The Port of Durban is Africa’s largest container port, handling over 80 million tons of freight annually. Long waiting times for arriving ships and traffic jams on the harbor site are normal. In order to reduce this negative outcome, port operator Transnet authorized T-Systems to implement a unique ICT system with partners: an SAP HANA database, an LTE network and other components like drones have been combined to a smart solution. It helps to control the growing goods and traffic flows intelligently.
This market is taking off: “Production of drones for personal and commercial use is growing rapidly, with global market revenue expected to increase 34 percent to reach more than $6 billion in 2017 and grow to more than $11.2 billion by 2020,” according to a new forecast from Gartner, Inc. PwC estimates that the total market for drones and associated business applications is worth a formidable 127 billion dollars. The greatest potential lies in the infrastructure sector, agriculture and the transport and logistics sector, according to PwC.
Drones on water and in the air
A pilot project initiated by Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) and run by T-Systems and technology partners such as Huawei and LOTS Operations in the Port of Durban attests to the kind of added value offered by drones in the commercial environment. In Africa’s largest container port, unmanned aerial vehicles such as the DJI Phantom 4 help make a range of workflows more efficient. They enable the port operator Transnet to monitor the entire site in real time, by transmitting live camera images into the control center. These UAVs locate buoys and monitor their state. They record the temperature, wind speed and other meteorological data. And they make it easier to communicate with the cargo ships: “The use of drones instead of boats to collect and bring back the import documents from the ships makes unloading quicker,” said Ronald Salis, the responsible T-Systems project manager in South Africa.
But it is not just in the air where the autonomous assistants are on the move. Underwater drones inspect the quay walls and hulls of ships. Unlike divers, they can work whatever the water quality, thus reducing the time spent to around a third. The environment likewise benefits from using drones: The solar-powered Waste Shark uses geofencing and collision avoidance systems to remove waste from the harbor basin fully autonomously. And with large volumes of waste, the “intelligent shark” can independently call in other drones for support.
“Regardless of whether in the water or in the air – the drones play an important role in our Smart Port project,” stressed Salis. “And we intend to do even more with them. In the future, they will help captains navigate their cargo ships simply and safely into port – without human pilots. To do so, we combine the drones with sensors, 3D maps and virtual reality applications.” This pilot system, the first of its kind anywhere in the world, will soon be trialed in the Port of Durban.
SAP HANA database is at the heart
Smart Port Durban
The Port of Durban is South Africa’s premier container port and is counted among the busiest ports in Africa. T-Systems has successfully secured the first phase of an innovative Smart Ports initiative. The signing of the deal was preceded by a Proof of Concept phase, which laid the basis for winning Transnet’s trust.
The drones, though, are only the visible part of the Smart Port solution, which T-Systems, as general contractor, has set up for Transnet. At the heart of the project is an SAP HANA database that runs in the background. All the port systems, surveillance cameras, sensors, tracking tools and the drones are connected to the database via LTE mobile communications. A business intelligence solution analyzes the incoming data virtually in real time and displays this data on the screens in the control center. From here, the processed information is distributed – fully automatically in some cases – to the various target groups in the port. The networked system is a quantum leap for Transnet, which used to manage everything with standalone applications.
The Smart Port solution has already simplified and/or sped up operations in the port in 18 specific use cases, including access checks for people and vehicles, container and truck tracking, various workflows on the water as well as customer service activities. “If a ship is going to dock, the captain needs to know when he will reach the port and whether there will be enough free capacity to dock and unload,” explained Lentle Mmutle, CIO at Transnet. “We aim to provide transparency for these kinds of events to prevent long waiting times and simplify cargo handling.”
The ICT technology not only creates maximum transparency regarding the processes in the port. It also optimizes the traffic flows and provides the operator with increased revenue by enabling it to handle cargo faster. While in the past trucks sometimes had to wait days or even weeks for their consignment, blocking the access roads in the process, the loading process can now be managed much more precisely. Around 5,000 smartphones and tablets make communication easier between freight forwarders and port operator. Drivers can report their own delays and, in turn, receive automatic warnings when there are traffic jams on their route or the arrival of their cargo ship is delayed. Geolocalization enables the onboard units to transmit a truck’s precise location to the control center at all times and record how long the truck spends on the site. So trucks can be rerouted as the situation dictates.
“Central nervous system” for port
"The new solution allows us to manage capacity more intelligently, distribute more accurate information and issue warnings if the value chain is likely to be interrupted."
Lentle Mmutle, CIO Transnet
Dr. Stefan Bucher, functional Head of the T-Systems IT Division: “Our project aims to develop the ‘central nerve center’ for the port. The Smart Port solution should allow Transnet to simplify more and more operating processes in the future and integrate real-time data analyses into business processes. This will allow the port resources to be controlled and allocated more efficiently. And that will lead to substantial improvements in productivity.”
The Transnet CIO is also confident that the project will permanently improve the goods and traffic flows in the Port of Durban. “If everyone has the same information, we can plan much better,” said Mmutle. “The new solution allows us to manage capacity more intelligently, distribute more accurate information and issue warnings if the value chain is likely to be interrupted.” As such, it is entirely possible that the Smart Port Durban will be used as a blueprint for other ports. Ultimately, the Transnet National Ports Authority is responsible for all eight South African seaports.