The Future of Port Logistics

PortExpertise wants to give you an insight in how challenges of supply chain integration can be met in the future. The research paper (2017), prepared by T. Notteboom (Applied Economics, University of Antwerp) and K.Nevers (VIL) for ING Bank gives answers to the question:

How can ports and port-related companies deal with the rising requirements and challenges with respect to supply chain optimization, integration and co-ordination?


The general objective of the study consists of the research of the future of port logistics and how to meet the demand for supply chain integration. The key question is how ports and port companies can deal with the increasing requirements and challenges of chain optimization, integration and coordination.

The objective of the survey consists of mapping the expectations of port logistics of the future and the corresponding innovations business models, more specifically how progressive and innovative the port logistics companies in Flanders think about the future in general and more specific in their sector. The survey specifically analyses the expectations of the port community in Flanders, Belgium (forwarders, port logistics companies, 3PL companies, shipping lines, shippers/industry).


The first part of this report analysed trends and outlook for port logistics focused around 5 key topics:

  • Global demand and economic development
  • A changing landscape for the global economic system
  • Connecting the world: corridors and synchromodality
  • Supply chains and logistics networks of the future
  • Disruptive key ICT innovations for ports and logistics firms


Port logistics will change in the future due to an interaction between changes in the global economic system, the global transport system (corridors and synchromodality), supply chains and logistics networks and disruptive key ICT innovations. Port choice in the future will be influenced by the ability of logistics/industry clusters to adapt to Industry 4.0 and newly developed services in this field by the logistics sector.

Port competition between clearly-defined port areas with spatial boundaries (nodes) is shifting to groups of spatially-dispersed but functionally-integrated terminals in different ports (networks). This leads to an increased functional interdependency between ports. Individual port qualities will continue to play a key role in cargo routing decisions. Still, cargo will be channelled through the system also taking into account network-related considerations.

Supply chain integration and port-hinterland connectivity have become key to market players. This focus increases competition among market players who get more and more vertically integrated, but at the same time demands more co-ordination and co-operation between market players in view of achieving efficient supply chains.


The second part provides reactions of Belgian stakeholders to these topics. Some top line results:


  • Global demand and economic development

A two-third majority of respondents believes that future trade barriers will have an impact on the function and range of activities in the Belgian ports.


  • A changing landscape for the global economic system

Some 89% of the respondents agree that clusters will become increasingly important for the competitiveness of countries and regions. Almost all respondents argue that the logistics and port sector in Flanders/Belgium should be treated as one integrated cluster. This also implies that an integrated cluster policy and strategy should be developed for logistics and ports. A vast majority (i.e. 83%) argues such a port and logistics cluster strategy should also include industrial and energy clusters.


  • Connecting the world: corridors and synchromodality

Synchromodality is considered a lever for concepts, such as the circular economy (81%), supply chain sustainability (81%) and a more optimal use of existing infrastructure and fleets (87%). Concepts to connect ports and logistics platforms in the hinterland are considered the most important theme for the coming ten years.  Results further demonstrate the importance of developing concepts to bundle cargo in port areas and to the near/immediate hinterland.


  • Supply chains and logistics networks of the future

Respondents confirm the trend towards consolidation and larger vessels, mega-carriers and mega-hubs (72%) and towards increasing collaboration within a maritime environment, but they note insufficient collaboration between stakeholders when setting up hinterland connections. Mistrust between parties and risk-averse behavior are regarded as the two most important barriers for efficient co-ordination and co-operation in port-related supply chains, besides the unequal distribution of costs and benefits and more IT as a key incentive/enabler of co-ordination/co-operation.

On the practical implementation of this co-operation, people indicate that many landlord port authorities across Europe have adopted a more active role either as facilitator or entrepreneurial port authority. They also confirm that branch organisations and associations have an active role to play, that public subsidisation is a good idea, but imposing co-operation measures is not.  Shipping companies, industrial companies and large 3PL companies and IT-driven actors are seen as the players with the strongest role in the supply chains in the future. The role of IT-driven actors is expected to increase the most.


  • Disruptive key ICT innovations for ports and logistics firms

Respondents show a clear willingness to embrace the possibilities of digitalization and the availability of massive amounts of data. Some of the applications will be privately developed (maintenance, intelligent inspection or analytics at company level), whereas for others collaborative efforts will be required (e.g. public inspection, port traffic flow).

A majority (72%) believes that the evolutions in the field of autonomous terminal equipment such as cranes, straddle carriers and autonomous trailers, effectively will be introduced within the next 10 years, same idea for drones, some more mitigated responses on the rapid automation of rolling equipment, autonomous trucks, rail, and vessels.

A large majority sees robotization as a catalyst for increased efficiency in all domains. 84% of respondents subscribe to the statement that it will stimulate a 24/7 economy and similar answers can be noted for optimal use of resources and capacity.

A large majority also supports the statements that IoT will contribute to optimization of private maintenance (88%) and intelligent inspection schemes (83%). Even though slightly less pronounced there is also a lot of trust among respondents in future applications for public services, mapping of real-time traffic flows in or near ports, resulting in intelligent traffic management.


For further reading, download the whole report here.

ING the future of port logistics 2017


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