With the objective of propelling India to the forefront of the global maritime sector, the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways has prioritised technological initiatives in the sector. These include direct port delivery, direct port entry, radio frequency identification (RFID) and installation of scanners/container scanners.
For sustained growth, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, internet of things (IoT) and automation have become critical. Primarily driven by manual processes, the ports and shipping sector has been exposed to errors that have resulted in high-risk situations. Therefore, a transition to digitalisation needs to be the core focus of the sector. Data analytics is also being used by port authorities for making informed decisions.
A look at some of the key digitalisation initiatives across the ports and shipping sector…
The Indian Ports Association (IPA) has implemented a centralised, unified, web-based Port Community System (PCS) to enable a paperless ecosystem. In December 2018, the upgraded PCS1x was released as an open platform. More than 16,000 companies have adopted and benefited from PCS1x. Jawaharlal Nehru Port has achieved application programming interface (API) integration with PCS1x, involving 17 API messages covering all the operational requirements of the port and its stakeholders. Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Limited (APSEZL) has also adopted PCS1x to promote ease of doing business.
PCS1x has now been upgraded into the National Logistics Portal (NLP-Marine), inaugurated on January 27, 2023. NLP-Marine aims to provide a secure, neutral and open electronic/internet platform for all stakeholders in the Indian maritime trade and port community, which will make the entire logistics ecosystem more efficient; benefit the export-import trade; and create more opportunities for specialised jobs by reducing costs and time delays, and enabling easier, faster and more competitive offerings and services.
EBS and EBL
Enterprise business system (EBS) is being implemented at five major ports – Mumbai, Chennai, Deendayal, Paradip and Kolkata. This initiative entails an investment of around Rs 3.23 billion to provide a digital port ecosystem that will adopt leading international practices while still catering to existing local needs. The proposed EBS will consist of three core solution components – port operations, standard enterprise resource planning (ERP) and auxiliary solutions. This will fully digitalise most processes at these ports, making them better facilitators of trade. A trial has been successfully completed at Chennai port, and is being carried out at the other ports.
The IPA’s mission is to minimise human inference in the touchpoints of sea cargo, where customers have traditionally handed over papers. After carefully evaluating the best use of modern technologies such as IoT and blockchain, the IPA implemented an Enterprise Bill of Lading (EBL) in India. EBL is a blockchain platform where data is captured digitally through electronic seals and signatures, which can then be transferred instantly to another party. Therefore, if each party uses a software system with high integration capabilities, such as electronic data interchange, API or other integration processes, the information can be shared instantly with other software systems such as transportation management systems, ERP, customer relationship management, accounting systems and other supply chain software. This eliminates manual data re-entry and human error, reduces administrative time and associated costs, and removes the need to share and store physical documents.
Among private port operators, APSEZL’s container handling involves an AI-based container identification system that eliminates human intervention. Furthermore, the V.O. Chidambaranar Port Authority has mandated the Indian Institute of Technology Madras to build two AI/machine learning-based functionalities – prediction and anomaly detection – to enhance ease of doing business and operational efficiency at the port through data science and related technologies.
RFID-based gate automation systems are being introduced to improve security; remove bottlenecks in the continuous flow of traffic through port gates; enable tracking and tracing of people, materials, vehicles, equipment and other assets; and ensure timely collection of revenue. The Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation has deployed an RFID solution to track and trace the movement of import and export containers at major ports. In March 2022, the Deendayal Port Authority implemented an RFID-based access control system under the E-Drishti project at West-Gate-Kandla to facilitate the entry and exit of cargo vehicles, and improve the identification process as well as operational efficiency.
Automatic gates powered by optical character recognition technology have also been deployed for the first time in India at the Nhava Sheva (India) Gateway Terminal (NSIGT). This technology, which can complete transactions in less than three seconds, will enable NSIGT to have faster turnaround times, improve operational efficiency and productivity, and ensure seamless movement of freight via the human-machine interface.
The Land Ports Authority of India is developing a land port management system (LPMS) within its Instructor Certification Programme (ICP), which will take the form of a centralised electronic platform to facilitate the intelligent and secure exchange of information between public and private stakeholders in order to improve the competitive position of land port communities. The features of the LPMS include pre-scheduling ICP slot reservations based on resource availability; vehicle dwell time forecast; the ability to capture shipment details, transport details and gate entry/exit transactions; integration with full body truck scanners; resource management optimisation with yard and warehouse management; and a unified single-window payment system. Optimising ICP operations through digitalisation can not only increase freight and passenger traffic, but also reduce ICP operating costs through proactive management. The digitalisation of land ports has also been mandated upon the Ministry of Home Affairs by the National Committee on Trade Facilitation.
VTS and VTMS
Vessel traffic services (VTSs) and vessel traffic monitoring systems (VTMSs) are software that can be used for determining vessel positions and the location of other traffic, meteorological hazard warnings, and the complete management of traffic at ports or waterways. VTS contributes to the safety of life at sea, the safety and efficiency of navigation, and the protection of the marine environment and adjacent coastal areas, among other applications. Traffic movement data can be stored and used as reference information for port management, port authorities, coast guards and rescue services.
VTMS is mandatory according to the International Maritime Organization’s Safety of Life at Sea convention. VTMS traffic images are compiled and collected using advanced sensors such as radar, automatic identification system direction finding, video surveillance systems, or other collaborative systems and services. A modern VTMS integrates all information into a single-operator working environment for ease of use, and efficient traffic organisation and communication.
For instance, Essar has employed the latest IT infrastructure with VTS across its terminals in India, ensuring round-the-clock availability and visibility. Meanwhile, an integrated VTMS for ports is located in the Gulf of Kachchh. The Directorate General of Lightships and Lighthouses, the Kandla Port Trust and the Gujarat Maritime Board are partners in this project. Currently, India has about 15 VTS systems operating along the Indian coast.
Technologies such as 3D printing are now widely being used around the world to not only optimise shipbuilding costs and increase efficiency, but also simplify the complexity of ship design and recreate components, thereby shortening production lines and procurement, and saving time and resources. Similarly, the use of virtual reality and augmented reality in shipbuilding can minimise physical waste, validate and improve complex shipbuilding processes, and streamline hull dynamics and stability calculations during the design process. The Indian Navy has partnered with the Indian 3D printing service bureau think3D for the production of spare parts on demand using additive manufacturing, for both onshore and offshore scenarios.
Going forward, both major and non-major ports also need to adapt to the ongoing transformation of the port ecosystem, which is rapidly absorbing Industry 4.0 technologies in order to stay competitive in the national and international markets. India needs to leverage its strengths in information technology to boost its maritime economy at the pace necessary to achieve the goals set out in the Maritime Vision 2030.