Halifax port gets hi-tech upgrades

by MM&D staff

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia—Ship captains who pilot their vessels to and from the Port of Halifax will soon have one less navigational challenge to worry about.

The port intends to upgrade its air gap system which monitors how much clearance exists between vessels crossing under the harbour bridges and the span, thereby ensuring the ships will be able to safely navigate through the harbour.

Jim Nicoll, director of information and technology services at the Halifax Port Authority, says the upgrade will involve adding a microwave range finder to each of the two bridges at their lowest point in the navigation channel. The range finder will measure clearance by beaming a radar signal from the bridge to the water.

“For the last five years, the port has relied on a system that uses GPS technology on the bridges to determine bridge elevation and a series of tide gauges to determine water levels. By doing the math between the bridge elevation and the water level we are able to determine the clearance under the bridge. It’s been working well and we’ve never had any issues clearing vessels under the bridge, however, what we’re doing now is putting in some upgraded technology,” he said.

The advantages to using microwave range finder technology are twofold: First, it is a single piece of hardware, instead of a combination of multiple gauges and a GPS unit. Second it will send the data via automated identification system (AIS) transmission in real time. The current air gap technology takes tidal readings every ten minutes. The new microwave technology will work alongside the existing GPS system, which will not be removed.

The air gap technology improvement is one of two projects—the second being a integrated port logistics system—which received a partial funding commitment from the federal government. Combined, the two initiatives are expected to cost $660,000. Under its Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Strategic Plan for Canada, Ottawa has agreed to contribute $330,000 for the projects. The Port of Halifax is paying for the other half.

While the air gap project has a very simple and direct purpose, the port logistics system is a bit more nebulous in nature.

“What this particular part of the project would involve is development of data architecture and process flows looking at the way information flows within the port. There’s a great deal of information that accompanies a piece of cargo through its journey and we believe there are many opportunities for us to streamline and improve the flow of information that accompanies that cargo, which will result in improvements to the cargo flow itself. That’s what this project is all about,” said Nicoll adding that the team from the port authority will be collaborating with everybody who uses the port to move cargo.

“We’ll be looking at the processes involved and the data involved, particularly where data has to cross organizational boundaries because that’s where we tend to find deficiencies in the processes. Once we’ve identified the processes we’ll be looking at gaps where there are opportunities to make improvements, and then looking at what types of technologies we might employ to fill those gaps.”

Nicoll said there are likely to be three results from the project:

  • opportunities to better track what the port is doing and how its doing it in terms of KPIs
  • opportunities for improving immediate operational considerations, including aspects like cargo visibility and cargo tracking
  • opportunities in the area of planning and prediction activities—knowing ahead of time what cargo is expected and able to determine what resources are required to deal with  it

While the air gap project is currently under way and is expected to be completed by late 2013 or early 2014, the port logistics/data architecture project is a bit more fluid.

“We’ll be getting started on that as soon as we can get things organized. I’m hoping that we’ll have the first stage of that project, which will be the data architecture completed by end of the year and part of that data architecture phase is identifying what the next steps will be, where the opportunities are and prioritizing those opportunities so we can actually make those improvements,” said Nicoll. “It’s a baseline project for us—setting the architecture and the vision toward a long-term action plan.”

According to Karen Oldfield, president and chief executive officer of the Halifax Port Authority “advanced technologies make it possible to improve operational safety, security, efficiency and environmental responsibility without changing the existing infrastructure”.