The digital transformation of Tianjin Port

riviera 26 Jun 2023 Share
Chinese port reveals the future of logistics: 5G, automation and renewable energy

In a world where efficiency and sustainability have become key differentiators, Tianjin Port in China is setting new standards in the port logistics industry. Leveraging 5G technology, automation and renewable energy, the port has undergone a transformative journey, becoming the world’s first port to use large-scale commercial Level-4 (L4) autonomous driving technology. Tianjin Port is also the first port to be certified as carbon neutral, powered with 100% renewable energy provided from solar and wind sources on site.

Tianjin Port is an essential international logistics hub, maintaining trade with more than 800 ports across more than 200 countries and territories. Ranked as the largest port in northern China and in the top 10 in the world, handling more than 20M TEU in 2022, Tianjin Port is a crucial player in global logistics. 

Prior to its digital transformation, the port relied on manual berth scheduling and allocation, which was time-consuming and resulted in high operating costs. In collaboration with Huawei and other partners, Tianjin Port embarked on an ambitious plan to transform operations with the development of the smart container terminal at Section C. The aim of this transformation was to optimise the efficiency of the entire port system – the solution would encompass all areas of operations, from cranes to operators, storage yards, vehicles, ships and cargo. Automating these processes resulted in scheduling and planning work being cut from hours to minutes with a cloud-based centralised transport dispatching system implemented to increase portwide efficiency.  

Intelligent horizontal transport management system

Tianjin Port Second Container Terminal Co general manager Yang Rong says, “Tianjin Port and Huawei used a wealth of new ICTs for our intelligent horizontal transport management system. We created a next-generation ’intelligent port brain’. The system collaborates with key resources to automatically generate optimal loading and unloading plans. It also manages each piece of equipment, optimising the entire dispatch process. Our horizontal shoreline terminal has the largest driverless fleet seen to date, comprised of 76 vehicles.”

The underlying architecture intelligently connects the various port systems, eliminating data and information silos. All applications work together, powered by the smart hub, which centrally manages operations. 

The transformation leveraged Huawei’s 5G telecommunications infrastructure and intelligent ICT infrastructure for ports. This includes the integration of 5G and China’s BeiDou satellite navigation system, which enabled high-precision positioning and real-time path planning to improve operational efficiency. A critical part of this digital transformation was the automation of trucks for transporting containers using intelligent guided vehicles and L4 autonomous driving technologies. This means truck drivers, who now oversee truck operations remotely, are removed from potentially dangerous working conditions and can oversee multiple vehicles at a time.

Efficiency gains

Tianjin Port Group vice president Yang Jiemin highlights the efficiency gains in terms of workforce requirements, noting the smart terminal operates with just 200 workers, compared with 800 required at a traditional terminal. The solution also helps drive efficiencies in other areas: the smart port can move 36 TEU per hour, a marked improvement from the 28-30 TEU at a traditional terminal, reducing overall costs by about 30%.

The automation has also improved safety and working conditions for operators. Operating quay and gantry cranes is an intensive task that can be dangerous and exhausting, with operators working eight-hour shifts from a height of 40 m. The intelligent remote-control platform allows port operators to monitor and operate equipment from a comfortable control centre. Furthermore, the automation led to reduced berthing times by 7%, and cargo loading and uploading times from a single ship by 80%, while improving loading efficiency per hour by 5%.

Huawei’s Intelligent Corps of Highway and Waterway Ports chief technical officer Yue Kun emphasises the dual value of this transformation, “Our intelligent remote-control solution creates business value by increasing productivity and delivers significant social value by enabling safer and more hospitable working environments.”

Sustainability cornerstone

Sustainability was a cornerstone of this transformation. Tianjin Port is substituting fossil fuels and electricity with wind and solar energy. It is producing its own renewable energy, supplementing other traditional power sources. At the same time, the port is consuming 17% less energy overall. This shift towards renewable energy consumption, facilitated by Huawei’s smart technology, is helping optimise and reduce overall energy consumption. The transport of each container consumes 20% less energy, and cranes are 20% more efficient, on average.

The transformation at Tianjin Port marks a significant milestone, not only for China, but for the global port industry. The successful large-scale deployment of autonomous driving and the creation of a net-zero carbon port serves as a blueprint for future port transformations around the globe. 

The use of 5G and L4 autonomous driving is enabling both business and social value, showcasing a compelling case for the automation and intelligent transformation of ports worldwide. 

riviera 26 Jun 2023