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Digitalising port operations with 5G connectivity

As the world emerges from the pandemic and economies rebound, port operations find themselves under the spotlight. With supply chains struggling to meet demand, pressure is on our ports to improve their efficiency. This accelerates the move to digitalise and automate operations, which will require robust wireless connectivity. 5G will be a key technology in the transformation of operations by providing end-to-end connectivity for the fully digital port.

Ports 4.0 and 5G

Even before the pandemic stress tested the global supply chain, cracks appeared. Bigger ships, expanded loads, and larger call sizes have increased congestion in yards, with idle time steadily growing. Global supply chains have become more complex, pressuring terminal operations to be more flexible and resilient.

Digital technologies have the potential to transform operations and make them more scalable, resilient, and transparent. 5G is a key enabler – connecting workers, cranes, trucks, and vessels across the entire port system and offering high bandwidth, low latency communications. It creates a communications platform for edge cloud computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning as well as digital twins and more capable port community systems. What all these technologies share is the importance of data: collecting, transmitting, analysing, and using data to improve workflows, predict equipment failures, provide transparency to supply chain partners and helping to design better processes.

Overcoming automation bottlenecks

Automation of cargo handling has focused on the two most popular yard machines, RMGs and RTGs. In 2000, we saw the development of automated rail-mounted gantry and automated electrified rubber-tyred gantry cranes. Both technologies, while promising, are literally held back by their fiber-optic tethers. 5G wireless communications are one of the key technologies needed to solve this issue.

Equipment vendors, such as Kalmar, are incorporating 4G and 5G private wireless from Nokia into their systems for straddle carriers, automated stacking carriers and rubber-tyred gantry cranes. Click to see how Kalmar enables next-gen Port terminal automation.

One comms network

Another area where 5G shines, is its ability to consolidate multiple existing networks onto one. Dock and yard workers typically rely on professional mobile radio, TETRA and P25, for push-to-talk services. For general purpose data comms, Wi-Fi provides an outdoor extension of the terminal office LAN. 5G can provide push-to-talk and push-to-video services for workers on the move, as well as data communications. While Wi-Fi is capable enough for moving data files around the terminal, the many metal surfaces of container stacks cause radio interference that can create dead zones, which is difficult to solve for Wi-Fi radio network in a dynamic environment with containers being moved constantly. 5G employs more robust technologies for overcoming interference and provides seamless coverage with less outdoor radio access points and no need to re-engineer coverage as yard configurations change.

The future and 5G

5G has always had a special focus on its role in future industrial infrastructure solutions. That future has arrived, and 5G will play an increasingly important role in the digital transformation to Port 4.0.  To learn more, click here


Article provided by: Venkatesh Ramakrishnan