I-Port FS - Optimising Intermodal Freight Transport through European Ports

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This study addressed the feasibility and viability of an integrated solution consisting of space and terrestrial assets in support the optimisation of freight transport through European ports. A review of the user needs together with the technologies and space assets currently in use provided a gap analysis to identify the system requirements and a proof of concept prototype. The project identified the integration of technologies best suited to increase the optimisation of freight transport and also examined the economic and non-economic viability of such a service.

Objectives of the service

The objective of the study was to undertake a feasibility study addressing the role and the added value of space assets into the optimisation of freight transport through European ports.

To achieve these outputs the study addressed the following questions:

  • What are the shortcomings and challenges in the existing routing and scheduling processes for moving of freight traffic through ports?
  • How can satellite assets be combined as part of a solution? What would a service look like? What is the value-added of the satellite assets?
  • What are the user requirements that would help define a service to address these issues?
  • How can the solution designed during the study be validated?
  • How attractive is the solution and what critical factors must be addressed to arrive at a sustainable solution? Are there any new satellite services required that could benefit the sector?
  • What is the roadmap to a sustainable operational service?
  • What other users and stakeholders can be engaged in a future demonstration project?

Figure 1 depicts the key factors that werea ddressed in order to successfully respond to the study requirements and to produce the most credible approach.

iPort Figure1 - Click to enlarge!

Users and their needs

The users targeted in this feasibility study are those which could benefit from optimising intermodal freight transport include e.g. ports, hauliers, shipping lines, railway operators, inland waterways, storage facilities.

Stakeholders include e.g. (local) authorities, customs, communication service providers, road and water authorities.

The users and stakeholders who initially expressed their interest to provide the project with their support included ACL (shipping company - Worldwide), JMD (haulier - UK), Peel Ports (port - Liverpool) and representatives from the port community of Bremen.

The users have expressed the following high level needs for improving freight transport through ports:

  • The hauliers expressed a need to have further information of cut-off times
  • Hauliers need to improve the visibility of ships that have arrived early at the port
  • There is a need to remove the paper side of VBS bookings to improve efficiency
  • There is a need with vessel operators to interface with current tracking system used to avoid storms
  • There is a need with the clients to understand the position of inland
  • The port expressed a need to improve the visibility of incoming vehicles, e.g. by geofencing.

Service/ system concept

The following services have been defined:

  • Dynamic Vehicle Booking Service (VBS)
  • ETA and Tracking Information Service (ETA)
  • Environmental Data & Routing Optimization Service (RO)
  • Container Transport Order Service (TOS)

The Tracking module retrieves the location of the vessels and of the trucks. It uses satellite AIS data to track the vessels and also uses GPS data to track the trucks. This information can then be displayed on a map to the relevant actors to help them to plan requisite resources and to be used by the ETA service and in due course the DVBS service below. Smaller truckers will be able to transmit tracking data and provide this to the Hauliers so that Haulier subcontractors will be able to access the other I-PORT services. Users can see the vessels arriving to aid with resource planning.

The ETA & Route Planning module will take into account the location of the truck, the destination of the truck and will use an HGV-optimised route planner to calculate the most suitable route. The computation will also take into account traffic information to either provide a new route or to take into account the delay for the calculating the ETA. Port terminals, haulier and shipping lines will be able to view a list of trucks - according to the systems ETA calculation - that will probably be late (or early), thus allowing redistribution of slots. They will also be able to view in real-time the location of vessels to aid with resource planning.

The Job Management & Electronic Documentation will focus on collecting data related to transport jobs for container import or export and providing this data to the DVBS service so that I-PORT can match the vehicles to the bookings at the ports. In addition the service will provide data to the trucker to help with documentation required for port access e.g. security PIN number for access and container identification. Hauliers will be able to transfer and jobs to smaller subcontractors to ensure that are able to use the other I'PORT services.

