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Digitization the way forward for the ports

02 November 2021

Automated cargo handling is far in the future for most Swedish ports. Significantly more interesting is to use the possibilities of digitization to make port calls, including loading and unloading, more efficient. A new pre-study carried out within the Swedish Transport Administration's industry program Sustainable Shipping shows that Swedish ports are good at understanding their stakeholders and seeing their role as a logistics node in a larger transport system.

With the help of automatic and remote-controlled cranes, large ports around the world have come a long way with automation of loading and unloading.

“It is primarily container calls that are automated and it is still associated with expensive investments and large volumes. This is not where Swedish ports see the main potential today”, says Linea Kjellsdotter Ivert, one of the researchers behind the pre-study Intressentanalys av Sveriges hamninfrastruktur.

Digitization itself is a different ballgame. Sweden is at the forefront of technological development with digital administration and communication systems to achieve "smart" and more efficient port calls and the Swedish ports are very engaged.

“The right thinking about efficiency, fast flows and customer service can provide competitive advantages. Digitization will be a tool to achieve this”, says Linea Kjellsdotter Ivert and continues:

“A clear trend is that the market role is becoming increasingly important for Swedish ports. It is important to understand and work with their customers, such as product owners, logistics companies and shipping companies. In the interview study carried out within the framework of the project, it is clear that Swedish ports are good at understanding their stakeholders and at seeing their role as an important hub in a larger transport system.”

However, it appears that there is to large extent an overcapacity in the Swedish port infrastructure, which can lead to difficulties in reaching a high level of service in a cost-effective manner. Furthermore, there are several stakeholders who believe that it is difficult to get staff after regular working hours at a reasonable cost. Still the conditions of the stevedoring are largely outside the port's direct control.

“Something that many stakeholders are thinking about is the number of ports in Sweden. The competition is fierce and many ports are working hard to increase their volumes. There are different strategies for that. Some ports try to attract volumes at the expense of other ports, others ally with each other and try to find different ways, for example by allocating segments, to compete.”

“Some stakeholders are convinced that many ports are needed to bring about a transfer of transport from road to sea. Others find it difficult to see the need and believe that there are too many ports in Sweden to achieve efficiency”, says Linea Kjellsdotter Ivert.

The pre-study is based on twenty-four interviews with ports, commodity owners, shipping companies, freight forwarders, terminal operators, port authorities and regions and municipalities. A review of the Swedish Transport Administration's forecasts of freight volumes has also been made.

The study was conducted by Linea Kjellsdotter Ivert, Axel Merkel, Joakim Kalantari (all at VTI) and Vendela Santén, Martin Svanberg and Sönke von Wieding (all at SSPA).

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