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An in depth look at CMP’s intelligent port developments

Bai Jingtao, managing director, China Merchants Port Group
China is at the forefront of developing so-called intelligent ports utilizing 5G technology. One the company’s making major investments in the area of intelligent ports is China Merchants Ports Group (CMP) and Seatrade Maritime News asked managing director Bai Jingtao its developments and plans.

Seatrade Maritime News: Which intelligent ports (domestic and overseas) are you investing in/participated in, what is the current construction/development status of these ports?

Bai Jingtao: Currently, China Merchants Port Group Co., Ltd. (CMP) is promoting intelligent port construction and development at three Chinese cities, including Shenzhen, Ningbo and Zhanjiang. Each of the ports has tailor-made development plans and priorities, and could form a comprehensive intelligent port system.

Firstly, for Shenzhen, we currently have three large size intelligent port construction and operation projects at West port area of Shenzhen. 

1.Chiwan Container Terminal (CCT) RTG Remote Control System. The terminal is the largest RTG remote control (semi-automated) single container terminal in China. The project was launched in November 2011. A trial operation launched in June 2012 was China’s first remote-control RTGs. The terminal started remote conversion of 36 RTGs at whole port area in March 2016. The container volume handled by remote control RTGs reached2.5m boxes as the end of 2019, greatly saving on workforce and improving the working environment of the staff. 

2. Shekou Container Terminal (SCT) and CCT’s shoreside intelligent cargo handling system. As the members of the busiest terminals in South China, the two container terminals have realized leading edge intelligent loading and uploading operation, allowing the terminal workers to stay at office, ensuring the workers’ safety and operation efficiency. The project initiated in 2016, covers 39 cranes at CCT and 37 cranes at SCT that are using OCR image intelligent recognition technology, the box number identify rate is over 95%.

3. Mawan intelligent port project, which is a major project of the company to transform a traditional terminal to an intelligent one. Located at Haixing terminal, Shenzhen, this facility is going to be equipped with the most advanced technology and become a green intelligent port at Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. The project is scheduled for delivery at the end of 2020. 
We are also developing three intelligent port projects at Ningbo Daxie China Merchants International Terminals. The projects are RTG remote intelligent control project, shore intelligent tally system and driverless trailer system.

In addition, we are constructing and developing bulk intelligent port at Zhanjiang.
The intelligent port project in Zhanjiang Port (Group) Co., a full process bulk intelligent terminal reform project, which was started in 2018 and will be completed by 2021.

Seatrade Maritime News:  How many facilities are you constructing for the development of intelligent port, such as lab, research centres and so forth? 

Bai Jingtao: The company pays great attention to research and development of intelligent technology and has been focusing on the development of two research facilities: “5G Intelligent Port Innovation Laboratory” and “China Merchants Port Technology Innovation Research Institute”. Meanwhile, the company is preparing for the establishment of port innovation industrial fund “China Port and Shipping Innovation Development Investment Center”.

The 5G Intelligent Port Innovation Laboratory is based on the Mawan intelligent port project, engaging in 5G intelligent port technology application, full technical support and research investment. The lab was jointly established by CMP, China Mobile, Huawei and other parties in June 2019. It is the first 5G intelligent port innovation lab in Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, which could push forward the technology implement in the  region.

The China Merchants Port Technology Innovation Research Institute, aims to research and analyze on technology empowered port industry, build port technology innovation ecosystem, explore innovations of business model, applied technology and digital platform for port industry. The institute commenced operations in October 2019.

The China Port and Shipping Innovation Development Investment Center is an industrial fund to be jointly invested in and established by CMP and some Chinese port groups. It is expected to be established in the first half of this year.

Seatrade Maritime News: What is the core for intelligent port development; are there any particular technology gaps that need to be addressed in developing an intelligent port?

Bai Jingtao: We need to understand what is intelligent port before we talk about intelligent port construction. The intelligent port is to make the port smart and intelligent, and not just automated. The automated port commonly mentioned usually refers to the automated operation of port, while the intelligent port will be able to sense the environmental changes dynamically to autonomously run examinations, study, make decisions and carry out actions to realize optimise port services and create value. An automated terminal is in a better condition to be developed into intelligent terminal, however, the general and traditional terminal also has the way to be updated to intelligent port. 

