“We are open to ideas”

Jens Meier, Chairman of Hamburg Port Authority’s Executive Board, uses this interview with Port of Hamburg Magazine to stress the significance of continuous digitalization for the Port of Hamburg.

Digitalization of processes is a daily routine in the Port of Hamburg. Since when has Hamburg Port Authority addressed the subject? Which were the first projects to be started?

HPA started at a very early stage to consider the benefits of digitalization. To optimize traffic flow in the restricted area of the port, for example, we installed Bluetooth, video detectors and induction strips on the roads there. We presented the results to an international audience in 2015 at the IAPH World Port Conference. This included one of the first IoT projects, smartROAD, which aimed to demonstrate applications of an ‘intelligent road’ on selected sections of road in the Port of Hamburg. Apart from opportunities for identifying and managing traffic, along with lighting control for pedestrian and cyclists, the project demonstrated how modern sensor systems collected and display data on the state of infrastructure and environmental impacts. In cooperation with partner companies, all relevant IT and communication technology systems, sensors, video cameras and network communications components were installed on selected sections of road in the Port of Hamburg in order to further the idea of a smartPORT.

What do you feel, how far have you progressed in recent years in digitalization generally?

Thanks to the commitment of all those involved, we have come a long way. Modernization of the Port Railway – partly through digitalization – has helped make this link between cargo handling terminals for containerships and the European rail network one of the main factors making the Port of Hamburg competitive. Yet the new building for the Nautical Centre, with the digitalization of maps this involved, or the deployment of drones in maintaining our facilities, are just a few of the main examples of how we have modernized the port step by step. Installation of sensors, for example on a number of streets in the Veddel district, is still playing its part now. Naturally we must stay on the ball. It’s therefore important that we should not want to implement everything ourselves, but instead see the port as a testbed for innovative projects, and remain open for ideas.

Let’s divide progress between the different means of transport and start with roads.

We are currently seeing a major transition on vehicles. E-vehicles are no longer by any means rare on the roads. The first three battery-electric Nikola Tre trucks in Europe have been undergoing tests in the Port of Hamburg since September 2022.

In combination with alternative propulsion, digitalization offers a good opportunity to use infrastructure in the best possible way. We introduced the MOZART project at the ITS Congress. MOZART – Mobility, Optimization, Digital Twin, Analyses, Real Time, Traffic – aims to back up the adaptively regulated light signal equipment with an overarching, continuous real-time selection of programmes. Improved traffic flow reduces the need for vehicles to brake and accelerate, which leads to a reduction in pollutant emissions. Greater ease of planning tours for companies is another positive aspect. Time is a most important factor there. If traffic is to be appropriately controlled, many calculations are essential within seconds, if not even milli-seconds. In the MOZART project, a digital annealer unit was tested during the first two stages.

The two developments quite obviously need to be considered in the port from the sustainability angle. With innovative propulsion systems and modern traffic control, we are making a considerable advance on decarbonization. Yet we are also reducing CO2 emissions and slowing the increase in noise in the port.

HPA only just recently installed sensors in a novel asphalt surface. Which digital processes will these be backing up?

In the course of road renewal on the Veddel, 66 acceleration and temperature sensors were installed. These facilitate receipt of data on strain on the road, and hence optimization of maintenance management. They also serve to improve the traffic control system. Even during building work, temperature sensors provide data on asphalt temperature. Recording vibrations and pressure, acceleration sensors measure the actual strain on the road caused by axle loads, speed, acceleration and braking forces. Data from the sensors facilitates conclusions about the state of the surface and load-bearing capacity. Inclusion in a traffic model for optimizing traffic flow is also a possibility for the future

The Port of Hamburg Railway is an extremely vital carrier for the Port of Hamburg’s hinterland infrastructure. Many processes also require automation on it. Could you briefly describe some of these?

Along with extensive investments in the Port Railway’s physical infrastructure, others in such IT systems as transPORT rail, a central exchange platform for rail-related data and transport handling, are contributing in the port to an improvement in infrastructure utilization and resource usage. These are thanks to improvements in operational planability and scope for reaction. trans- PORT rail is a traffic management system for rail transport in the Port of Hamburg, offering an effective interface for freight and data transport. Users obtain access to the system via the interface or via the internet -Web-Client. The users consist as a rule of loading points and rail operating companies. By issuing an appropriate power of attorney, the latter can entrust input of their data to rail operators or other service providers.

A further major area for digital application is infrastructure maintenance. Digital twins permit virtual display of structures like the Köhlbrand Bridge. What do you anticipate from such applications?

One very prominent example is smartBRIDGE, a pilot project that aims to optimize maintenance of the Köhlbrand Bridge in the Port of Hamburg. The software creates a digital twin, a real-time display of the actual bridge based on all the available data on its condition. The idea is to improve maintenance of it by all the players entrusted with this. With smart- BRIDGE, more than 520 sensors are installed for the purposes of predictive maintenance. The Digital Port Twin project means a continuation of HPA’s augmented and virtual reality projects. The digital twin is to support planning of future infrastructure projects, by providing better, more secure and efficient displays of complex processes. Some examples of applying it include virtual displays of HPA control consoles and the incorporation of sensor data. All the consoles visualized in 3D, and the digitalized process sequences can be displayed in the Digital Port Twin and used for optimization moves.

With homePort, you have made a generous space available for innovative companies. Are there any synergies here that will boost further digitalization of the port?

homePORT is an innovation campus situated at the heart of the Port of Hamburg. It aims to give ambitious players in the port, academics and official bodies, the opportunity of developing and realistically testing product innovations, and achieving significant results for the maritime/port industry.

homePORT offers test areas for driverless activities, a start/landing place for drones plus adjacent water areas for water drones. Players in the port enjoy the opportunity here of conducting trials and experiments, of collaborating with additional partners. They aim to advance innovations for the maritime and logistics sectors – on water, land and in the air. Our objective is to contribute towards boosting efficient use of port space and further reducing harmful environmental influences.

The HPA is making bold progress with digitalization. Don’t other ports tend to profit from your experience?

We are in continuous exchange with ports in the context of IAPH and chainPORT. It’s essential, for one thing, to look outwards and to learn from each other; and otherwise it is quite obvious that we need to coordinate, since along the supply chain, go-it-alone solutions make no sense. That’s not a matter of sharing around all data, but just the stuff that makes the supply chain more effective.