As part of our exclusive series in partnership with Port Technology, INFORM’s Matthew Wittemeier spoke with Carla Grifo, Global Innovation, Systems & Technology Senior Manager at DP World, to explore what the future, near and far, might hold for the industry. In our first 2038: Future Visions of 2022, Carla offers valuable insights about how ports can make way for new technology and how it’s likely to affect efficiency, sustainability, and employment in maritime.
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MW: We learned at the beginning of 2038 that the Port of Reykjavik is a fully automated terminal with limited onsite personnel. Given the advances of BoxBay and what DP World has managed to achieve in its proof-of-concept phase, is this a possibility? And if so, what are the key steps to getting there?
CG: BoxBay (shipping container High-Bay stacking system) has absolutely become a reality, and with it, the ability to bring automation at an entirely new level to the industry. It’s become an impressive reality for most. We don’t tend to see these large-scale, visual disruptions within our industry like we’ve seen in the past 10 years, we typically are looking at incremental improvements in the hardware and software elements within existing terminals rather than reconceptualizing and building at the scale we’ve achieved with BoxBay. So, to answer your question, yes, it is a reality, but BoxBay is something aligned to address all the challenges we face today.
When I look at a concept like BoxBay, the question is who will go first to implement it. The challenge is that existing sites need to compromise a little bit, and they have to sacrifice part of their existing capacity to get a 70% increase in capacity when BoxBay is deployed. So, good candidates would be locations that have the footprint to do it.
MW: Is BoxBay something DP World is looking at internally for DP World sites globally? Or are you looking to take the concept to third-party locations?
CG: Yes to both. We developed the concept first for DP World and then actively sell it to other players in the market. We are looking at several candidates internally. We are already trying to see which one will be first. It was more of a fight because many terminals want it; a lot raised their hands. We have to think about investment, timelines, current challenges in capacity, etc., before we make final decisions, of course.
MW: Interesting. You mentioned that you’re looking after the software element of the technology that goes into BoxBay. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
CG: In terms of software, I’ll tell you the challenges are minimal. In my background, we talk about yard strategies because you have shuffling, high winds, all kinds of limitations to adapt to. With BoxBay, you don’t. You don’t shuffle containers anymore. You put a container in, and you don’t touch it until it needs to leave the terminal. So challenges in terms of handling software have been absolutely minimal. It’s a simple warehouse management software.
CG: I’ll start by saying that a lot of these technologies become buzzwords, and everybody wants to say they have it under their belt and they have implemented it. The reality is things like artificial intelligence (AI) for our industry today are still under development. So by 2025, I think we would truly have a next-generation terminal operating system (TOS), and it would look like something that factors in cloud computing, next-level Internet of things (IoT), AI, and the use of 5G. I’m confident by 2025, it will definitely be available because I’m also personally involved in working on that.
One of these steps is a global approach. Challenges for existing suppliers have always been related to customization. Instead of really developing strategic functionalities, it’s always been about having to improve on custom, nitty-gritty things for local government requirements and things of this nature. Add to this challenges around systems communication with all the various systems (data sharing) and all the various non-strategic requirements, and the development of a TOS has become very unproductive.
Another challenge that we face at the moment is the capacity for computing. So the hindrance to achieving a really advanced terminal, similar to what you have described in 2038, is that the algorithms in the book are so complex it takes a lot of time to accomplish that task using the equipment we have available today. By the time the algorithm can complete itself, it is likely a person could simply have driven into the terminal and found what they are looking for, as an example.
MW: As an industry, how do we improve the adoption of the technologies you’re discussing? I would argue that to realize the goal of broader adoption of next-level IoT, as an example, we need to take initial steps today. What do those steps look like? What are the initial drivers to fuel this vision of a next-generation TOS in 2025?
CG: Well, that’s a very difficult question, and today, with all the supply chain issues we have for these technical components, it’s a bit hard to answer. But it involves an objective research and development stage. There are many suppliers; a key to success is finding the right partners and suppliers and then integrating things. Start small, achieve a minimum viable product, and expand from that.
