Transforming Europe’s largest port into a digital service

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The Port of Rotterdam is Europe’s largest seaport. In existence since the 13th Century in a shallow delta at the intersection of Germany, France, the Netherlands and the North Sea, the port has grown to handle more than 461 million tons of cargo annually carried by more than 130,000 vessels.

There’s more to the story than sheer numbers, however. To create more value for our clients and for society, we have embarked on a transformational journey to become the best, the smartest and most sustainable port in the world–goals made possible by Internet of Things (IoT) technology.

The IoT has the potential to streamline ship berthing operations for greater efficiency and safety. We are taking this a step further to leverage operational data insights to create new services for our clients, thus transforming the Port of Rotterdam’s value from a physical operation into an innovative digital service of the 21st Century.

How will this work? The port is a busy and active place, with thousands of cargo ships coming and going, tugboats guiding ships in and out of berths, derricks moving containers on and off docks, container trucks coming and going and much more, all in an environment subject to changing weather and sea patterns.

AI driven insights

The collective insights that arise from data shared across the port ecosystem can truly transform the Port of Rotterdam’s operations.

As an example, consider what happens when ships approach our port. We need to tell them everything they need to know for a seamless journey to the berth, including the depth of water, the weather conditions, whether they need tugboats, when they are expected at the berth and more. The IoT lets us coordinate this not with emails or phone calls, but through an easy-to-use digital dashboard.

Digitally optimized berthing can improve safety as well as efficiency. The guidance can reduce wait times, enable faster loading and unloading, and allow ships to come and go more quickly—and shaving an hour from the berthing process can save ship operators USD 80,000.

Adding greater value

Financial gains are only part of the promise of digital transformation. It opens the door to new business models, innovative applications and overall greater value. Imagine a port where the vessels themselves calculate the optimal shipping routes and flag unsafe situations. If we could guarantee 10 centimeters more channel depth, a ship could load many tons more cargo and substantially increase its profits. If it were clear that a container would be ready for pickup in five hours, the owner could plan intelligently to reduce transport costs.

These possibilities explain why we are working with IBM, which shares our vision for an intelligent port and has the IoT and AI technology to help bring the vision to life.

By building a digital platform of the future, the Port of Rotterdam is moving forward on a path that will benefit the port and our clients, and add significant value to the people the port serves.


For more details, watch this video of Paul Smits discussing the digital transformation of port operations.


Chief Financial Officer

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