, and create invoices immediately. Previously, information was written on paper and digitised only after the piloting job. 

User guidance required

Pilots’ tablets were an especially drastic change for many older workers. As such, Björk emphasises the importance of training. 

– Digitalisation will not be very useful unless you also communicate with people, and guide and train them to make use of it. For example, many people still ask for information over the phone or via email, even though it is easily accessible on the web.

Björk praises the up-to-date Port of Helsinki website, which was overhauled a couple of years ago.

– Now we only need a couple of clicks to get to all the document archives and form templates we used to have to request by email. The website is easy to navigate and makes our job much easier.

One of the basic tools for clearance is the port traffic log which shows the schedules for outgoing and incoming vessels. A ship sends an advance notice of its arrival, indicating the quantity and nature of its cargo as well as lists of crew, passengers, and waste. Clearance transmits security notices and other information electronically to various authorities.

At national level, most forms are electronic or machine readable. Notification procedures and document templates are meant to be harmonised at EU level by 2024.

Clearance also calculates port charges for the shipping company, which is not a particularly easy task. The amount of the charges depends on which port the ship arrives at, when and what time of day, when it departs, what it loads or unloads and how much, the number of crew and passengers, the vessel’s environmental friendliness, and other factors.

Blockchain technology revolution

Björk believes we are yet to witness the biggest digital upheaval of port operations. The next wave will dismantle and combine older programs and create larger entities which can connect more systems. 

– Partial optimisation is expensive. We are now creating and updating separate programs. The whole chain of operations is not as efficient as it could be”, says Björk. 

– For example, blockchain technology may quite dramatically change the methods of companies across the maritime cluster’s supply chain.

Björk believes the change will begin from large material suppliers whose ERP systems will expand to cover the product’s entire life cycle. Other operators will join these systems.