Embracing digital transformation to create the port of the future
The leading port in Greece deploys Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul to drive digitization of operations and transform the productivity of its container operations.
Location: Thessaloniki, Greece
Size: 487 employees
Partner: OTE Group
At 1.5 million square meters, the Port of Thessaloniki is one of the largest in Southeastern Europe. It is a key commercial, transport, and logistics hub for the broader region, an increasingly popular cruise ship destination, and an emerging major homeporting hub in the Eastern Mediterranean and Balkan regions. Its strategic location in Northern Greece, close to the major Trans-European motorway and railway networks, provides direct access to the countries of Southeastern Europe—a market of 70 million people.
ThPA S.A., the operator of the Port of Thessaloniki, aspires to become the multi-gateway intermodal network and logistics solutions provider for the Balkans and the broader Southeast, Central and Eastern European regions.
As part of its vision, ThPA S.A. implements the project for the expansion of Pier 6. This EURO€150 million investment will significantly expand the capacity of the port and its container terminal, enabling it to serve main liner container vessels with a capacity of up to 24,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU).
This investment will not only benefit the port, but it will have a significant socioeconomic impact. For example, the 10-year full operation of Pier 6 is expected to support the creation of over 4000 jobs directly and indirectly.
Due to its enviable position in Thessaloniki's city center, the port is also experiencing spectacular growth in cruise ship calls—up from an average of around five per year to an all-time high of 61 calls in 2022. More than 70 calls are scheduled for 2023. This trend is set to transform northern Greece's tourism industry over the coming years, creating new opportunities for the local economy and society.
The future development of the port is critical to this transformation. Expansion requires more than deep-water dredging and larger cranes. Therefore, ThPA S.A. wants to create a robust network infrastructure capable of supporting a range of digital use cases. It wants the port expansion to be a model of efficiency and sustainability.
"I am reluctant to use the phrase 'smart port'," says Christos Papadopoulos, head of the information and communications technology department at ThPA S.A., "but we do recognize the impact digital workflows can have on productivity, data gathering and emissions monitoring—basically, on how can we use technology to make life easier."
The new network must prevent disruption to the port's smooth container terminal operations.
"Our previous network was aging and not fit for purpose for a modern port," Mr. Papadopoulos explains. "We used to experience daily issues with problems that we'd have to resolve immediately. A container terminal cannot wait."
“The main benefit of Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul is that network users can see the difference. They feel we're making progress. Now, we're confident the system is operating well, with excellent latency. That gives us assurance in the success of our future projects.”Christos Papadopoulos, Head of Information and Communications Technology Department
Having identified the need to significantly upgrade its network, ThPA S.A. began a two-year fact-finding process. The aim was to identify a partner that could deliver the enhanced network performance that the port needed—both now and in the future.
This required an understanding of the unique needs of a transport and infrastructure hub such as the Port of Thessaloniki. Mr. Papadopoulos explains, "Straddle carrier operators have a difficult job. They sit more than 15 meters above the ground and receive messages to a tablet to pick up and move the relevant containers. Previously, our poor connectivity around the site meant that they would regularly have to stop or switch to VHF communications with the operation center, which was inefficient and subject to error."
The unique environment of a port posed further challenges to any network upgrade. All equipment must be able to withstand extremes of heat and cold, as well as the potential for corrosion from the sea air. The extreme elevations of the crane masts also mean that installations are hard to access and therefore cannot require regular hands-on maintenance.
Having heard of the Malta Freeport's recent experience with Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul, the ThPA S.A. team collaborated with information and communications technology consultant OTE Group and decided a wireless technology would be the best fit for its needs.
"Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul is ideal for connecting moving assets or extending the network where running fiber isn't feasible," says Mr. Papadopoulos. "Equipment must be appropriate for a hot, industrial and constantly evolving working environment."
To further cement relations between ThPA S.A. and Cisco, OTE S.A. hosted the ThPA S.A. management team at the Cisco Digital Transformation Center in Thessaloniki. This engagement helped outline the possibilities of digital transformation and certified the work of employees on the Port's network operations team.
OTE Group, the largest technology company in Greece and a Cisco Gold Integrator, provides extensive experience on large and complex IT projects, establishing its position as a reliable partner in Greece and abroad, providing customized technology solutions. OTE Group completed all the technical studies for the new wireless backhaul and carried out the project as a "turnkey" solution by highly qualified engineers, including 24/7 support.
The adoption of Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul promises to transform the productivity of the port's container operations. Since its deployment in late 2021, ThPA S.A. has seen a notable improvement in systems availability.
"I used to have to log in to the system daily to see what was operating and what was down," says Mr. Papadopoulos. "Now, I quickly check it once a week. I see everything is okay and we have 100 percent uptime."
Network uptime and the removal of gaps in visibility mean that the Port can better orchestrate the interaction between ship, crane, rail, and road haulers. Productivity gains will allow the port to process the 24,000-container, ultra-large vessels.
"We can monitor trucks coming in and out more closely to secure a steady flow and reduce queuing time," says Theodora Riga, director of strategic communications at ThPA S.A.
"We're aiming for trucks to be on- and off-site in less than 20 minutes. This is especially important as we are in the city center. Faster turnaround for trucks means less diesel emissions and less congestion—and that is in line with our broader sustainability aspirations."
The Port has started adopting digital workflows across its operations. These workflows range from worker safety protocols to sensors to detect environmental emissions. "For a container terminal, success is defined by how efficiently you can load and unload containers," says Ms. Riga. "Which we can do while being environmentally friendly, as the vessel remains in the port for less time."
Mr. Papadopoulos adds that the biggest challenge to the port's technological transformation may be active engagement: "Sometimes, changing traditional mindsets is the issue. You can have the budget, the technology, and the configuration just right, but you still have to convince people to engage with the solution. The main benefit of Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul is that network users can see the difference. They feel we are making progress. Now, we are confident the system is operating well, with excellent latency. That gives us assurance in the success of our future projects."