Industry leader eyes Belt & Road Initiative market, committed to tech innovation

As Global Port Operators are stepping up efforts to advance automation and bring their efficiency to the next level, the Chinese Industry has taken the lead in testing the application of 5G technology on terminal equipment, which will become a game changer that advances the future of Smart Ports.

Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries Co (ZPMC), a world leading supplier of Port equipment system solutions, recently released a white paper on 5G Smart Ports jointly with Huawei, China Mobile and Vodafone.

The white paper provides an in-depth interpretation of 5G usage cases which can be applied to building automated and intelligent ports, aiming to accelerate application research and project commercialisation. As the hubs of modern transportation, ports play an important role in promoting international trade.

However, the rapid development of global sea transportation cannot be achieved as required because traditional ports rely on human resources to operate container cranes in limited working environments, with high labour intensity and insufficient personnel.

Port automation and intelligent reconstruction have become the industry’s overarching goals.

5G Support

With 5G gearing up thanks to its low latency, large bandwidth and high reliability, the technology will provide a new communications solution for port equipment and inject new impetus into smart port reconstruction, said Zhu Lianyu, Chairman of ZPMC.

ZPMC has attached great importance to 5G and began tests in 2018, Zhu told t after an industry forum held in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.

“We face some problems when helping to build smart ports for instance, the speed of data and image transmission cannot meet our expectations. So we have been exploring the adoption of more advanced technology to break the technology bottleneck,” Zhu said.

“The commercial use of 5G in China this year brought opportunities to ZPMC and we hope our customers around the world can understand and apply such advanced technology,” Zhu said, noting the changes will not only take place in bandwidth but in comprehensive aspects of ZMPC’s major work.

Since the second half of 2018, ZPMC has been testing 5G applications on terminal equipment at Qingdao Port, East China’s Shandong Province. Phase 3 of the Shanghai Yangshan Deep Water Port in Shanghai has also been tested and they will further apply the technology in Phase 4 of Nansha Port, South China’s Guangdong Province, in the future.

“ZPMC, which leads growth in the industry, is a forerunner in testing 5G applications to support smart ports, which sets a good example for us,” a customer of ZPMC who elected to remain anonymous told.

The customer, who works for a port in South Korea, said that although 5G technology has not been tried in local ports in South Korea, it is a “future trend and we are also conducting research.”

Traditional industrial communications have some common defects such as low generality, limited applications and requirements for professional maintenance, and upgrading for 5G technology can improve such defects, Yan Liang, a technical senior employee of the Smart Solutions Group of ZPMC, told the industry forum in Dubai.

But there are also some existing problems of 5G application in Ports, Yan said, noting that the earliest available industrial equipment will only be ready in the middle of next year and the exploration of a business model for industrial application is still underway.

US Presence

By pushing through technological innovation, ZPMC, also the world’s largest port machinery manufacturer, has endeavoured to gain increased presence across the globe over the past two decades despite slowing growth in the port industry due to anti-globalisation and protectionism in the world market.

The Chinese company has provided products and services to about 300 harbours in 103 countries and regions, which accounted for more than 70 percent of the global market.

The international smart port market is projected to reach $5.3 billion by 2024 from an estimated $1.7 billion in 2019, according to an industry report

One of the most important markets in the US, which ZPMC entered in 1994.

“Our American partners’ attached importance to linking with ZPMC and the bilateral cooperation has been sound during previous years, Li Ming, general manager of ZPMC’s US branch, told.

The US’ demand for large port machinery has continued to rise in recent years and, since the developed country started using port machinery about 20 to 30 years ago, it is now time to upgrade the old equipment, which provides opportunities for ZPMC, Li said.

“Although the company is under pressure from the ongoing trade tensions between China and the US, tie-ups with US firms cannot be easily separated,” said Zhu.

“The trade tensions will also affect other countries, so we are considering how ZMPC can make deployments around the world in the future to avoid such risks,” Zhu noted.

Many challenges persist when going global. “The firm focused too much on sales instead of providing after-sale services in past years, which is an issue that we hope to fix – how to offer solutions for the total life cycle of the products,” Zhu said.

Li said that the firm is strengthening efforts to build services teams in the US, creating a network to guarantee the needs of its US customers.

“There have been contributions to local economic growth when developing in the US – creating employment for local people,” Li said.

BRI Growth

Compared to developed countries, developing economies are more likely to see larger growth potential in the smart port market in the coming years. Such countries include many in Africa, South America, the Middle East, and countries and regions along the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) routes, according to Zhu.

Countries and regions along the BRI routes have experienced the benefits of building connections, and the initiative is driving companies like ZPMC to make contributions to local economic development, according to Zhu.

As one of the vital hubs along the BRI routes, UAE is actively involved in the initiative

Phase 2 of Khalifa Port, owned by the United Arab Emirates’ Abu Dhabi Ports, has received its first set of ten automated rail-mounted gantry cranes and ship-to-shore quay cranes produced by ZPMC for the COSCO Shipping Abu Dhabi Terminal, which arrived from Shanghai in October 2018, according to media reports.

The terminal, with an annual designed throughput of 2.5 million 20-foot equivalent units, was developed and is operated by COSCO Shipping Ports.

The cranes will be fully integrated with Khalifa Port’s current terminal operating system, allowing it to become the first semi-automated port in the region.

Quay cranes are supported by an AI-driven cargo handling system, video cameras are hung on the girders of the cranes and can capture container numbers and match them in the system, said Guo Haowei, a technician working at the terminal.

It is the first such application globally and its recognition rate is roughly 98 percent, Guo told.

“It greatly helps to improve our work efficiency since remote operation, which only needs 2 to 3 people, does not require many workers on site,” Guo said.

The terminal was officially launched in December 2018 and welcomed its first large commercial vessel operation in April 2019.

Supported by smart equipment that is designed to be controlled remotely and swiftly transfer shipments, the COSCO Shipping Abu Dhabi Terminal will further increase the capacity of Khalifa Port, which will better serve trade and economic growth in the region and bring benefits for local people, industry insiders said.

The operation of the port will strengthen the United Arab Emirates and help it become an important fulcrum for global trade, enhance the diversity of its economy and build the BRI to promote world interconnection, Wang Min, general manager of the Construction & Procurement Department under COSCO Shipping Ports, told.

Before starting the project, COSCO Shipping Ports carried out global public bidding, and ZPMC stood out thanks to its strong competitiveness in the industry, Wang said.

It needed to meet certain requirements from local governments, consider the uniqueness of the local weather and comply with the owner’s technical standards, specifications and automation demand, Wang noted.