As I write this, 31 vessels are anchored and waiting for berths at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. It’s a sign of increasing congestion around the world, caused by a surge in imports, worker shortages, and shutdowns at Chinese ports due to COVID-19. Congestion plus a 900% increase in cyberattacks on maritime systems add up to an urgent problem for the world’s supply chains.

There is good news, however. Innovative port authorities and terminal operators are increasing efficiency, throughput, safety, and security by connecting people, equipment, and applications over Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul. Below, we are providing four top ways IIoT (industrial internet of things) is transforming terminal operations.

1 – Terminal automation with terminal operating systems

To accommodate mega-ships and increase throughput, terminal operators are automating certain manual processes. The engine for automation is a terminal operating system (TOS) that controls container movement around the port or terminal. For example, automating berth planning, yard operations, and gate operations helps improve utilization of assets, labor, and equipment.

Here’s how it works: Information flows between the TOS in the server room to moving assets over Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul. Those assets can include vessels, trains, trucks, and container-handling equipment (CHE) like quay cranes, rubber-tired gantries (RTGs), auto straddle carriers, rail-mounted gantries (RMG), etc.

Leading the way, Malta Freeport connects its TOS to 250 quayside cranes and RTGs moving up to 25 miles per hour over our ultra-reliable wireless backhaul. The TOS sends job orders to crane operators via a monitor on the crane. When operators finish the job, they update their status and continue on to the next job. This eliminates idle time between jobs and increases productivity and throughput.

2 – Integrated TOS and OCR

As containers are unloaded, cameras on ship-to-shore cranes capture images, including standardized markings indicating origin and destination, condition, door direction, etc. The images travel to a local optical character recognition (OCR) server, which interprets the markings and updates the TOS. The TOS can efficiently schedule offload and select a storage area, and is kept up-to-date on newly arrived containers. Throughput increases and safety improves because workers don’t need to go near heavy equipment to read container IDs.

3 – Tele-remote and autonomous vehicle control

With an ultra-reliable wireless network, operators can remotely control cranes from the safety and comfort of a temperature-controlled office. The benefit of autonomous guided vehicles (AGV) is their ability to operate continuously, despite bad weather. Overall, downtime is diminished, productivity improves, and operator safety is ensured.

4 – Cybersecurity

Maritime cyberattacks are on the rise. Famously, a ransomware attack on Maersk in 2018 set off a weeks-long disruption in terminal operations across four countries. Digital processes like tele-remote control and TOS increase the attack surface.

We recommend a four-step process to defend against cyberattacks at ports. First, understand all assets that are connected to the OT network. (You can’t protect what you don’t know about.) Next, segment the OT network into zones containing assets that need to talk to each other. For example, cameras used for OCR don’t need to talk to the tele-remote controller. Segmenting the network keeps malware that infects one zone from spreading to others. Add continuous scanning for malware and unusual activity. Lastly, create a holistic view of all security events by bringing together information from the IT and OT networks.

We make cybersecurity simpler. For starters, automatically discover all industrial assets and assign them to groups using Cisco Cyber Vision. Define policies that control communications within and between groups using Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE). Our industrial ethernet switches enforce the policy.

Intrigued? Visit our Terminal Operations and Ports webpage and watch the webinar replay “Modernize Your Ports & Terminals, Boosting Throughput and Efficiency.”

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Wei Zou

Solution Architect

IoT Product Management Networking