Smart port

It’s hard to imagine the world without them these days: words such as blockchain, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and machine learning have become woven into the warp and weft of our society. In fact, these technologies of the future may also demonstrate their worth in the port. Which is why they are being tested and put to work wherever possible. For example, work is being done on a digital version of the port, complete with real-time information. We are also looking at how containers and their cargoes can be better secured using blockchain technology. And sometimes the answer can be found with a simple 1.0 solution: which is also true of innovation at the Port of Antwerp.

Smart versus high-tech: bolt indicators 

Innovation is about more than just cutting-edge technology. It revolves just as much around finding smart solutions for complex problems. For instance, a great deal of the port infrastructure has to be checked and inspected regularly: are any cracks or fissures occurring? Are all of the components of the bridges and locks still sound and in good working order? Some nuts and bolts can be in hard-to-reach places, too. Which is why it can take such a long time to thoroughly inspect this infrastructure. 

Sara Jochems, technical electromechanical manager for the Port of Antwerp, came up with a simple but effective idea: bolt indicators.

“By attaching little plastic tags to the bolts, you can see at a glance whether any nuts or bolts have become loose and whether they need to be tightened or not. This saves the inspectors and engineers a great deal of unnecessary work.”


Digital twin and APICA: Antwerp Port Information and Control Assistant 

Using all of the data, video images and 3D models it has available, the Port of Antwerp is building a digital copy of the port, which will enable users to retrieve a whole host of useful information.   

What is the value of having a digital twin? Well, imagine it as a digital 3D map of the port that contains a huge amount of real-time information: which ship is in the Kieldrechtsluis at any particular time, or the water status in the Scheldt? Or the details of all the vessels in the Scheldt and at the docks at that moment. Everything is visualised on a gigantic 3D map located in the port. 

Still sounds a bit abstract? This video will make everything clear to you. 




Put simply, blockchain is based on the rule that “if x happens, do y” – and hence an extra layer of security is added. Blockchain does not work with central software, but is a digital ecosystem with a network of computers with various parties. Which is precisely blockchain’s strength: a transaction of data can only take place if someone connected to the network agrees to it. Better still, any change is recorded everywhere at the same time, which makes it even more secure.

Pilot project for the digital exchange of certificates

In June 2018 a pilot project was begun for the digital exchange of phytosanitary certificates for apples being shipped from New Zealand to Europe. A phytosanitary certificate guarantees the provenance and hygiene of the products shipped. 

The digital solution uses blockchain technology that ensures the secure exchange of documents and generally makes data available more quickly for all of the parties concerned. This in turn means more efficient inspections and shorter transit times. A similar pilot project is also running for the digitisation of certificates for organic products. 

In this way, the safety of fruit and vegetables destined for the European market is assured and there is no paperwork involved.


Intelligent wharf wall

Digital cameras and sensors are being installed in the Deurganckdok as part of the city of Antwerp’s Internet of Things project. Again, a pilot project using the technology is designed to ensure that ships moor correctly at the berth reserved for them.
And because ships no longer have to look for somewhere to ‘park’, waiting times are reduced. 



Smart cameras: Computer vision

The Port of Antwerp is working with a large number of partners to ensure that the port is safe and secure. In all, there are over 600 cameras keeping a close eye on what is going on. 

Automatic image recognition

The camera images are analysed automatically with computer vision, enabling objects to be identified. Some of the practical applications of Computer Vision and Artificial Intelligence include:

  • Optimising preventative maintenance and increasing the frequency of inspections.
  • Conducting mobility analyses: how many vehicles pass through and what type of vehicles?
  • Increasing security through extra monitoring and gathering additional information about traffic flows (tare weight information of containers).