Rotterdam: Europe’s best-connected city

"Rotterdam is a maritime hotspot for promising digital innovations.” Find out how the collaborative culture of this maritime cluster is helping Rotterdam become the smart port of the future. It will also ensure we are fully prepared for whatever happens, including Brexit.

The global maritime sector is undergoing radical digitalisation. Rotterdam, Europe’s most connected city and digital gateway, is leading the way. It is Europe’s Maritime Capital and home to the largest port and most complete maritime and offshore cluster in Europe. The port and wider maritime cluster invest heavily in innovation. And, they work together to drive smarter and optimised logistics chains that ensure superior access to the EU single market and beyond.

There are already many initiatives across the city spearheading the use of digital platforms, IoT sensors and data science. They are all working towards one common goal: to take Rotterdam’s ambition to be the world’s smartest port and make it happen.

Europe’s best-connected city

Rotterdam is already Europe’s biggest port and best-connected city, according to the 2018/2019 Foreign Direct Investment Index (fDi-index). This is a bi-annual ranking by fD Intelligence, published by the Financial Times that ranks cities that offer the best prospects for foreign investment, economic development and corporate expansion. This top ranking is thanks to Rotterdam’s excellent physical infrastructure and significant investment in high quality digital infrastructure and innovation.

The Port of Rotterdam is accessible 24 hours a day, with no tide restrictions. As well as the port, Rotterdam boasts two international airports and an extensive network of modern, well-maintained roads, railways and inland waterways. That means easy and efficient access to the EU single market of 500 million consumers.

Rotterdam doesn’t dwell in the past, or even the present, but always has its eyes on the future. It’s a fresh, vibrant city with ambitious goals, a culture of experimentation and the expertise to deliver on projects in the real world. One of those goals is to become the world’s smartest port and it is investing in advanced infrastructure to make that happen.

Digital innovation is everywhere in Rotterdam

“Rotterdam is a maritime hotspot for the development of the most promising digital innovations to make our port even smarter,” says Mark Dijk, External Affairs Manager at the Port of Rotterdam Authority. “This includes projects to optimise logistics supply chains and to ensure seamless traffic and cargo circulation to improve safety and efficiency. This gives us a strong competitive edge.”

One crucial innovation has been the Port Community System of Portbase. This supply chain-wide digital solution allows all links in the port to exchange information easily and efficiently. Through the Port Community System, Portbase offers over 40 different services for all links in the logistics chain – from containers and general cargo to dry bulk and liquid bulk – allowing greater efficiency and reduced costs.

Portbase is helping the Port of Rotterdam prepare for a multitude of possible future developments in the maritime and logistics sector. That includes Brexit. Once the UK is no longer part of the EU single market, customs obligations will be in effect at Dutch ports and having the Port Communication System in place will make this much easier to handle.

“The Port of Rotterdam, in close cooperation with Dutch Customs, the transport and logistics sectors, and the Rotterdam port community are advising exporters and importers to urgently subscribe to Portbase,” says Mark Dijk. “Portbase is a convenient way for exporters and importers in EU-UK freight trade to comply with the new customs formalities that will apply to both short-sea and ferry traffic as soon as Brexit materialises. However, for this solution to work properly, every link in the logistics chain must participate. We are, therefore, urging all parties to subscribe to Portbase without further delay, to ensure cargo can always be swiftly transported via the Dutch ports, even after Brexit.” Full information about how to get ready for Brexit is available via the Portbase website.

Despite the uncertainty around Brexit, Rotterdam is preparing to stay connected (physically and digitally) with the UK, both in the short term and to assure market access to the rest of Europe in the long term. All the key players in Rotterdam are committed to making this happen – we are working together as a city, but also with the UK. We are in this together as countries.

Rotterdam: always staying one-step ahead

The maritime cluster in Rotterdam is future-obsessed and continually driving innovations. One recent example of this is Pronto, Rotterdam’s new port call optimisation system. This video explains how this shared platform offers shipping companies, agents, terminals and other service providers a smarter, more efficient way to exchange information about port calls. Pronto reduces waiting times for ships (up to 20%) and results in better predictability and lower CO2 emissions.

