Abu Dhabi Ports’ flagship container terminal Khalifa Port is preparing for a future in which maritime and landside logistics will be increasingly automated, with what it calls ‘next-phase automation’ encompassing terminal operations and back-end processes with Blockchain.
“Semi-automation is what Khalifa Port was designed for, it gave us the optimum cost base to compete in what was at the time a very tough market with the port surrounded by dominant players in the container terminal sector,” explains Ross Thomson, chief commercial and strategy officer, Abu Dhabi Ports.
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“So we had to create a port that was technologically advanced, future-proof and gave a very competitive proposition to the shipping lines that was above and beyond what they could get in the region at the time,” he adds.
“But the market catches up quickly, so now we need to take that a step further and that’s what Abu Dhabi Ports is planning to do now. We’re looking at next-phase automation, not just in terms of terminal operations, but also on the back-end, we want to be the first paperless port anywhere in the world,” says Thomson.
He recognises that the ambition is a bold one, especially given the paper-heavy nature of port operations. “There are so many stakeholders that attach their documentation to every container. But we’re on the path to develop paperless solutions, but just for our own activities, but for our stakeholders as well such as customs and so on. Blockchain and smart contracts will be an important part of that,” he says.
According to Thomson next-phase automation will be about preparing Khalifa Port for a future in which logistics is increasingly automated. “Next-phase will also encompass the terminals, the logistics industry is not far from a time when complete supply chains will be able to run autonomously,” he says.
“The capability is already developed and its catching on very fast in this industry. It’s going to change the landscape in its entirety and we can either wait for that wave to hit us, or we can get out there and be one of the early adaptors,” he adds.
Thomson said that with driverless vehicles being tested and maritime officials adapting regulations to allow crewless, automated vessels, it makes sense that ports will become more automated as well. “In a very short space of time, we’re going to develop the technology to make this a reality, but what holds it back is that there are so many pieces to the puzzle.”