Want to power port digitalization? Use 5G private networks

Ports are important centers of global and domestic trade. There are about 360 commercial ports in the US alone, each with a steady stream of ships and cargo. Over $ 1.7 trillion worth of goods moved through inland ports in 2019, according to the Department of Transportation.

In a previous blog, we discussed the challenges posed by the global supply chain crisis and how private networks can be a solution.

As U.S. ports grapple with these issues and approach 24-hour operating models, a robust digital infrastructure can help a port manager stay abreast of emerging challenges as it modernizes for the future.

As I have seen directly in my time working with ports, private networks are playing a key role in port digitization. The key features of private networks – especially when powered by 5G, the latest generation of mobile connectivity – are availability, reliability and security.

These features enable exciting use cases, including:

Internet of Things Activation (IoT) and automation

Internet of Things (IoT) is being overloaded by 5G. The productivity of the latest networks is able to handle the massive flow of data needed to make dozens, or even hundreds, of connected devices in one structure work together seamlessly.

At ports, the links that the IoT is establishing between all postal assets – ships, containers, cranes, etc. – combine to create truly intelligent ports, paving the way for more automation. For example, rubber-level gate cranes, or RTGs, used to collect containers are a common sight in most ports. However, the crane operator is among the most dangerous jobs in a port and shift changes and other downtime can create inefficiencies. However, more than 90% of RTGs are still operated by humans.

Automation, enabled by private networks in data from IoT devices, increases security by allowing cranes to operate autonomously controlled and coordinated by a central entity, and also increases efficiency by automating the retrieval and placement of containers. According to the report of Ericsson connected ports, a joint project by Ericsson and Arthur D. Little, ports can achieve a 20% reduction in maintenance through automated and sustainable mobility models like these.

According to a report by Deloitte, information flowing from IoT devices will also help ports take advantage of their location at the center of the supply chain, fostering cooperation and collaboration with all land and sea transport hubs, linking land transport, shipping ships and logistics. companies together.

Digital twinning brings knowledge

A digital twin is a virtual representation of an object or process, updated with real-time data and using AI / machine learning to aid in decision making, e.g. when a part needs to be replaced, or when a process is corrected for efficiency.

At ports, this technology can create a real-time flow of information (often through the IoT devices mentioned above) that gives port operators a comprehensive view of everything that happens in what can be an extremely complex ecosystem. Since a broken piece of equipment or an inefficient process can result in millions of dollars of lost revenue, real-time knowledge and predictive maintenance are critical.

Ericsson worked with the Livorno port terminal in Italy to build a private 5G network to capture an extremely deep set of data from an interconnected network of intelligent sensors, 3D LIDARs and dynamic range (WDR) cameras. All this information is entered into the 5G network to create a detailed virtual copy of the port activity in real time. And since the port has 15,000 employees providing services to almost 9,000 vessels each year, it’s a lot of activity. This model can then be used to create a virtual “twin” of any equipment, bulk, container, boat and port workshop. It gives port operators information on what is in the box, their dimensions and where cranes and forks are in danger of breaking down due to lack of maintenance and more.

Mixed reality brings new vision

Another example of how these 5G-enabled capabilities in a connected port are built on top of each other is mixed reality: virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications. These take advantage of all the data collected through IoT devices and virtualized in the digital twin, allowing workers to check equipment maintenance status, find a certain portion of the load, and train in logistics without putting themselves at risk .

In the Port of Livorno, a VR app that uses Oculus headphones allows operators to “visit” bulk containers and boxes and view all the information associated with that box, such as contents, dimensions, weight, etc. These statistics are displayed in a virtual spreadsheet, allowing employees to keep track of inventory while staying in the back office.

Also in the port, an AR application for fork drivers helps to bring in more efficiency in loading / unloading materials and highlights the powerful network needed to bring these uses to life. WDR cameras track all objects in a storage area, loading a massive amount of data into a localized cloud. There, the software processes images, recognizes objects, sets directions for drivers, and delivers real-time steering set over reality through an AR headset created specifically for a hard-hat environment. Only the low latency and localized processing power of a private 5G network can bring to life such a complex case of real-time use.

A platform for the future

These are exciting use cases that private networks with 5G power are making possible and enabling the digitalization of ports today. However, the need for a strong communication infrastructure is not just about the present, but about laying a solid foundation for what is coming in shipping.

Global demand for goods will triple by 2050, according to the International Transport Forum (ITF), an intergovernmental think tank. That means more ships, more containers and more goods – and above all, more data. It will not be enough for US ports, in particular, to simply capture networks that can handle the flow of information. Digital twinning and IoT are compelling use cases, but 5G (and 6G, continuously) will enable capabilities we can not even imagine yet. Network infrastructure must be in place to bring them to life.