A sea change of digital transformation at European Ports

Author: Luca Santonico, Key Account Manager for Panasonic TOUGHBOOK Italy

The World Bank and the International Association of Ports and Harbours are calling on European Ports to accelerate their digital transformation to combat potential threats to our maritime goods supply chain. We look more closely at why…


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It’s time for a sea change of digital transformation in our ports and harbours across Europe, according to two leading sector and economic giants of the industry – the World Bank and the International Association of Ports and Harbours (IAPH).

With more than 90% of global merchandise trade carried by our maritime sector, accelerating the adoption of digital technologies could help to combat potential threats to the global supply chain, such as rapidly rising costs.

In its report, the World Bank says there is an: “urgent need to…accelerate the pace of digitalisation so port communities offer electronic commerce and data exchange.” This is supported by the IAPH in its report, which says: “Sharing port and berth-related master data for just-in-time operation of ships [with] suppliers, logistics providers, cargo handling and clearance [will] save energy and improve safety as well as cutting costs and emissions.”

The IAPH represent more than 160 ports and 120 port-related businesses in eighty-seven countries. They understand more than most the challenges, and potential resolutions, around shipping logistics. Their ‘Call to Action’ white paper Accelerating Digitalisation, recognises the need for: “Emerging technologies [such as artificial intelligence, advanced analytics, internet of things, automation, autonomous systems] to allow port and marine employees to work and interact in the safest possible circumstances.”

One of the major stepping stones to achieving this goal is equipping workers with the appropriate mobile computing technology to take advantage of digitalising information. For example, potential use cases within the immediate dockside environment include communication with the port, traffic and cargo control, cargo inspection and tracking, and documentation. Similarly, quayside operations would benefit from suitable hand-held IT in unloading/loading operations, embedding devices in container-moving machinery, supervision of operations on the ground, oil tanks supervision.

Digitalisation in action

Some major European ports are already well underway with their digital transformations and the benefits quickly materialise. Interporto Padova, the leading Italian freight logistics centre, is using fully rugged tablets to improve productivity, efficiency and sustainability. The Interporto is located on key road, rail and port communication routes for the North-East of Italy and Europe. From here, about twenty freight trains depart and arrive every day, regularly connecting the main Italian and European ports. The rugged mobile devices are used to view and manage operations in real time, and to assist workers on the ground and while handling machinery

Another global operator, DP World, is also using rugged notebooks and tablets to transform productivity and customer service at its busy Southampton terminal operation in the UK. After reviewing a range of mobile devices, they chose rugged tablets and built their own software programme to provide the Leading Hands that load and unload sea containers with live data and autonomy to make onsite decisions which, in turn, improved productivity and drove down costs. 


The Leading Hand can now pick which bay on the vessel to work and confirm container positions. No other terminal uses a mobile device with software as advanced that enables an operator to interact with the loading and discharging of a vessel in real time, improving crane rates, shortening vessel stays, as well as providing more up to date information for shippers.

Since introduction, quay crane move rate has increased, meaning ships have shorter stays and can travel to their next port sooner.

So, the evidence for digitalisation of our European Ports and Harbours is clear and economic and industry associations are giving their back. It seems that technology sea change may turn into a growing wave at our European ports and harbours in 2023. 

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