As an innovation hub at the core of a rapidly evolving marine industry, the Port of Montreal prides itself on being forward-looking.

“We are always on the lookout for innovative solutions to meet logistics challenges, protect the environment and gain efficiency in all our activities,” said Sylvie Vachon, President and CEO of the Montreal Port Authority (MPA).

In response to the continued increase in freight traffic over its berths in the past several years, the MPA has shifted toward smart and innovative digital solutions to meet fluidity and logistical efficiency challenges.

“Our innovative digital advances allow us to optimize and contribute to the efficiency of the Greater Montreal logistics and supply chain, which serves Quebec, Ontario and the U.S. Midwest,” Ms. Vachon said.

The port’s digital solutions for the supply chain have never been more evident than during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The port enjoyed a sixth consecutive record year in 2019. It handled an unprecedented 40.6 million tonnes of highly diversified cargo and a record 1.75 million TEUs (20-foot equivalent unit containers). First-quarter 2020 began on solid note: total traffic was up 2.5% and container traffic had increased by 5.6% compared with the first three months of the previous year. But signs of a slowdown became apparent in mid-April as the amount of consumer goods and imports from Asia, in particular, began to decrease due to reduced demand as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The closure of Europe following Asia continued to impact volumes throughout the summer.

As the global pandemic persists, combined with the adverse impacts from a labour strike, the port is projecting a decrease of 12% in total traffic this year compared with 2019.

Artificial intelligence

During these trying times, the Port of Montreal continues to fully serve importers and exporters. In May, the MPA announced its association in a project that makes it possible to use artificial intelligence (AI) for the handling of goods deemed “critical” by government authorities during this health crisis.

This AI-based solution enables the optimization of identification and prioritization of critical cargo arriving by container at the port to ensure the rapid distribution of essential goods, such as medical equipment and food products.

“With a data management and processing system already well established, we are able to rapidly deploy additional solutions that can optimize the unloading process and reduce container dwell time to less than 12 hours for critical cargo in order to ensure continuity of care and services offered to the population in the context of COVID-19,” said Daniel Dagenais, the MPA’s Vice-President of Operations.

The project is driven by CargoM, the Logistics and Transportation Metropolitan Cluster of Montreal, developed by IVADO Labs, a startup specializing in the development of AI solutions with unique expertise in logistics, and funded by the Government of Canada through Supply Chain and Logistics Excellence AI (Scale AI), an investment and innovation hub that accelerates the rapid adoption and integration of AI and contributes to the development of a world-class Canadian AI ecosystem. The initiative also benefits from the support and participation of both container terminal operators, Montreal Gateway Terminals Partnership and Termont Montreal Inc.

“This innovative project highlights both the collaboration among supply chain players and Montreal’s strengths in artificial intelligence to contribute to our collective effort in the face of COVID-19 with concrete and effective solutions,” said Mathieu Charbonneau, Executive Director of CargoM.

In July, the Port of Montreal announced it was once again using AI to optimize its logistics operations. A new predictive tool will allow the port to improve its operational planning and positively impact transit times for containerized cargo in the supply chain, especially for rail freight.

“This project is another critical milestone towards the ‘Smart Port’ vision we are implementing,” Mr. Dagenais said. “It will benefit all stakeholders involved in the chain by reducing cargo delays and transit time while maximizing throughout our major logistics hub.”

This AI solution aims to optimize freight train planning based on variables such as ship arrivals, railcar deliveries, storage capacity and workforce availability to achieve optimal fluidity.

The MPA is heading the project in partnership with terminal operators Montreal Gateway Terminals Partnership and Termont Montreal Inc., as well as with EI Systems, a company that specializes in railyard management and automation, and Canscan, a technology company that offers automated container inspection services. IVADO Labs is leading the AI solution development, while the Government of Canada is also funding this project through Scale AI.

The MPA has been using AI to make port trucking more fluid and reduce its carbon footprint. In December, it launched an upgrade of its Trucking PORTal application. The port authority teamed up with Element AI, a global supplier of AI products, to develop, test and deploy this enhanced technological solution, which consists of a predictive model added to the port’s Trucking PORTal app.

The new predictive dashboard shows average processing times at the port’s various terminals for each 30-minute period over the next 24 hours. Quick Views are also available for the next three hours. This data is provided in addition to real-time wait times on the terminals, information that has been available on the app since its launch in 2016.

Predictive data is made available by reading access cards using mainly RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology. The readings, taken at four strategic locations on port territory, allow for the collection of data indicating current transaction times. The use and analysis of the results through AI algorithms that also factor in weather forecasts, the number of vessels expected and the average number of registered terminal visits then make it possible to model the predictive data. The resulting data then helps truck drivers better plan their trips to the port.

