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Experts offer digitalised advice

New technologies, digitalisation, climate change and the environment are all having an increasing impact on port/terminal design, construction and cargo handling operations

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Royal HaskoningDHV now uses Building Information Modelling (BIM) concepts
Royal HaskoningDHV now uses Building Information Modelling (BIM) concepts

The need to reduce a port’s impact on local and often delicately balanced ecosystems, while ensuring its suitability and sustainability over several generations and ability to satisfy a region’s economic growth and realise its future development potential, is presenting a myriad of challenges for the industry.

Maritime consulting engineers are on the frontline when it comes to addressing these issues and finding solutions. These consulting engineers are employed to assess sites, evaluate initial ideas and plans, and then put in place detailed design, environmental, work and execution programmes.

In addition, some clients expect the engineering companies to undertake full commercial and technical due diligence exercises, including cargo volume and revenue forecasts, competition analyses and opex and capex requirements.

In all aspects of the business, consulting engineers need to look very carefully at how they best address the many issues they are confronted with. They also have to take on board new technologies and systems, and they need to be able to deliver reports and advice more efficiently and in an environment where commissioning fees are becoming more competitive.


Research carried out by Melbourne-based Aurecon has highlighted how many organisations are becoming at serious risk of complacency, lacking the leadership required to tackle the complexities of digital issues, especially in regard to their physical assets and infrastructure.

Aurecon carried out a mix of online surveys and in-depth interviews with over 100 business leaders, analysts and forecasters, and it revealed that:

● Nine out of 10 organisations had faced some sort of challenge in embracing digital concepts.
● 68% believed the definition of digital was only “somewhat” shared across their organisation.
● Just 26% of respondents had a chief digital executive leading their strategy.
● 28% thought the responsibility for digitalisation “sat within” the IT department.

“These results indicated that there were significant gaps of understanding when it came to digitalisation in many organisations, and this reinforced the need for C-suite leaders to own and drive digital strategies for optimal results,” stressed Dr Andrew Maher, the company’s chief digital officer.

“Digital is about so much more than systems and technology. It transforms the physical, spanning across our cities, workplaces, homes, environment, people and assets. It’s imperative that organisations have strong leadership in place to really drive this, and organisations with a chief digital executive have much higher opportunities to connect strategy, performance, revenue and return on investment.”


Digital benefits

He elaborated: “Digital can help us solve problems and overcome challenges, be more efficient, work smarter and generate new revenue. For example, being able to better manage the lifecycle of an asset using sensors and data analytics can have a significant impact on an organisation’s balance sheet while leading to real gains in productivity. However, achieving these outcomes now and into the future heavily depends on how well organisations can effectively navigate this complex digital world.”


Peter Ayres, who was recently appointed Aurecon’s leader for global structures, agreed. “The speed and refinement with which today’s engineers can use technology to design ever more complex and high-performing structures has fundamentally changed,” he said.


“Gone are the days of hard number-crunching to analyse structures to comply with codes and standards. In the future, engineers will spend more time finding creative solutions to complex problems, rather than creating complicated mathematical formulae.

“For the 21st century structural engineer, many processes can now be almost entirely automated. It remains crucial to master basic principles, but real added value comes in understanding when and how to apply the increasingly complex tools at our disposal to deliver more creative solutions.


“As technology enables the design of complex structures to be completed faster and with less effort from humans, this will enable engineers to spend more time on empathy and ideas, rather than logic and numbers.

“This is enabling engineers to be more engaged with the entire process from design, through procurement to construction, using digital tools to augment creativity, driven by the end-user experience.”

Aurecon's Andrew Maher says digital can provide many benefits including greater efficiencies
Aurecon's Andrew Maher says digital can provide many benefits including greater efficiencies

Master builders?

Ayres thinks the consulting engineering business may see a return to the days of the “master builders” of previous years, but with very different skill-sets at their disposal. He explained: “We will require engineering leaders to be talent magnets for a different style of engineer – right-brain thinkers who have more appreciation for diversity, architectural engineering, coding and sketching, and who have greater empathy and better communication skills.


“At a fundamental level, I firmly believe that structural design is about ideas, not numbers. We need engineers who can free their left brain of repetitive tasks, so it can reach its peak in applying critical focus into the brilliant ideas of the right brain – people who can conceive an idea, communicate it, and then work with digital tools.”

Netherlands-headquartered Royal HaskoningDHV (RH), which is among the leading design, engineering, master planning and port advisory groups in the world, has completely changed its approach.

“All of our projects are now designed using Building Information Modelling (BIM) concepts as standard, and we are also proud to be developing a series of parametric design approaches to enhance our design tools and streamline our design processes,” the company said. “We always design ports to our customers’ needs. By using digital tools we can combine digital ways of working with technology, such as mixed and augmented reality, to help our clients’ ports work smarter.”

The consultant explained that such tools allow client concerns to be addressed quickly and early on in the process. This allows collaborative, collective and confident decisions to be made, and these accelerate the design process, in turn contributing to significant savings in the construction, asset management and operational phases of the project.

Parametric design

When using the so-called parametric design concepts, dimensions of an asset are not given rigid values but set ‘parameters’ within which they must operate. “As these parameters are allowed to vary, changing a design is fast and straightforward,” said RH. “The method also drives efficiency, as multiple teams can work on a project simultaneously, rather than having to wait until specific details and values have been agreed.”

Moreover, the concept allows multiple factors to be addressed concurrently, and for thousands of calculations to be performed in a second, resulting in what RH referred to as “the most efficient and appropriate solutions being output”.


