Ports Turn to IT Networks for Visibility into Cargo Data

In the past, “at best, an individual company could see where their own materials or products were in the supply chain,” says Maciek Nowak, interim dean of the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University Chicago. Port operators, on the other hand, “should know where everyone’s products are entering and leaving the port. As such, they can act as traffic controllers for global supply chains, coordinating container flow throughout the system.”

To that end, “technology should be implemented to provide greater visibility across the networks,” says Nowak. With more information sharing, “we can start to unravel supply chain backups or prevent them in the first place.”

This trend can be seen in the country’s port authorities, many of which are owned and operated by local governments. Backed by state and local investment, port authority executives are implementing digital technologies to strengthen their operations and expand the U.S. supply chain.

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The Importance of Data Access for Port Cities

The Utah Inland Port Authority, or UIPA, oversees a sprawling industrial nexus. “It’s literally the crossroads of the west,” says Hedge. “There is a major transcontinental railroad, a major transcontinental highway system, and a major international air hub, all within about a 2-mile radius.”

Here, as in other ports, a lack of data access can be disruptive. “There are problems with data collection and with transparency in ports and large industrial centers and marshalling yards. They tend to be sort of black holes in terms of data connectivity,” says Hedge.

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In order to open the flow of information, UIPA has made efforts to build and operate the Intelligent Crossroads Network, the world’s first private LTE/5G supply chain network.

According to Hedge, port operations are awash with data that could support a more robust supply chain: information on the location and availability of containers, chassis, trucks and so on. The ICN “will be able to record this data live, in real time, without having to rely on human input. It will collect data relating to the movement of goods in our inland port area and feed it live into a standardized network,” he says.

The technology supporting the network intelligence includes Intel NUC, a small form factor PC, and Intel Movidius image processing units that enable compute-intensive visual analysis and workloads with artificial intelligence at the edge

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“Intel provides the edge processing power to process the data stream coming in from the system right there at the edge,” says Hedge. “This gives us the ability to share data in real-time with anyone who has the right to see it.”

“A cargo owner can query the system and say, ‘I’m looking for container #123.’ If our system recognizes container #123 in almost real time, we can let them know it just left the marshalling yard,” he says.

Data visibility “allows you to plan better and strategize better,” he adds. “We’ll be better able to plan and position equipment instead of just reacting.”

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