The Dynamic Vehicle Booking System (DVBS) module will complement existing Vehicle Booking Systems (VBS) or reservations systems by enabling adjustment of vehicle slots in the port terminal. I-PORT will provide a framework/component that will enable currently deployed systems to be dynamic. In case there is no currently deployed system, I-PORT will provide a vehicle booking system with standard functionalities offered by existing vehicle booking systems or a link to the port/terminal reservation or pre-announcement system if that exists. The focus of DVBS is allowing slots at port terminals to be reassigned depending on trucks ETA. This allows for optimisation of slot usage to enable rebooking when trucks are delayed or when they may be early. Once a slot has been booked, it can either be changed manually by the personnel at the port terminal or the Haulier by invoking this service. The slot can also be changed automatically - subject to rules to be agreed by the port/terminal - by the system via the ETA calculations provided in the ETA & Route Planning module. The slots which will be missed are freed up and made available for rebooking.

Space Added Value

The following space assets are included in the integrated solution providing added value:

  • GNSS (GPS) To be able to provide localisation and tracking of vehicles, I-PORT will rely on GNSS satellites with options including GPS, Gailleo and EGNOS all being considered. GNSS data provides enough accuracy and is very accessible due to widespread integration in many different devices. The positional data from the vehicle OBU will periodically be transmitted to the I-PORT backend via GPRS/3G mobile networks, where it will be inserted into the central data store. This positional data will then be accessible by authorized actors and used in internal ETA calculations.
  • Satellite AIS - The AIS is an automatic system used by vessels to identify each other's location, direction and speed by transmitting on the Very High Frequency (VHF) band. It is mandatory for all ships with gross tonnage of 300 tonnes or more to carry an AIS device. At sea level, AIS transmissions have a typical range of around 74 km, but can be read at a much greater distance by Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites with built in AIS receivers. S-AIS typically operates in constellations of polar orbiting satellites, which continuously listen for AIS signals and upload them to one or more S-AIS ground stations. The data is then analysed and updated in a central database. The drawback with S-AIS is that due to the larger distances between the transmitter and the receiver it tends to get less effective in crowded areas such as close to ports.

Product Features

A cloud platform and infrastructure will receive data from all external systems (e.g. traffic and port systems). An API layer will provide an interface for existing systems, portable devices with the users and the web application/portal. The portable devices and web portal will both utilise the GPS and Sat Comms technologies available to them. The initial architecture was proposed for the Proof-of-Concept and five services were identified. Following the proof of concept and user feedback and after taking into consideration the economic and non-economic feasibility the proposed services were subsequently revised and updated to a total of four services as shown in Figure 2 below.

This diagram describes all the building blocks of I-PORT, centred on the main services that the system aims to provide: ETA & tracking information, routing optimisation, dynamic vehicle booking system and transport order service. These services get data from external providers like web servers, dedicated hardware, manual input or satellite assets. They process the information and use it to provide services to the various actors of the system. They also interact with each other to provide required services. The diagram highlights the central role of the ETA & tracking information service that makes use of navigation satellite assets to provide the other services with the location of the driver, an estimated time of arrival and compute if a truck will be late for a scheduled visit to the port (or indeed early).

The other services are based on existing systems which will be enhanced by providing them from a unique access point, by making them communicate with each other and by using the ETA. They will also improve the visibility of the value chain by using Earth observation data and communication satellite data to provide vessel location and routing optimisation.

I-PORT: Features

Key Issues

The users identified the following key needs which were documented during the project:

  • Manage access to the Port - Port/terminal operators operate their business at the interface between the ocean transport and the inland transport. Inland transport can be organized via rail road or indeed barge connections. Whilst trying to satisfy their customers with timely access to their cargo the port must also manage their resources and pay attention to a number of constraints(eg limited number of slots available, difficult traffic condition on the feeder streets, etc.). The most important feeder street to the port is often an arterial street of the town, traffic jams with delayed trucks coming to the port can occur. Currently the port has limited information relating to the arrival of trucks, barges and vessels at the port which limits their ability to optimize the planning of the throughput in the port and many truckers arrive with incorrect documentation.
  • Schedule reliability - Shipping Lines operate their vessels to a fixed schedule and therefore it is important that they can keep to those schedules to meet customer demand but at the same time taking due regard to the increasing demands in terms of the cost of fuel and therefore the need for greater fuel efficiency and reduction in emissions. Any deviation from schedule can lead to reduced efficiency in the broader supply chain as there will be a knock on effect on connecting feeder vessel services on inland collection and delivery processes. Whilst the vessels currently use weather routing systems and sophisticated navigation equipment there is no current use of earth observation equipment or techniques to assist in the optimization of vessel routing.
  • Predictable inland transport movements - Many Shipping lines operating a door to door service for many of their customers and to do this they supply not only the ocean voyage connection but also the inland delivery portion and the transport required. Where the transport of the container is arranged in this way it is referred to as "carrier haulage" , carrier in this case being the shipping line. In the case of inland delivery they subcontract the actual transport to haulage/trucking companies to provide the service on their behalf. The organization of this inland transport relies on sharing information across many organizations and processes involving clearance of the cargo by the port/customs/port health; pick up of empty container from a depot; access in/out of the port at defined times; correct documentation and refences to access port; position of the required container in the port; arrival at customer sites at defined times; congestion/ delays information from truckers.
  • Predictable turnaround times - Many truckers/transport providers already have real time tracking data for their vehicles in the form of GPS location data which they use to manage their vehicle movements. Access to many ports is now managed by a vehicle booking process and transport providers can only access the ports in the UK if they have made a booking (themselves or via the shipping company). This process is rigid in some ports and less so in others but in all ports this is likely to become more rigid as ports strive to manage their internal resources and reduce queues.

