Taking a look at the world around us, it is clear that technology is making boundless industrial and societal processes more efficient. From online booking tools to lock scheduling systems, today’s ports have a wide range of these technological tools at their fingertips – all with the goal to improve safety, accessibility and efficiency.
For the maritime world in particular, key examples of technology are found in the fields of energy production and management, sensor technology and drones. And while nanotechnology and artificial intelligence are expected to make their mark on tomorrow’s world, advances in ICT are forging change in today’s market.
The recently launched TEUbooker demonstrates that change. This online booking portal for container transport within the Port of Rotterdam uses algorithms to make a direct match between supply and demand in the market. The word algorithm crops up quite a lot when discussing advances in ICT.
Algorithms are sets of calculations in problem-solving processes and they are present throughout today’s maritime world: fuel and propulsion optimisation, fleet management, shipping route optimisation and vessel design are just a few examples.
However, the critical point with these advances is that technology has to be combined with human ideas. For TEUbooker founder Frans Swarttouw, the idea of using algorithmic technology to match the supply and demand of container movements came from his experience in the container logistics sector: “For the last six years I have worked with terminals, operators, forwarders, port authorities as well as hinterland ports, of course.”
He noticed quite a lot of unused capacity on the barges and trains that move between terminals within the Port of Rotterdam and to and from the hinterland. “TEUbooker is about offering that capacity to the market. Furthermore, it is an open platform: every operator that wants to participate is more than welcome. To book a container is free – we invoice the operators per TEU booked.”
One particular advantage of such a system is its potential to reduce the number of containers being moved on the roads and to increase the amount transported by train and inland shipping. “This is the so-called modal shift which has been a focus of ports for many years and is a complex process. The easier you make it to book a container on a train or inland shipping vessel, the faster you will achieve this modal shift”, explains Swarttouw.
“We need to get more traffic off the major highways in the Netherlands. Everybody is tired of wasting their time in traffic jams. Many forwarders have consulted TEUbooker in the past months and I am amazed that some are still 100 per cent truck-oriented.”
To the hinterland
Swarttouw goes on to highlight the importance of the modal shift: “It can ultimately increase an individual port’s competitive position and it is also important environmentally. In this way, TEUbooker is a tool to contribute to less freight being carried over the roads, and therefore less pressure on the environment. Our initial figures demonstrate this – just 2 per cent of containers were booked on trucks and 86 per cent onto inland vessels.”
Even though TEUbooker was launched in Rotterdam, the platform has ambitions for growth: “Many operators see the benefit of tapping into this online distribution channel. The Internet is the perfect outlet to reach smaller shippers and forwarders”, states Swarttouw. “And because there is so much traffic between ports, the next step, therefore, is to introduce TEUbooker for hinterland connections. From Rotterdam to Munich or to Duisburg, for example. The dream is to roll out this concept to other ports in Northwest Europe.”
From the point of view of a port, the importance of opti