We believe there are two major aspects we need to consider for intelligent port construction: one is technology, and the other is to be commercially viable.

Currently there are lots of technology gaps in intelligent port construction, such as independent decision-making, inside and outside interaction, ecological circle development etc.. We still need manual intervention on many operation processes. Additionally, the cost of using 5G is comparatively high. All of them are major technical restrictions to develop intelligent port.

Seatrade Maritime News: What is your short and mid-term plans for intelligent port development and construction?
Bai Jingtao: Referring to the intelligent port development, we will follow the ideas of “point-line-plane” and combine industry + technology to push and optimize it. The “point” and “line” is what are doing for short-term development, while the “plane” is our mid and long term development direction.

1. Focus on single port construction, to promote intelligent reform of the ports and terminals under CMP. The reform of these ports and terminals will be based on the terminal operation system with proprietary intellectual property rights of CMP, and focus on traditional port upgrading to form a series of reformation plans for our terminals. The intelligent reform of this type of ports and terminals will provide strong support to our affiliated ports and terminals’ services.

2. Connecting the service line, developing the digital eco-system circle of a single port and expanding business following logistics chain and trading value chain. We are developing  “CM ePort” platform, adopting the pattern of port + internet to connect our affiliated ports in China and overseas, using digital technology to support our customers’ service and realize the innovation on business model, increase regional trade facilitation.

3. Forming the value plane, which means expanding “M ePort” platform, to attract self-owned and external ports and terminals’ digital ecosystem services to join in, to combine different lines to plane.

Seatrade Maritime News: What do you think of the current intelligent port development status in China?
Bai Jingtao: Currently, the intelligent port development in China is polarized. China has several pioneers equipped with automated container terminal which are under intelligent transformation and upgrade. The intelligent upgrading is speeding up and we believe the intelligent port construction in China will be in the lead of the world.

On the other hand, China has 144 ports and 4,000 terminal companies, only around ten of them already had or are constructing the automated terminal project. It would be an interesting topic to figure out how and what to do to reform the remaining large amount of traditional terminals. These terminals are facing the comment challenges of intellectualization, such as internal technology bottleneck, how to cooperate with external parties, and we also need to make tailor-made plans based on individual differences of each. They might be hub ports, inland ports, container terminals, bulk terminals, and older terminals that need to fix the interaction between port and operation parks. 

Seatrade Maritime News: What are your expectations on intelligent port development, do you have any suggestions on it and any special supports will be needed (from authorities,industry players etc.)?
Bai Jingtao: The intelligent port is an evolution of automated port. The intelligent port is just like a “human being”, not only to needing to be in healthy physical condition, but also has smart brain and well-balanced. The intelligent port construction can not exist excluding the logistics supply chain, it will need each sector of the upstream and downstream industry chain to upgrade synchronously, to break out the traditional cooperation model and realize more data sharing, online coordination and ecological cooperation. It will need joint efforts from logistics industry chain players and government authorities. Intelligent port is one component of intelligent supply chain, the intelligent supply chain may hurt the vested interests under traditional logistics pattern, but it will bring overall benefits to the whole industry and improve trade facilitation level.

Seatrade Maritime News: What are the key benefits that the company sees from developing and operating an intelligent port facility?
Bai Jingtao: Through the intelligent, automated and green improvement, port will transform from a traditional high energy consumption and labor intensive industry to a technology-intensive industry, which could bring direct operation income to port operators via increasing efficiency, save cost and reduce human error and potential safety hazards, and will also make the management and monitoring of port-related parties including ship owners, shippers, logistics service provides, customs authorities become more accurate, reliable and harmonized, It can improve resource utilisation and returns on investments. 

Seatrade Maritime News: How do you describe the prospect of intelligent port development?
Bai Jingtao: The intelligent port has a broad development prospect. With the development of internet of things, big data, 5G, artificial intelligent, automated control and other technologies, the investment costs of many kinds of automated controlled and intelligent management will be further reduced, meanwhile, the widens and deepens of port intelligent will be improved. The optimization of terminal operation is endless, there is a bright future to construct intelligent port. All of them, are most likely to happen in China, China has very big port business volume and is eager to seek for the innovation, improvements in efficiency and service quality.