Expected Main Benefits:

The project needed to demonstrate the benefits of utilisation of new satellite technologies within freight transport. The use of these technologies will provide better visability of a freight's positioning to all stakeholders during land transport whereas currently not all stakeholders are able to track the freight at every stage in the delivery journey. This clarity and precision will allow for accurate status of delivery through the duration of the process and greater security because all freight is traceable at all times. This will allow for greater optimising when utilising resources and alleviating congestion at the most busy periods.

Considering traffic data and live positioning of freight can allow for live updates of ETAs and therefore live scheduling and optimisation of haulier's routes/jobs.

With the I-PORT solution specified and evaluated during the Feasibility Study, the following benefits are anticipated:

  • Reduction in wasted port booking slots/ better utilisation of port resources (between 5%-20% wasted slots industry average)
  • Reduce rejections at the port gate (can be up to 15%)
  • Better planning of truck resources with estimated time of arrival data available in real time = reduced impact on the local community/ environment
  • Automatic rebooking of slots and advise to the driver in the event of late or early arrival saving wasted journeys/ waiting time
  • Reduced administration time managing slots and missed slots
  • Ability to avoid waiting /delays and avoid poor traffic conditions leading to reduced emissions and reduced traffic on access roads
  • More capacity for growth

Current Status

The feasibility study has been completed and is presently developing into a demonstration project, leading to a pre-operational service.

A User Workshop was held at Mersey Maritime in Liverpool on the 15 December 2011 with the objective to understand the needs and opportunities regarding optimisation of intermodal freight transport through ports. Representatives of the user community included Atlantic Container Line, Peel Ports and JMD Haulage along with the local sector bodies Mersey Maritime Group and The Mersey Partnership.

Based on the technical architecture, the analysis of the current technologies for each of the components and the interface required for the I-PORT service, the solution is considered feasible. During the proof of concept the critical aspects of the proposed service were tested and proven to be feasible.

The non-economic viability aspects of the I-PORT project were reviewed and found that perhaps the biggest threat is the non-participation of major players at a port in the program. We believe based on the current level of support that this issue is manageable. To ensure it is easy for the ports and terminals to integrate with the I-PORT service the link to the vehicle booking systems must be easy to integrate and adaptable as each port/terminal will have different proprietary VBS systems with their own integration requirements.

The feedback received back from the user groups during this feasibility study has been encouraging and in reviewing all aspects of the feasibility it is observed that there is indeed a significant opportunity to improve the optimisation of intermodal transport in ports. The proof of concept provided evidence to the users that the I-PORT service would be technically feasible, including the feasibility of integrating the I-PORT demonstrator to existing stakeholder systems.

Given the evidence presented in the feasibility study there is now strong support amongst the user community for a demonstrator project. These users include three major port communities, two in the UK and one in Germany; three major international container shipping lines, with services covering Asia/Europe and North America/Europe, who use the respective port communities and three hauliers who are suppliers to the respective shipping lines.

We also have interest from relevant port community systems providers. The economic analysis indicates that for an operational service the support of 5 port communities would be sufficient to sustain the service. We believe based on the current level of support that this level will be achievable.

A proposal for a demonstration project will be submitted during 2013

Status Date

Updated: 20 August 2013 - Created: 15 February 2014