MW: Interesting point. Who should be driving forward the technological innovation? Is it the suppliers or vendors, or is it the terminal operators?
CG: The end-user, the terminal operators, should be driving the projects. However, it needs to work in more of a partnership approach without that traditional hard line between the customer and supplier. We really need to become partners.
MW: Do you think the current business strategy, in terms of how enterprise IT, technology systems, and how contracts typically work, allow for those partnerships and the degree of innovation you’re suggesting? Or are they still too rigid?
CG: They’re too rigid. There’s a lot of room for improvement.
MW: Interesting. I would be in agreement with you on that one, but I’m sure all readers will take their own perspective forward with that.
MW: Let’s move on from technology and look at how technology impacts the world of terminals. In 2038: A Smart Port Story, we leverage technology as a framework to explore many of the broader social, environmental, and business trends. What trends do you think will shape the future?
CG: It’s interesting you asked me this question, and I was looking at the questions for this interview around the same time I saw a movie come up. It’s called Don’t Look Up, and it’s influenced my view on this. It’s been predicted that by 2035, quantum computing will be able to break blockchain encryption. So perhaps those of us who have investments in crypto will have to reconsider and make another plan by 2030.
Joking aside, what I really hope, especially after seeing that movie, is that environmental measures will be addressed seriously by then. I’m also involved in looking at decarbonization for our industry. A lot of measures can have a serious impact as opposed to just saying, “Okay, electrification” — they can go far beyond that. Trends related to the environment are the ones that need to be taken seriously now and will already be impactful by 2030. Quantum computing is also going to be very impactful.
MW: So, let’s start with the environment and unpack that a bit further. Typically, when we talk as an industry about sustainability, in particular environmental sustainability, the buzzword at the moment is “electrification,” and that comes with its own challenges. You’ve said we need to move past electrification and look at other measures. Can you give me some examples?
CG: Yes. You could take the way you operate today and maybe electrify the existing equipment. But when you take it to the next level and rethink everything in a smart way, you reduce the amount of equipment, or you change the type of equipment you really need. Electrification is only the start. It’s not just about saying, “Okay, electrify everything, or use battery-operated equipment.” It’s really rethinking the entire strategy and reducing resources as much as you can.
MW: This brings us back to BoxBay. I had the pleasure of seeing a presentation on the pilot program, and the reduction in equipment used to handle a single container is significant.
CG: It is fantastic to see. I have the privilege of seeing it several times, being there, and experiencing what it looks and sounds like. I don’t think many people talk about what it sounds like. If you’ve been in a normal terminal and then you stand in BoxBay, it’s mesmerizing to see these Aisle Stacker Cranes sliding around. Only a handful of equipment that is fully electric and contained in a safe environment where you don’t have people moving around. So, in relation to what we see in your novella, 2038, having BoxBay, you wouldn’t have the situations that you have with AGVs and such.
MW: You’re referring to someone being struck by an AGV, and safety is certainly a prime driver.
MW: Because you mentioned the position of people, I’m going to unpack that a little bit further. Let’s look at the future of humans in terminal operations. Over the last 20 years, as we’ve embraced automation in its varying forms, we’ve already seen significant pushback in different regions across the world to automation. This is partly because it’s taking away human jobs, and obviously, that’s a central theme of 2038: A Smart Port Story. How do you see the evolution of humans versus automated technology within our industry?
CG: I love this question. When I look at our industry, we are far behind when it comes to developing talent and offering opportunities. And of course, it depends on where you are, where you have the strong unions, and the strong pushback against automation. Some sites are really there, while others lag behind. It’s perhaps not quite the solution, but it’s the right place to start to develop the skill-sets that we need in this industry. We do not have them now. It is extremely rare to have a combination of people who can speak technology. I don’t want to say they can speak IT, but they can speak technology – and they can understand the end goal and the purpose of the operations that we currently do. It’s very rare. If you want to add to that, we need people with engineering skills who understand equipment performance. These individuals are almost impossible to find. If we don’t take a strong position now in developing those people, we won’t succeed.
