For thousands of years, ports have been all-important transportation hubs. In recent years, with the continuous growth of the business volume, ports have new requirements for digital transformation using new technologies and concepts.
Located on the west shore of the Bohai Bay, on China's northeastern coast, Tianjin Port is the sea portal of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region that connects Beijing and Tianjin — two of the biggest cities in the northeastern part of the country — with Hebei, one of its largest provinces. This area includes the Xiong'an New Area — a state level new area that's a development hub for Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei. It's also the sea-land intersection of the Belt and Road Initiative, an important node of the economic corridor of the New Eurasian Land Bridge, and an international hub offering customers a full range of services. The port trades with more than 800 ports in over 200 countries and territories around the world, making it one of the world's top ten ports in terms of cargo volume for many consecutive years.
As a key port in northern China, Tianjin Port Group hopes to apply advanced technologies — including Artificial Intelligence (AI), big data, cloud computing, and 5G — to core production business, enabling scientific operations at the port, improving operation efficiency, and reducing operations costs. This is how the group aims to establish the port as a world-class international hub that features smart, green, and secure services.
To meet that objective, the group devised a strategic goal: By 2028, the container throughput will exceed 30 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs), and the port will gain a firmer foothold as an international hub, provide services with global-leading efficiency, and become a world leader in smart port construction.
Traditional Ports: Unable to Meet Service Development Needs
Inventory turnover — selling and replacing stock — is an important service for traditional terminals. In recent years, large- and medium-sized ports have constructed new terminals and berths to meet increasing inventory turnover requirements. Existing terminals, meanwhile, need intelligent, automated, and refined means to improve their operation efficiency. In this process, Tianjin Port faces several challenges.
• Vast Staffing Requirements
Tianjin Port has an annual container throughput of 18.35 million TEUs. Its employees total 20,000, including many operators on the terminals — such as container truck drivers, yard crane operators, dispatchers, and tally clerks — as well as on-site security supervision staff.
Following years of automation-oriented reconstruction, Tianjin Port completed the remote control reconstruction of yard cranes and the testing and launching of unmanned container trucks. Now that its automation processes have improved, Tianjin Port needs a horizontal transportation system to ensure better coordination and effective use of automatic equipment.
• Improving Automatic and Intelligent Scheduling
Every day, dozens of ships dock at the port, hundreds of container trucks travel back and forth, tens of thousands of containers are loaded and unloaded, and tens of thousands of external container trucks enter the port to collect containers. All of these operations require port planners to formulate plans manually. Although some of Tianjin Port's terminals have improved the operation efficiency through the use of technology and effective work methods, including the use of equipment such as quay cranes, the port still urgently needs to use the latest technologies, such as AI, to implement intelligent scheduling and planning.
• Managing Port Operations
Ports are difficult to manage: They're closed areas filled with people, vehicles, goods, and ships; they also involve a lot of energy consumption, maintenance, and operations. To ensure everything is running smoothly, the operation status of each terminal needs to be reported to the upper level in the form of monthly, quarterly, and annual reports. Meanwhile, mid- and senior-level leaders need to access multi-dimensional and accurate operation data from the entire port group and each terminal in real time, so that group leaders can understand the operation status and provide sufficient support for future operation decision-making.
To manage terminal production activities and labor and energy consumption, engineers need data about the personnel, equipment, and energy consumption of the entire port and terminals. Meanwhile, the resource consumption data of each ship, each container, and each quay crane is required; in this way, the data can be precisely analyzed to further reduce the port's operation costs.
• A Need for Intelligent Management Methods
More than 10,000 cameras have been deployed in Tianjin Port, ensuring full coverage without blind spots. Most of the cameras are traditional, though, so security staff must be assigned to each of the port's terminals. The port urgently needs proactive security protection to improve the inspection efficiency and efficiently detect violations, such as illegal parking of trucks, speeding, and unauthorized access to restricted areas.
Port Intelligent Twins: Enabling Tianjin Port's Digital Transformation
At the 4th World Intelligence Congress in June 2020, Tianjin Port Group and Huawei signed the Strategic Cooperation Agreement at the Intelligent Transportation Summit.
By cooperating on information-based top-level design and smart port construction, the two parties aim to build a port demonstration project, set an industry benchmark, and build a world-class hub that's green and smart.
Tianjin Port worked with Huawei's team to plan 14 implementation projects in six fields: ships, goods, container trucks, security protection, operations, and equipment. The concept of Port Intelligent Twins was proposed, with a vision to create an intelligent twin of the port that requires no manual intervention and operates logically, scientifically, and optimally.
Huawei Port Intelligent Twins consist of four intelligent aspects: applications, a hub, connectivity, and interactions.
Intelligent applications: The port's core production system is comprised of its intelligent applications, which include the intelligent Terminal Operating System (TOS), production auxiliary system, horizontal transportation system, and logistics management system, which can help make the port service system smarter.
