Arriving just in time

Arriving just in time for the future

Late arrival of ships is a costly problem. But Wärtsilä’s Smart Marine technologies and port automation can reduce delays and enable just-in-time shipping.

Text: Alex Stevens Photo: 123RF

The trading environment worldwide is getting more and more volatile. American ports will be the first to feel the consequences of the trade war between the United States and China. Meanwhile, British ports start to prepare for Brexit and the extended waiting times at the customs controls that it might bring. Delays in ports can be a very costly problem for all companies involved in the supply chain. According to a report by the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS), delays of only half an hour at the UK ports and at the border in Ireland in the case of a hard Brexit would put one in ten British companies at the risk of going bankrupt. 

But there is also good news for ports and maritime transport firms. As the automation and connectivity in ports grow, new technologies by Wärtsilä can help optimise voyage planning and arrival times, thus significantly reducing delays that are caused by the lack of coordination between vessels and ports. Containerships today spend on average 6% of their time waiting at anchor, reflecting suboptimal speed profiles. Wärtsilä’s new technology is aimed to tackle this existing waste in the shipping operations, and to avoid unnecessary anchoring time through speed adjustments all while saving fuel and CO2. 

“The Just in Time arrival concept connects vessels with ports by digital arrival time exchange,” says Emil Katajainen, Business Development Manager at Wärtsilä Marine Business. 

This is significant since most of the ports, currently, do not have a centralised platform for data exchange with vessels. Information is most usually shared via radio communication or by email, both of which have their limitations when it comes to influencing the vessel’s navigational decisions. This means that ship captains are often not able to calculate the optimal speed, and because of early arrivals, the ships waste their precious time waiting at anchor for a berthing slot. 

This will change as the JIT (Just in Time) concept enables the vessel to calculate the optimal speed and the port to find the best available berthing slot. As a result, the best route and speed are calculated, reducing the amount of burnt fuel and the waiting time. And since all this happens in real-time, if the recommended arrival time changes, the vessel is able to react to the changes.

“If the vessel is delayed, the port will know in real-time that they are approaching slower and will arrive later. Or ships can receive a new target time in case there is a delay on the port side,” explains Katajainen. 

Ports of the future

While Wärtsilä is currently piloting the JIT technology with some of its customers, it is also looking closely at the potential of data from ports and vessels to help shape the ports of the future. The company is assessing the opportunities it brings to optimise maritime shipping operations – not only in terms of environmental impact but also in efficiency and arrival times. Its technologies (over and above JIT arrival) aim to relieve the high congestion in ports and contribute to reducing the shipping delays.

IntelliTug is a case in point. It is a co-creation project, launched by the Wärtsilä Acceleration Centre in Singapore, that targets both safety and efficiency in port tug operations with a strong focus on human-centric support. It deploys smart technologies such as situational awareness sensors and joystick manoeuvring systems in order to enhance the tug masters’ capabilities by providing intelligent navigation support. The technology is part of the port ecosystem and it can also contribute to reducing waiting times.

“When the number of vessels in the port area increases, situational awareness is becoming increasingly important. Sometimes tugs have to wait for vessels in busy areas and giving the tug an extra set of eyes, and a capability to anchor virtually makes a striking difference in their safety, while securing that they can continue to perform their task safely and always on-time in the port ecosystem,” says Katajainen.

As Singapore builds its mega port Tuas, due to be completed in 2040, it is relying on cutting-edge technologies, automation and data analytics. This is an example of what an intelligent port of the future can look like. 

Katajainen is convinced that the smart use of data is key in making ports of the future environment-friendly and reducing costly delays: “Sharing the information among different parties is a must for an optimised marine ecosystem and is helping plan the operations in a most efficient way,” he concludes. 

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