By Tom Peters

Enrique Brum had an idea. He supported it with technology and now has a thriving business. Datamyne, based in Miami, Florida, is the world’s largest searchable trade database with business intelligence gathering offices across the U.S. and key Latin American countries. Brum, Vice-President, Global Sales, told delegates attending the business session of the annual Halifax Port Days, how he began gathering import and export trade data, available to the public through customs and border personnel, and offering his compiled efforts to various companies. He said the data could show his customers what their competition was doing with their imports and exports.

Brum was one of five panelists who spoke on the topic “Technological Advances Spur Innovation”, and told how technology has advanced their businesses and organizations. He said his business now collects raw trade data in 52 countries and keeps the information “user friendly for our customers” which now number about 3,000.

Jim Nicoll, Director of Information Services, Halifax Port Authority, told his story of how the major repair work on the Macdonald Bridge across Halifax Harbour, now underway, has led to the development of new technology to determine air gap, at any given time, under the bridge. Knowing the exact distance from the underside of the bridge to the water is vital for the safe movement of marine traffic, especially large container ships moving through the harbour to the Fairview Cove container terminal. The innovative work of Nicoll and his team will be acknowledged with a technology award from the American Association of Port Authorities.

French shipping line CMA CGM has developed a new line of containers, AQUAVIVA to transport live lobster. The container and associated technology, INNOPURE, were developed in partnership with the French firm EMYG Environment & Aquaculture. The containers were launched at Port Days.

Eric Legros, CMA CGM’s Vice-President, Reefer Transportation, said it took four years of research and development to bring the containers to their present stage. The technology developed by EMYG which controls the lobsters’ environment while in the container, has proven in test trials to give a very low mortality rate during transport and a high quality product to customers. LeGros said his company is also investing in “e-reefers” or “smart containers” which are outfitted with small devices for container tracking purposes.

Axel Mattern, Marketing CEO, Port of Hamburg, Germany, told delegates that his port, much like the Port of Halifax, is in the middle of the city. It is a large European hub port handling 9 to 10 million TEUs a year and 138 million tonnes of cargo. Because of its location and massive operations, the port has begun developing a “smart port strategy” implementing digital equipment to handle such things as road traffic, ocean transportation, rail traffic (1,800 trains a week), the environment and the terminals.

On the energy front, as an example, the port has installed wind mills, has developed a floating liquid gas power plant to supply power to ships, and has solar energy plants. The port has also developed a vessel coordination centre for ship scheduling and safety and an information system for trucking to reduce traffic congestion.

Mark Lerner, CN’s Vice-President, Corporate Marketing, said CN has invested $400 million to “advance and leverage technology.” He said since 2010 the company has hired 16,000 new employees and to train these people CN established campuses in Winnipeg and Harvey, Illinois. The schools put through over 400 students a week “which allows us to use best practices and standardize technology to shorten the learning curve.” On the technology side, using the Winnipeg campus as an example, he said in addition to various types of work related simulators at the school, CN has constructed six locomotive simulators to track everything going on in the locomotive from train speed to fuel efficiency and even indicates if any rules are being broken. “There is also a self-contained rail yard with two locomotives and 15 rail cars to provide a real life training environment,” he said. Lerner said CN has extended this program to over 85 customers in a CN partnership campus program.

CN operates over thousands of kilometres of track which require constant maintenance and inspection especially during harsh winters. Lerner said, “CN employs a wide range of technology to monitor track and equipment and, for example, this year we are investing $28 million in technologies and even using drones to inspect some bridges and track.”