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Port of Antwerp works towards smart harbour of the future

The Port of Antwerp is taking a step further towards a digital future with a series of innovations that will make its 9m teu Deurganck dock more efficient.

The “smart quay” and various other innovations such as an automatic sounding boat will make shipping operations and berth maintenance at the Port of Antwerp’s largest dock much 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,” explained Piet Opstaele, Innovation Enablement Manager for the port authority.

These are the first steps as the Port of Antwerp lays 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 continued.

Cameras and sensors are being put on the quay to monitor whether ships are berthed correctly as they come alongside so that they do not overlap into adjoining spaces.

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.

Another innovation is the concept of smart inspections that will help port authorities in maintaining the maritime infrastructure. This is a challenge as a large part of it is under water, which makes it very difficult to inspect.

Various technologies are being used 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 underwater to identify any defects and take more effective action.

“Innovation is one of the foundations of our new vision” said 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,” he concluded.

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