Since early 2020, the U.S. has grappled with disruptions in the international supply chain, much of which was a direct result of the Covid pandemic. Between the labor shortage and rising consumer demand, ports have struggled to quickly process the shipping containers coming in and out.
The shipping congestion reached a peak in the summer of 2021 when nearly 100 ships were queued outside of the Los Angeles port. The congestion took months to remedy, with aftereffects trickling into 2022. Flash forward to this year, and the LA port as of this writing has only ten ships queued. But unfortunately, the same cannot be said for East Coast ports, at which record-high queues are forming, adding further strain to the supply chain.
Technology Is Key
In order to untangle this supply chain mess, the best place to start problem solving is the ports themselves. Besides adding more terminals, what can be done to improve the functionality of the ports? The answer may lie in better technology. One solution to this problem would be for ports to create digital twins. Digital twins involve the virtual replication of a real-life environment, which can be modified to test out new configurations without affecting the real environment. The programs that run digital twins use sensors and real-world data to create a virtual model of a particular organization or process. The digital twin can then help predict how changes will play out in the environment and then simulate the outcome.
Digital twins allow facilities to replicate massive and complex environments. Las Vegas used a digital twin to simulate what it would be like to add more casinos to the Strip, change traffic patterns, increase the population, simulate emergency situations, and so much more. A digital twin could be a great tool to test out new automation technologies for ports and see how much additional volume the port can handle.
Role of Blockchain
Another technology that can help in modernizing ports is blockchain. We tend to associate blockchain with cryptocurrency, but blockchain could actually help make port systems more organized and efficient. Blockchain involves the decentralized, public digital recording of financial transactions across all computers on a network. The technology keeps a record of the movement of different assets, whether that asset be tangible or intangible.
Blockchain also pairs perfectly with a digital twin, recording all of the data from simulations and creating a transaction history, sort of like digital breadcrumbs, which engineers can then use to implement changes. Blockchain could thereby help ports pool data from different stages of the cargo receiving and dispatching process to help identify weak spots and pain points.
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