Canadian Shipper


Port Smart

The Port of Hamburg is blazing a trail of automation and digital integration


The movement of containers through the modern port relies on cranes and trucks and always has. But the Port of Hamburg has a different look in mind, one that someday might include drones lifting containers, along with autonomous trucks and high-speed tubes shuttling them to and from the port.

Under its ‘smartPORT’ umbrella, the Hamburg Port Authority (HPA) has pooled numerous projects that test digital and automated technologies in partnership with port operator Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA). As part of its trip to Germany to attend the International Transport Forum’s annual Summit, Canadian Shipper had the opportunity to tour the Port of Hamburg and hear about some the projects recently announced and some that are already underway.

Ranked in the top 20 of world container ports, Hamburg handled 135.1 million tons of cargo in 2018, including 8.7 million twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) containers, making it the third largest container port in Europe. The port boasts 300 berths and a total of 43 kilometres of quay for seagoing vessels at four state-of-the-art container terminals and 50 facilities specialized in handling RoRo and breakbulk cargoes, as well as approximately 7,300 logistics companies within the city limits.


MAN-ning up

In partnership with MAN Truck & Bus, HHLA last year launched the “Hamburg TruckPilot,” which will see the testing of automated and autonomous trucks in real use with HHLA Container Terminal Altenwerder (CTA) and a 70-kilometre stretch of the A7 motorway serving as the field testing environment.

The goal of the partnership between MAN and HHLA is to analyse and validate the exact requirements for customer-specific deployment in a real-world setting and the integration of autonomously driven trucks into the automatic container handling process.

“The project is another important development step for automated driving for MAN,” says Dr Frederik Zohm, board member at MAN. “As with other projects, the focus here is on integrating the system into concrete workflows for a future user. Together with HHLA, we will generate important insights for the further development of the technology into a system that is ready for the customer.”

Beginning earlier this year, the testing phase commenced with two prototype trucks equipped entering the A7 motorway at the Soltau-Ost junction fully automated, then autonomously handling discharge and loading within the Altenwerder container terminal.

According to HHLA, a trained safety driver will always be present in the vehicle during this phase to monitor the automation systems. If required, they will intervene and become an active driver.

Automated driving functions will provide relief and support for truck drivers during their work., said HHLA representatives. For example, assuming the legal fundamentals are in place, the driver could process freight documents during fully automated motorway travel or simply take a rest. In the event of autonomous loading and unloading, the driver can leave the vehicle and use the time for their legally prescribed breaks. Other potential benefits include increasing efficiency through automated defensive driving. Both HHLA and MAN say the project will significantly reduce fuel consumption and can also positively influence the general flow of traffic, as well improve safety in all areas.

The project is part of the strategic transport partnership between the City of Hamburg and the Volkswagen Group and is one of many under the umbrella of the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) World Congress being hosted by the city in 2021.

Speed of sound

Transporting containers at high speed through a tube to and from the Port of Hamburg is the joint vision of HHLA and U.S.-based Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT).

The goal of the joint venture is to develop and later market a Hyperloop transport system for shipping containers. Currently, the construction of a transfer station for testing purposes at a HHLA terminal in Hamburg and the development of a transport capsule for standard shipping containers are planned.

“As a gateway to the future, we want to employ innovative approaches to make a contribution towards relieving the strain on the transport infrastructure in and around the Port of Hamburg and to use the capacities of our terminal facilities in an even more efficient way,” said Angela Titzrath, chair of HHLA’s executive board.

“Together, we will develop a complete system that not only concentrates on speed and efficiency, but also takes into account the issues ports face in daily operation,” added Dirk Ahlborn: founder and CEO of HTT.

“In order for us to remain a leading global logistics hub in the future, we need new ideas and new business models in the logistics environment, as well as infrastructure projects such as the adjustment of the navigation channel of the Elbe River and the expansion of motorways. Michael Westhagemann, Minister for Economy, Transport and Innovation of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. “It is good when we can develop and test such innovations here in Hamburg,”

Behind the concept of the Hyperloop is the idea of transporting people and goods at high speed through a tube. With the help of magnetic levitation technology, the transport capsules used in the system will be sent through a tunnel, in which there is a partial air vacuum, at speeds reaching or even exceeding 1,000 km/h. A test track for transporting people and goods was recently completed in Toulouse, France.

Drones and 5G

HHLA is also mulling use of drones for container transport.

HHLA, along with the Fraunhofer Center for Maritime Logistics have examined the technicalities and Titzrath confirmed that the next step will be an assessment of the economic feasibility.

Drone transport is already technically possible, with large drones capable of carrying loads of up to two tonnes, according to the HHLA.

Drones will also be an indispensable feature of the port, according to Port Authority officials, who envision using underwater drones to monitor quay walls along the Elbe River. Airborne drones could be used, for example, to inspect the load-bearing cables on bridges and HHLA is already successfully deploying drones—some of these autonomous—at its terminals.

Another project providing further momentum for ‘Port 4.0’ with tests of the new 5G broadband network by the Hamburg Port Authority, Deutsche Telekom and Nokia The pilot tests, which serve as a basis for enhancing the 5G standard, began last year and are scheduled to run until 2020.

“The testbed has given us a first impression of the enormous potential that 5G and, in particular, network slicing will offer us,” said Jens Meier, CEO of HPA. “For me, the new standard is the basis for solving challenging tasks in the industry and finally helping digitalization to make a breakthrough. I am proud that Hamburg and the port are among the first to benefit from this technology.”

Going green

Reducing the port’s carbon footprint is another area where Hamburg is on the leading edge. Earlier this year, HHLA took delivery of the first 26.5 tonne container transporter with lithium-ion battery propulsion By the end of 2020, its fleet of almost 100 Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) will have been entirely converted to lithium-ion battery propulsion.

In comparison to the AGVs deployed until now at CTA with lead batteries, the lithium-ion technology is notable for its recharging speed: These batteries can be fully charged in 90 minutes, weigh approximately only one third as much as lead acid batteries, and need no maintenance.

“With the lithium-ion AGV, we are making a contribution to preventing air pollution in Hamburg,” explains CTA general manager Ingo Witte. And, he adds, the environment-friendly transporters make commercial sense too. “Taking the relationship between energy used and actual engine output, they are three times as efficient as their diesel-driven predecessors.”

Over at Container Terminal Tollerort (CTT), HHLA recently installed two straddle carriers with environmentally friendly hybrid engines, which are now transporting containers between the ship, the yard, the rail terminal and the truck gate at the Port of Hamburg. The two prototypes are expected to use at least 15 per cent less diesel than their predecessors. The manufacturer of carriers, Konecranes, forecasts an annual reduction of 30 to 50 tonnes of CO2 per straddle carrier.

The principle behind the hybrid technology is simple: the straddle carrier stores surplus energy, which is, for example, generated during braking or while the load is being lowered, in a high-performance lithium-ion battery. As it drives, the vehicle uses this energy from the battery. This significantly eases the load on the combustion engine.

The Port of Hamburg doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon because they know the other leading container ports around the globe aren’t sleeping either, as the speed of technological developments has continually increased and is still continuing to do so.

“The shippers set the beat,” says Ulrich Wrage, CEO of Dakosy, the port authority’s IT service provider. Global trading groups like Amazon and Alibaba, “take a very close look at just what a port can, or cannot, do.”

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