Deurganck dock gets smart

Publication date: 
27 Mar 2018

With an annual freight volume of nearly 9 million TEU the Deurganck dock is by far the main centre of container handling in the port of Antwerp. But this tidal dock on the left bank of the Scheldt is also well on the way to becoming a hotspot for innovation. Thanks to a “smart quay” and an automatic sounding boat, shipping operations and berth maintenance in Antwerp’s largest dock will become a good deal more efficient. “The smart quay will enable us to make more efficient use of the berths available in the dock. And the automatic sounding boat will also make berth management more effective and pro-active, with the emphasis on prevention rather than cure,” explains Piet Opstaele, Innovation Enablement Manager for the Port Authority.

In ways such as these Antwerp is laying the foundations for the “smart harbour”, the port of the future where smart technologies are used to make both land-side and water-side operations more efficient. “The smart harbour in turn forms part of the ’Capital of Things’ that was rolled out last year by the City of Antwerp in collaboration with the Port Authority, the University of Antwerp and the innovation specialist imec. This took our ambitions to a whole new level, with the first practical initiatives coming on line just a few months after signature of the agreement,” Opstaele continues.

Smart parking
Ships arriving in the port are now assigned a specific berth number on the quayside. “You can compare it with a car that enters a paying car park where there are designated parking spaces. If you park outside the boundaries of your allotted space then you are taking up not just one but two slots, thus reducing the overall capacity of the car park. The same applies to ships that ’park’ alongside the quay,” Opstaele explains further. “If they fail to keep within the boundaries of their ’parking space’ then this reduces the berthing capacity of the quay. The Port Authority’s dockmasters check to ensure that each ship is berthed correctly, but if the ship has already moored then it’s too late: manoeuvring a ship to make it properly positioned takes time and money, which we would rather avoid.”

Hence the idea of equipping the quay with cameras and sensors to check automatically whether the vessel is correctly berthed or not. In practice a section of quay on the North-West side of the Deurganck dock has initially been fitted with these devices. The pilot project will run for six months and will cover barges as well as seagoing ships.

Smart inspections
One of the Port Authority’s responsibilities is maintaining the maritime infrastructure. Piet Opstaele outlines the challenge: “A large part of this maritime infrastructure is under water, which makes it very difficult to inspect. It frequently happens that we notice that something is wrong when it’s already too late, for instance if a lock gate refuses to operate. Diagnosing the fault and carrying out the necessary repairs means that the lock has to be temporarily closed, thus interfering with port operations. We want to reduce such situations to the absolute minimum.”

The Port Authority is calling upon various technologies for the necessary smart maritime inspections. The first is Waterview, by analogy with Google’s Streetview. This extensive database of photographs of quay walls, fenders, bridges etc. will make it possible to detect damage sooner, so that it can also be repaired more quickly. Another technology is the automatic sounding boat which will be making its way around the Deurganck dock after the end of the summer, taking soundings in the commercial berths. This will give an up-to-date picture of the depth of water in the various berths. Finally, a 3D model of the Kieldrecht lock will be used to assist with preventive maintenance. The model will be used to construct a virtual reality of the lock so that the maintenance team can look “under water” to see where the defect might be, and so take more effective action.

Smart Port House visits
As of this autumn, visitors to Port House will be able to add an extra dimension to their tour of the Port Authority’s headquarters, with the addition of augmented reality and laser projection that are currently under development. Visitors will be then able to view various types of ships sailing past.

Innovation in the Port Authority’s new vision
Clearly there are lots of exciting developments coming in the near future, both in the port and within the Port Authority itself. However this is no coincidence: “Innovation is one of the foundations of our new vision” says Erwin Verstraelen, head of the new Digitisation & Innovation department within the Port Authority. “The new department and the new vision together with our participation in NxtPort, PortXL etc. clearly demonstrate that the port of tomorrow is rapidly approaching.”