Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Largest UK Port to Get 5G Support to Automate Dock Cranes and Manage Maintenance

Not Everyone is Happy However After Months of Service Issues
Shipping News Feature

UK – The news that the Hutchison Ports managed Port of Felixstowe has been selected as part of the government's 5G Trials and Testbeds Programme met with mixed reactions when it was announced.

The £3.4 million project has received £1.6 million from the Government as part of 5G Create, a competition to assist innovators exploring new uses for 5G to improve people’s lives and boost British businesses, and the port is to install a 5G Private Network installed by Three UK, in a programme designed to support the development of new use cases and commercial deployment.

Working with its partners Three UK, Cambridge University and Blue Mesh Solutions, along with key subcontractors Ericsson and Siemens, the project will test the potential of 5G across two use cases:

  • Enabling remote-controlled cranes via the transmission of CCTV
  • Deploying Internet of Things sensors and Artificial Intelligence to optimise the predicative maintenance cycle of Felixstowe’s 31 quay-side and 82 yard cranes

The project is designed to demonstrate the productivity and efficiency gains of such technology, whilst reducing unplanned outage. Matt Warman, Minister for Digital Infrastructure said:

“We want to unlock 5G’s potential to revolutionise a wide range of UK industries and 5G Ports is just one project the government is backing to achieve this. Our ports will be more vital than ever as we forge an ambitious new global trading position for the UK post-Brexit, so I’m eager to see what 5G can do to maximise efficiency at Britain’s biggest and busiest container port in Felixstowe.”

Whilst broadly supportive of the advances in technology both freight forwarders and road haulage operators have commented that the lamentable performance of the port in recent months should be paramount in the operator’s mind at the moment. Thousands of containers have been delayed by the backlog at the port and critics will look sideways at the appointment of former Transport Minister Chris Grayling MP in a role at Felixstowe, whilst Hutchison Ports’ executive director, Clemence Cheng moved to assist the government at the Transport Services Trade Advisory Group,

Dr Ajith Parlikad, Reader in Asset Management at Cambridge University said he saw the roll out of the project as a fantastic opportunity to explore how to bring together the advances in Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), 5G, and advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence, to radically transform the way in which assets are managed and maintained in a complex industrial environment. Mike Tomlinson, Managing Director, Business Three UK, observed:

“This project brings together the UK’s largest holder of 5G Spectrum with the UK’s largest container port, supported by world-leading experts in Operational Technology and Narrow Band Internet of Things. This is the perfect platform to test and demonstrate the full potential of 5G mobile technology to a vital and complex industry and develop use cases for wider industries.”

Whilst the port’s customers have been disgruntled over the extreme delays since the installation of Hutchison’s own nGen traffic management system last June, one which had previously been successful elsewhere, those involved directly in the new 5G rollout maintained high hopes for it, with Richard Brooks, Managing Director and CTO of Blue Mesh Solutions saying:

“Connecting IoT sensors into high speed, low latency 5G networks creates a new paradigm for automation and fast decision making. 5G telecommunications infrastructure needs large industry partners, but the creation of new IoT devices and solutions can be commercially exploited by small fast- moving innovative businesses such as Blue Mesh Solutions.

“We welcome the opportunity to work with amazing world leading partners and to have the exciting opportunity to create new high-tech knowledge economy jobs for our smart UK workforce.”

Photo: A still from a Port of Felixstowe video illustrating the use of remote controlled RTGs.