This new solution will have a positive impact on drivers, dispatchers, trucking companies and container terminal operators. The neighbouring community will also benefit from the reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to better traffic flow on port territory. The use of this data will improve fluidity and reduce the number of traffic jams at the entrance to and on port territory, which will also ease traffic on Notre-Dame Street, a major Montreal thoroughfare that runs alongside the port.

“The new predictive model of the Trucking PORTal app lets us help our port partners improve operational efficiency and, at the same time, lighten our ecological footprint for a more and more sustainable port,” Ms. Vachon said.

In June, the MPA joined the ePIcenter project, which brings together an international consortium of 36 players from the logistics, business and port sectors.

Led by the Port of Antwerp, this ambitious project was established to design and launch large-scale projects to improve the global supply chain’s efficiency, fluidity and performance. Harnessing the talents of environmental and technology experts from around the world, it will provide hands-on solutions backed by a long-term sustainable vision to various supply chain issues.

As part of a partnership agreement that exists between the Port of Montreal and the Port of Antwerp, the project will also make it possible to create a cyber-secured trade corridor between the two ports.

“ePIcenter is a forward-looking project that will not only strengthen Montreal’s leadership in smart solutions but will also strengthen transatlantic trade, leveraging a cyber-secure corridor between Montreal and long-time partner Antwerp,” said Daniel Olivier, the MPA’s Director of Business Intelligence and Innovation. “It will combine trade facilitation with state-of-the-art cyber secure technologies to serve Canadian supply chains. Future-proofing the port and enhancing supply chain resilience is critically important in a post-COVID world.”

With its world-class AI ecosystem, Montreal has great ambitions to become a global AI powerhouse. The Port of Montreal plans to fully leverage this ecosystem to become an industry leader in applied AI solutions for the benefit of its supply chains.

Innovation accelerator

It has been only two short years since the Port of Montreal partnered with Centech, the innovation centre of École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS), to create North America’s first port innovation accelerator. Four innovation themes guide the unit’s work: supply chain visibility and freight mobility, cybersecurity, process improvement and agility, and supply chain decarbonization.

In 2019, a review of the unit’s results showed that the Port of Montreal had a productive, game-changing year in terms of innovation and strategic positioning as a Smart Port, on an international scale. Indeed, the unit has generated numerous strategic projects in open innovation with promising Montreal startups.

For example, with software developer PreVu3D and drone operating company ARA Robotics, the MPA carried out an extensive three-dimensional modelling of port locations and facilities, also known as a digital twin. By means of a photographic scan by drone, the port now has a huge interactive model of its facilities, which can be used for various purposes. It has enabled the creation of an interactive map for use at the Port Centre, allowing the general public to tour the port in augmented reality. It also allowed for the creation of immersive 3D interactive training programs for the port’s fire and security services and has been used for infrastructure planning and development and to provide remote presentations to clients and potential clients.

In September, the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) bestowed an Award of Excellence on the MPA for its digital twin project as part of the AAPA’s annual Information Technology Awards.

Meanwhile, Montreal startup Canscan has designed an AI application for container inspection to detect damage and anomalies of containers through image analysis before they enter port terminals by truck. This approach will ultimately streamline the truck entry process at the port. Using AI, the system connects to terminal cameras, analyzes the images, identifies problematic containers and sends the information back to the client.

Among its forward-looking projects, Canscan is working on a new technology in collaboration with the MPA for analyzing the flow of trucks entering and leaving the port in order to optimize trips by measuring unproductive moves.

Among other projects, Centech startup Merinio has designed an automated workforce management and dispatching tool that facilitates the assignment of rail personnel. And a team of ÉTS students has developed a cybersecurity application to update the central access database and make the truck drivers identification process at the port’s common entry portal more secure and more efficient.

On an international front, the MPA hosted last September the annual meeting of the Smart Port association chainPORT, which brings together stakeholders in the Smart ports community from around the world.

Looking ahead, the port is looking at innovation to accelerate recovery in 2021 of an embattled cruise sector. For instance, startup Funartech is using artificial intelligence again, namely computer vision, machine learning and operational research to design a tool to predict taxi needs, starting in 2021, when cruise passengers disembark at the Grand Quay of the Port of Montreal. By profiling taxi demand for each unique vessel call, this initiative will help better manage passenger flows, improve processes and reduce the environmental footprint of port activities. A welcome contribution to making the port-city relationship a healthy and sustainable one.