MW: If I heard you correctly then, the talent pipeline or the skill sets that we really need to be looking at are technology-capable individuals and engineering-capable individuals, as opposed to more traditional stevedoring or shoreman skill-sets.
CG: Yes. I started having to lift a lashing bar and having to go and climb all the way up and down the stairs of a quay crane. So, it should be required that even if you’re a data scientist with a fancy degree, you should be exposed to what the operation means and what it looks like because that’s the only smart way to use your data scientist knowledge. So yes, it’s mainly academic development in IT and engineering, but it requires exposure and training in the operational aspects.
Specific roles aside, all the players need to start doing a rotation program with young people who are truly diverse. It’s not enough to just say, “Women, we have 50-50,” but all the women are in specifically traditional female roles. Or to say you have young people, but all the young people are stuck in starting positions, unable to get promoted, and then leave the industry. If we don’t press the accelerator on developing a talent pipeline, that’s where our industry is going to absolutely fail.
MW: Very well-articulated, Carla. I want to circle back to quantum computing because it’s starting to pop up in quite a few of the publications that I read as the next major step forward. We look at the advances in computing power over the last 25 years: an algorithm that used to take 100 years to solve 25 years ago, today can be solved in a second or less. And obviously, with the advent of quantum computing, the types of algorithms we can bring to the industry will fundamentally advance. Unpack a bit further the impact that you think that’s going to have on our industry.
CG: I’m not sure if it will take us to the level of AI you have in 2038 at the same timeline you have in the novella, but it would definitely be at that level where algorithms are working on their own, and all smart decisions are truly smart. We are far from that now. We have a lot of data analytics, business intelligence, every dashboard you could want. But an individual still has to make many of those smart decisions, and quantum computing would allow that individual to not be a human.
MW: Thank you. We’ve reached the end of the interview. We’ve come up to the year 2038. And sadly, that means we must draw to a close in a minute or so. What’s the one thing that our readers should take away from this interview?
CG: Speaking as someone who’s super-passionate about our industry, I would say we need to develop our talent pipeline. We need to break silos and improve communication not only among systems, APIs, etc., but especially among humans.
Who’s Carla Grifo?
Carla Grifo is the Global Innovation, Systems & Technology Senior Manager at DP World, leading provider of smart logistics solutions with a Global Network that spans 64 countries. Based in Dubai HQ, she has 15 years of experience in container logistics, planning, optimization and technologies, keeping a strong focus on Innovation and carrying out projects across the globe. Her focus covers Innovation, Business Analytics, process improvement, development and optimization of Terminal Operating Systems and advanced technology implementations including IoT and AI. Carla is also an advisor and decision committee member for startup grant programmes, lecturer and public speaker.
She holds a Master of Science in Maritime Economics & Logistics as well as executive certifications in Design Thinking and Innovation Management.
What is 2038: Future Visions?
2038: Future Visions is a series of interviews from leading maritime logistics professionals who share what they expect our industry to look like in the year 2038. It is brought to you in partnership with Port Technology. 2038: Future Visions builds on the award-winning book 2038: A Smart Port Story, published by INFORM in 2019.
What is 2038: A Smart Port Story?
2038: A Smart Port Story explores the terminal of the future and the intricacies of technology, and its impact on both the port industry and society. Join Douglas as he unravels the mystery around an incident at the Port of Reykjavik that sees an AGV collide with a human, leaving both of their lives hanging perilously in the balance.
Haven’t read 2038: A Smart Port Story yet? Get started with Part 1 today!
More from the World of 2038 – The Athena Interviews
The Athena Interviews is a series run in 2019 in which INFORM’s Matthew Wittemeier interviewed the main AI character from 2038: A Smart Port Story, Athena, about a broad range of topics surrounding AI. In an interactive video format, readers/viewers are introduced to Athena as together they explore thought-provoking questions about the future of logistics, technology, and AI.
Missed the beginning of The Athena Interviews? You can pick it up from the start at PTI Exclusive: Athena Q&A Part 1.