A key advantage in a smart port environment is that parametric design can rapidly respond to information collected by port/terminal sensors. RH pointed to the example of a new access road. “If a new roadway is being designed, and the port’s data recorders note traffic congestion under certain conditions, the design can rapidly be changed to improve vehicle flow. Not only is the road widened, for example, but other associated objects and assets are automatically adjusted within the design.”

RH believes these technologies are becoming more important in design-related work, as they enable stakeholders to gain a visual impression of what a new port would look like. RH said: “It allows all entities – designers, stakeholders, clients and asset managers – to visualise and interact with data. For example, it can visualise strain through a structure, or help us understand the impact on marine life of lengthening a dock wall.”

Having access to data and digital technologies, and then using such resources more effectively is becoming increasingly important in the port consultancy domain. Last year, RH invested in several data sciences companies, acquiring Ynformed and buying a majority shareholding in HAL24K.

“Over the past few years, the focus of most port authorities and operators has shifted towards improving the efficiency of their operations,” said Craig Huntbatch, business line director, maritime and aviation at RH. “Smart ports have a large role to play in this field – from the use of sensors to forecast maintenance requirements, right through to terminal automation and the potential for digital twins of port operations.”

Getting smarter

RH is investing heavily in the smart ports concept and has expanded its team, bringing in expertise from the IT, global shipping and logistics sectors, to support its initiatives.

The group’s focus is to provide smart digital solutions to both new and existing ports/terminals, covering:
● Asset management.
● Port and terminal operations.
● Port design and layout.

“Our joint expertise brings unrivalled insights for smart ports, by using the ports’ own data and combining it with other sources of information,” said RH. “Our approach applies data analytics to virtual design modelsto make reliable predictions about operational outcomes and performance. Once again, for our clients, this can drive significant efficiency gains, and create confidence in future investment decisions.

“Our proven track record in innovation and problem-solving places us in a perfect position to create tailormade solutions that solve unique challenges and unlock opportunities for any smart port,” explained RH. “Our company embraces digitalisation to enhance our proven expertise in the maritime sector.”

In Australia, RH has worked on a project for North Queensland Bulk Ports (NQBP). The port company wanted insights into how new technologies might raise its efficiency and improve its competitive position. NQBP operates mainly coal-handling facilities in the ports of Abbot Point, Hay Point, Mackay and Weipa.

Key drivers

“We began by considering the key drivers for NQBP wanting to make its ports ‘smart’ – such as improving operational efficiency, reducing energy usage, limiting environmental impact, reducing congestion and improving safety – before providing the basis for adopting smart technologies, systems and ways of working,” explained RH.


“The end result was presented to the client as an overview of the smart technologies that are already available to be implemented at NQBP’s ports right now, together with an indication of what their operations could look like in the future.”

Increasingly, simulation and emulation techniques are becoming key tools for consulting engineers. Moffatt & Nichol, RH and BMT have all developed applications in these areas. They are used to assist in the construction of the whole port, decide on equipment mixes and systems that should be used in individual terminals, and/or whether to design/redesign manual, semi or fully automated facilities.

In July, RH finalised its purchase of the UK-based Lanner Group, a hybrid software and consultancy firm specialising in predictive simulation for industrial clients. WITNESS, which is Lanner’s simulation software module, connects physical assets, processes and resources into a single digital model that delivers actionable insights to make business operations and supply chains more resilient and efficient.

Although most of Lanner’s clients are in the industrial sector, RH’s CEO, Erik Oostwegel, believes the acquisition will strengthen its position in the maritime sector. “Simulation is the most cost-effective way to assess ‘what if’ scenarios of business process changes,” he said. “Predictive simulation helps to make fact-based investment decisions, improve operational efficiency and embrace Industry 4.0. We are pleased to welcome the experts of Lanner and their proven technology, and by combining our extensive engineering and consultancy knowledge with data-driven and technologybased solutions, we can better advise and support our clients to run a sustainable business.”

Hannah Vickers, CEO of ACE
Hannah Vickers, CEO of ACE


Moffatt & Nichol’s FlexTerm is a 3D visualisation tool that has been widely used at many ports and terminals to help owners and operators make informed short and longterm decisions. While it has mainly been used to improve operations and productivity in large container terminals, FlexTerm can be used to simulate bulk cargo movements within a facility.

In particular, it can assist planners in optimising cargo routings, evaluating a terminal’s handling capacity, and measuring equipment performance. It can also be used to compare alternative scenarios under normal operating conditions or in the event of a conveyor or machine breakdown.

The use of such simulation and emulation techniques allows for more thorough investigations to be carried out, and for a multitude of scenarios to be tested, including the influence of weather, for example, on the berthing of different size/classes of vessel. Of course, all results can be thoroughly assessed and action taken well in advance of engineering design work being finished and construction work starting.

It is clear that in all construction projects, and this includes ports and terminals, engineering consultants are having to spend more time in assessing their impact on local communities. It was an issue addressed by Hannah Vickers, CEO of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), at the recently convened Future of Consultancy conference in London.

“Change is everywhere and affecting the industry here and now,” she said. “We are seeing more devolution and city mayors with much more influence on their local areas, so we need to have a closer relationship with regional stakeholders.”

She added: “The consultancy and engineering sector needs to be more aware of the social impact of its work. The expectations of us from society will increase as issues, like climate change, have a bigger impact on life, for example. There will be much more of an onus on the industry to think of our social impact.”





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