Maritime shipping emits around 1 billion tonnes of CO2 each year. Just in Time sailing supported by Pronto will significantly reduce this. Eliminating unnecessary early arrivals at the port enable ships to sail slower, consume less fuel and reduces the anchor time. Pronto can monitor the optimal sailing speed of a vessel before arrival and gives an alert when the vessel is going to reach the pilot boarding place early.

Rotterdam is an up-and-coming tech hub

Rotterdam is determined to maintain its world-leading position as a centre of maritime expertise. That means never standing still. Innovations are constantly being created, tested and applied in Rotterdam. The open innovation ecosystem offers great business opportunities for large companies, as well as SMEs, to work with leading maritime companies on new technology that will transform the future of shipping and logistics. One of those new tech companies is digital freight broker, Shypple.

“When we launched our platform in 2017 we had a vision to be the Expedia of the freight forwarding business,” says Jarell Habets, Founder & CEO with Shypple. “And, we knew Rotterdam was the perfect place to bring such an innovative product to market.”

Shypple works with exporters, production companies, wholesalers and leading ecommerce providers to make global trade virtually frictionless. Being in Rotterdam means they are close to their customers and part of a cluster of logistics expertise.

“This helps us to attract the best new tech talent,” continues Jarell. “Rotterdam is such a vibrant and liveable city, with great co-working spaces. As such, it’s attracting more and more companies and individuals from Amsterdam and London.”

Collaboration is key

SmartPort Rotterdam epitomises the spirit of cooperation so essential to bringing these effective innovations and digital solutions to market. This joint venture between some of the city’s key players, including the Port of Rotterdam Authority, Deltalinqs, the Municipality of Rotterdam, TNO, Deltares, Erasmus University and Delft University of Technology, was established in 2015.

“We coordinate scientific research and accelerate port specific innovation in areas such as digitalisation, smart logistics, energy transition and port infrastructure,” explains Dirk Koppenol, Portfolio Manager at SmartPort. “We’re at the very beginning of Rotterdam’s innovation ecosystem,” continues Dirk. “We’ve instigated over 70 collaborative research projects since 2015. These have brought businesses, scientists and government bodies together to find solutions to the real world problems we all need to solve over the next 10 to 30 years.”

Embracing IoT

The Port of Rotterdam currently handles over 469 million tonnes of cargo and more than 149,000 vessels a year. “Speed and efficiency are essential,” says Mark Dijk at the Port of Rotterdam. “That’s why we’re embarking on a radical programme of digital transformation.”

The port is installing sensors to gather multiple data streams. These include water (hydro) and weather (meteo) data about tides and currents, temperature, wind speed and direction, water levels, berth availability and visibility. The Port of Rotterdam is working with IBM’s cloud-based IoT technologies to analyse this data. The insights gained will help reduce wait times, determine optimal times for ships to dock, load and unload, and enable more ships into the available space.

Making it happen

Such projects visualising how the world will look in the future, with IoT, smart shipping and data driven optimised logistics, are essential to making Rotterdam’s big ambitions happen. “At times these projects can seem a bit futuristic,” admits Dirk from Smartport. “But, the physical internet will have a huge impact on everyone involved in the logistics chain.”
“We’re trying to get a handle on how to best prepare for this new world and how Rotterdam and its business community can profit from it. That’s not the core business of any individual company, so we’re here to drive that innovation and collaboration forward. ”

We’re already seeing results

Not all of SmartPort’s projects have such a long payback period. This video explains truck platooning, where trucks follow each other in one or more platoons of three to five vehicles, just like a road train.

“We’ve worked with partners to develop the digital matchmaking platforms, including real time data exchange,” explains Dirk. “We support a full scale road test in Rotterdam this summer. As early as 2020, we should see truck platooning making the Dutch logistics sector safer, greener, more productive and cost effective.”

Rotterdam will continue to embrace innovation, digitalisation and extensive collaboration across our international network. It’s how we’ll cope with whatever Brexit throws at us and achieve our ambition to be the world’s smartest port.

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