Smart Ecosystem: Efforts to digitalise port and ship operations

Efforts to digitalise port and ship operations

Ease of doing business is one of the key focus areas of the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways (MoPSW). To this end, the ministry and ports have undertaken various modernisation, mechanisation and digitalisation initiatives to reduce dwell time and transaction costs. The ministry has undertaken a $43.8 million project to implement an enterprise business system (EBS) at five major ports – Mumbai, Chennai, Deendayal, Paradip and Kolkata. In addition, a centralised web-based port community system (PCS) has been implemented across all major ports to enable harmonious data flow between various stakeholders.

Port community system

In 2018, the Indian Ports Association (IPA), under the guidance of the MoPSW, launched PCS1x, a cloud-based new-generation technology, with a user-friendly interface. In December 2020, Master Marine Services Private Limited’s digital port, MMD3, was integrated with PCS1x to enable an e-verified gross mass process. The integration offers stakeholders an option to digitally update their information in an error-free manner, thereby improving security. PCS1x can be integrated with third-party software used by the maritime industry to provide access to a wide range of services. Meanwhile, the payment aggregator solution reduces the dependency on the bank-centric payment ecosystem. The system also supports green initiatives by reducing the dependency on paper.

In October 2020, the IPA became a member of the International Port Community Systems Association (IPCSA) through the PCS1x platform. The IPCSA is expecting to align PCS1x to its 2030 vision. Notably, 12 major ports have fully implemented PCS1x, with over 16,000 users transacting. Private ports including Mundra, Pipavav, Hazira, Kattupalli and Dahej have also commenced PCS1x adoption. In September 2020, 12 container freight stations (CFSs) and inland container depots (ICDs), across Maharashtra, Gujarat, West Bengal and Haryana, went live on the application programming interface (API) with the PCS1x. API Integration enables real-time flow of important documents and instructions between a port’s operating software and PCS1x.

Logistics data bank

The logistics data bank (LDB) system is a flagship product of NICDC Logistics Data Services. It is an overarching solution that integrates the information available with various agencies across the supply chain to provide detailed real-time information within a single window. Currently, the LDB system has been deployed at 17 ports/port terminals, 167 CFSs and ICDs, 21 empty yards and 55 port gates/parking plazas. In November 2020, APM Terminals Pipavav commissioned an integrated container tracking system developed under the LDB project. With this expansion, 100 per cent of India’s container volume has been covered under the LDB project. In August 2020, additional features were introduced on the LDB portal. The revamped version of the portal now provides detailed voyage tracking of export-import containers with an end-to-end tracking map view. In addition, LDB portal users can do multiple container tracking and group container tracking through a grid console to enable user-friendly engagement.

Container tracking and scanning

Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology plays an important role in tracking assets, equipment and machinery over long distances and in sizeable numbers. As far as containers are concerned, the use of RFID can reduce congestion and the cost of operations at ports by eliminating the need for manual checking of documents at port gates. In November 2020, APM Terminals Pipavav became the latest non-major port to commence RFID-based container tracking services. Besides, the Mumbai Port Trust has introduced an RFID-based vehicle tracking system where vehicles entering the port are tracked through a one-time RFID tag issued to them.

Meanwhile, container scanners can facilitate non-destructive methods of inspecting and identifying goods in transportation systems. At ports, these scanners ensure efficiency in operations and also increase security. Major ports in India are in the process of installing large container scanners to replace manual examination of individual containers. Already, several scanners are operational at various ports. Pipavav port commenced the operation of a drive-through container scanner on December 1, 2019. The scanning system adheres to the guidelines issued by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and specifications issued by the Directorate of Logistics. The state-of-the-art machinery with UPS power backup helps detect contraband or prohibited cargoes and completes the scanning process within a short duration of 25-30 seconds.

Gate automation

A gate automation system digitalises Central Industrial Security Force operations and customs document verification, and minimises vehicle waiting time. The Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) has switched to RFID-based gate automation to mitigate the problem of high traffic congestion at its gates. Besides, the Visakhapatnam Port Trust has implemented RFID gate automation and online generation of passes.

Technology solutions in the wake of Covid-19

Various initiatives are being taken by ports to tackle the challenges put forth by the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. Port authorities and other stakeholders are switching to cloud-based technologies. For example, JNPT has started the concept of e-passes, that is, people can apply for passes online with the help of a cloud-based application. Another major technological initiative is the digital issuance and approval of documents, thereby minimising the need for physical paperwork.

Many ports are moving towards a more standardised platform, that is, enterprise resource planning (ERP). It not only reduces the system development time, but also results in the standardisation of workflow. Further, they are making use of digital marketing to provide real-time information to customers. They are providing up-to-date information on their websites and sending notification alerts to the end customers.

Meanwhile, a growing number of Indian ports are planning to increase the number of internet of things (IoT) tags, and switch from computer-based to app-based technologies so as to increase the efficiency levels at ports. The Mumbai Port Trust has come up with an app where all the information regarding vessel movement can be stored online on a real-time basis. Meanwhile, many major ports have implemented an e-office system that allows staff members to access information online for administrative approvals. The Covid-19 outbreak has made the e-office necessary for port operations.

Future outlook

In the post-Covid world, the government’s increased focus on the digitalisation of port operations is expected to bring about an improvement in efficiency levels and increase cargo handling at ports. Moreover, the worldwide drive to digitalise ports and the global market for the “smart port” segment is projected to reach $5.3 billion by 2024, compared to $1.7 billion in 2019. The adoption of 5G technologies is expected to further enhance the efficiency levels at Indian ports. Several countries in Asia such as China have already deployed automated ship-to-shore cranes, which are operated from the control centre to lift a container by using 5G. Artificial intelligence (AI) is also expected to make headway in the sector. The container processing at Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Limited involves the use of an AI-based container number recognition system, which removes human intervention. Cochin Shipyard Limited has taken the lead in India in building autonomous vessels and is therefore primed to build smart tugs and ferries. The global market trends for autonomous ships are also very encouraging as this segment is projected to reach $13.8 billion in 2030, from $6.1 billion in 2018, registering a CAGR of 7 per cent.

Currently, Indian ports still lag behind in the adoption of blockchain technologies. Going forward, the deployment of blockchain technologies will become imperative and port operators will have to be trained to use these technologies to ensure their success. The government is already trying to make bill of lading online through blockchain technology to allow importers and exporters to take delivery directly without any manual intervention. Meanwhile, smart ship construction is taking root in India. Human resources such as workers, labour, truckers and supply chain managers will also become a part of the digital port ecosystem. Hence, there will be a need to train workers with Industry 4.0 toolkits to support smart port and smart ship operations.