Intelligent hub: As the core of the port, the intelligent hub is the operation and decision-making center, consisting of AI, data analysis, intelligent video, and autonomous driving modules, and provides decision-making support for the running of smart applications.
Intelligent connectivity: People, vehicles, ships, objects, and goods of a smart port can be connected to the virtual world through 5G, Wi-Fi 6, and microwave technologies to achieve full connectivity of the port. In this sense, connectivity essentially acts as the nerves of the port.
Intelligent interactions: Sensing and interaction equipment such as the videos, sensors, Global Positioning System (GPS), and radars are involved, facilitating real-time data collection of the entire port and data exchange.
Based on the main pain points in the smart port construction process, the two parties planned and partially implemented intelligent scenarios such as a horizontal transportation system and intelligent port scheduling.
• Horizontal Transportation System
The joint commissioning of unmanned container trucks was completed for the no.1 berth at the intelligent container terminal in Section C of the Beijiang Port Area (the Northern Port Area of Tianjin Port). After five months of design and verification, this solution integrated smart port products, such as unmanned track cranes, unmanned electric trucks, and unmanned container cranes under remote control, featuring significant breakthroughs in multiple key technologies. Huawei provided infrastructure products and solutions such as the intelligent horizontal transportation system, cloud platform, data middle ground, network, Intelligent Vision (Huawei's machine vision product series), and data center — enabling Tianjin Port to take a critical step forward in digital transformation and intelligent upgrade.
• Intelligent Port Scheduling
Based on in-depth research, Tianjin Port has planned scenarios, including creating a container Crane Work Plan (CWP), berth allocation, single-ship intelligent stowage, and intelligent container yard plan. These plans aim to implement efficient port scheduling based on the port's initial restrictions, AI technologies and models, and the experience data and simulation system of existing stowage personnel, as well as machine learning and self-training. These scenarios are being developed and will be gradually implemented in 2021.
Container crane work plan: Introducing the CWP concept will spur a major reform of the terminal production mode. By referring to the successful experience of advanced ports at home and abroad, the port will make a change from the control-centered mode, and precisely manage plans and control to focus on both efficiency and benefits.
Berth allocation: The intelligent berth planning solution involves integrating berth resources, container crane resources, ship-to-port dynamic information, port machinery, and manpower information; optimizing algorithms based on the operation; and providing operation management personnel with decision-making support for intelligent berth planning to improve the comprehensive efficiency of port resources.
Single-ship intelligent stowage: With AI algorithms, an intelligent single-ship planning solution will be implemented to replace manual operations. This way, the port can ensure sailing safety, enhance the loading and unloading efficiency of ships, and improve economic benefits of marine container transportation.
Intelligent container yard plan: The main points of the container yard plan are: Decision-making on container yard space allocation: Arrange stack sections and slots of containers to minimize the moving distance of loading and unloading machines. Decision-making on stack collapse: Formulate a stack collapse solution in the container yard under a given ship loading and unloading sequence to minimize the rate of stack collapse.
Phase 1 of Tianjin Port and Huawei's solution was successful. And by optimizing and iterating Phase 1 of the solution, the two parties have started cooperation on Phase 2, including smart building, smart port, smart energy management, smart control platform, and video platform projects.
Customer Business Indicator Improvement: Displaying the Business Value of Solutions
Through the implementation of the Phase 1 project and long-term blueprint planning, Huawei and Tianjin Port aim to support better labor structure, ensure higher efficiency and lower costs, and enable safer port operations.
• Better Labor Structure
Traditional terminals, being labor-intensive, regard frontline operators as of paramount importance. By adopting digital transformation measures, automation, informatization, and intelligence will improve the port's productivity. With the help of unmanned container trucks, the number of truck drivers can be decreased by 90%, and the driver-truck ratio can be reduced from 1:1 to 1:6. Digitalization helps resolve recruitment difficulty and contributes to improvement of the working environment in the port, facilitating the transformation from the labor-intensive industry to the technology-intensive industry.
• Lower Costs and Higher Efficiency
Based on the automatic and intelligent smart port solution, Tianjin Port will improve the following business indicators: Shorten the container crane work plan from two hours to 10 seconds; improve the work efficiency by more than 10%; increase the direct berthing rate by 5%; reduce the average loading or discharge time of external container trucks by five minutes; optimize port resource allocation through refined management and reduce the overall operation costs by 10%; further enhance the operation capability of the port without needing to build new terminals or berths, and reduce costs and increase benefits through digital transformation.
Over the next three to five years, Tianjin Port and Huawei will cooperate on autonomous driving in the port, to build a commercial autonomous driving solution for the port industry. They will work together on port automation and intelligent fields to build Port Intelligent Twins, and improve security, efficiency, and experience.