Using AI to eliminate first and last mile inefficiencies 

Ports have a key role to play in helping shipping emit as little carbon as possible, and AI offers a powerful tool to deliver on their sustainability ambitions, according to Innovez One’s newly-appointed CEO for the UK and Europe, Grant Ingram.

One of the world’s most fundamental green transformations – decarbonising maritime supply chains – will largely rely on our capacity to harness one of its most intangible elements: data. It will also need to focus on ports as well as on ships, because ports play a major role in the critical first and last mile of the journey at sea. 

This is being recognised by the industry and regulators alike, and ports are high on the agenda of change.

One of the main maritime outcomes of COP26 was the Clydebank Declaration for clean shipping corridors, in which 19 countries committed to developing zero-emission shipping routes between selected port hubs over the next decade. These green corridors will be critical to support first mover viability, by catalysing land-side investments in fuels and port infrastructure.  

Digitalisation will be essential to achieving high levels of efficiency and greater transparency across the supply chains that initiatives such as this require. For ports, success will be transformational, requiring a re-evaluation of their own operations and an understanding of a new generation of digital tools.

Propelling British and European ports to the next level 

With around 120 commercial ports, the UK truly is a key port nation. This is a pivotal time for many ports across the country and the wider EMEA region as they face major challenges, such as the need to improve their efficiency to tackle congestion and the necessity to deliver the sustainability progress demanded by their customers, investors, and regulators. 

At the moment, ports in the UK and EMEA are at very different stages in terms of digitalisation, with many still relying on paper and whiteboards for the management of their tug and pilotage services. 

Other ports do have certain digital solutions in place but are lacking a comprehensive port management information system, instead dealing with fragmented or legacy systems that are not compatible with modern platforms and require a lot of human intervention.  

These ports could unlock a new level of efficiencies by using deep tech; for example, by deploying AI-powered solutions, ports can automate the scheduling of their pilot and tug operations, make their operations more resilient to last-minute changes, and unlock efficiencies that will reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Automated scheduling for improved efficiency 

I joined the innovative team at Innovez One in April this year with that goal foremost in my mind.

Innovez One’s flagship software, MarineM, is a fantastic example of how AI and machine learning can optimise resources, simulate different schedules, and make sure all the complex moving pieces related to tug and pilotage operations fall into place seamlessly.  

This equation is more complex than it seems: pilots must be assigned to specific vessel types and sizes depending on their licence, tugboats must be in sufficient numbers for the job, and shuttles must be planned to take the pilots to the correct boarding grounds.

Aligning so many complex moving pieces is akin to solving multiple Rubik’s cubes simultaneously – which is something AI is particularly good at.

AI and machine learning can use GPS and AIS data to track the position of each vessel and the status of jobs in real time and applies AI to automate scheduling – allocating resources as efficiently as possible and ensuring that any last-minute requests or changes are handled seamlessly.

By making the best possible use of each asset, our solution reduces fuel consumption to a minimum, cutting emissions from these marine services fleets by an average of 20%.

The positive impact of AI-driven optimisation solutions does not stop there. By optimising their pilot and tug operations, ports not only curb their own emissions – they help visiting ships reduce theirs, by minimising the amount of time that they spend queueing outside ports with their engines running.

A key tool to address port congestion 

One of the key advantages of AI-powered algorithms is that they learn from historical data to predict the duration of each job based on a number of factors such as the weather conditions, vessel type and level of service requires. This remarkable accuracy helps ensure everything is in place to welcome ships exactly when they arrive.  

Furthermore, as opposed to manual processes, AI can reallocate resources instantly if a vessel’s ETA changes, giving ports the flexibility needed to respond to problems or delays elsewhere in the supply chain. This helps ports become more resilient and creates the foundations for the supply chains of the future. 

Another key benefit of digitalisation is the increased transparency it provides for job assignments, duration, and billing. Digital tools can capture job requests and durations, track progress and generate invoices automatically, which minimises the risk of error and avoids disputes.

This also leads to reliable records that facilitate audits and accountability, supporting good governance, and helping ports or service providers detect any irregularities.  

The role that ports play in the supply chain, and society as a whole, has come under sharper focus following two years in which the global supply chain has been centre stage; from Covid-19 or the Suez Canal crisis, to the ongoing disruption in the supply chain.  

Ports now have the opportunity to position themselves as major contributors to the world’s sustainability agenda. Robust digital infrastructure will be integral to their ability to serve their workforce, customers and communities.