African ports urged to adopt smart technology to drive efficiency

African ports can benefit enormously from digital transformation by adopting smart systems to keep the supply chains moving smoothly, Huawei, one of the leading global providers of information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and smart devices, has said.

According to the firm, the digitisation of Africa’s ports will be a logical solution to meet the increasing demand for freight transport volumes.

This, the company said, will also enhance Africa’s trade efficiency, and investment attraction, and bring about huge economic and social development.

The tech firm also advised African governments that are investing in expanding port infrastructure to alleviate congestion and delay, which adds a lot to the trade costs, to simultaneously look at digitisation for the operational aspects of port management.

“Ports are where cargo begins and ends its journey,” Jiang Kaimin, senior marketing expert at Huawei’s customs and port business, said.

According to Kaimin, ports must operate every single day, and delays in any part of the process of arrivals and departures, shoreside operations, horizontal transport, yard, and gate operations, and tractor or trailer transport can result in enormous financial loss.

Using Tianjin as an example, Kaimin said Huawei has used cloud-based centralised dispatching to increase port-wide efficiency.

“With the introduction of an intelligent horizontal transport system, the port has resolved the disadvantages of existing systems, with autonomous vehicles travelling multiple paths through the port complex, safely and efficiently. Precision positioning allows for 90 percent of quay cranes successfully aligning on the first try, maximising time and operational efficiency,” he explained.

Yang Chen, vice president of Huawei Southern Africa Region, said that the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement (AfCFTA) is another important factor in the need to increase port efficiencies in Africa.

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“Improving port operations through digital transformation will further enable Africa to integrate into global markets and handle the additional volume of regional trade,” Chen said.

Africa is home to over 100 port facilities, including massive terminals in Durban, Port Elizabeth, and Cape Town in the south, Mombasa and Dar es Salaam in the east, and Lagos in the west. About 90 percent of Africa’s imports and exports travel by sea.

Statistics show that the volume of trade through these ports is enormous with South Africa alone in pre-pandemic 2019 handling almost 5 million 20-foot container equivalents (TEU) with just over 9000 ship calls nationally.

However, few of these ports operate optimally, lacking a fully integrated rail and road system which enables all of the operational elements to ‘speak’ to each other, and for freight and logistics companies to monitor the progress of their goods.

Manually operated loading and offloading at the ports is fraught with potential dangers and delays and the entire sector is therefore failing to extract the most out of what could be a far more lucrative freight economy.

Citing Tianjin Port in China as an example, Huawei has built an intelligent horizontal transport system at the terminal of Section C in the Beijiang Port Area, achieved through unified data sharing using smart technologies such as 5G, cloud computing, big data, and IoT.

The increased use of 5G, AI, and AR technologies in scenario-based solutions such as those introduced by Huawei into Tianjin Port can improve not only portside operations but can also assist in the overall integration of transport nodes into and out of ports, which is currently a weakness in a number of African countries.

Fully connected road, rail, air, and port models will position African port operations at the forefront of smart, safe, and environmentally sound hubs for the export and import of goods on which the continent relies, the firm added.

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