3D Data in Ports – How to Get the Most Out of Port’s 3D Data Storage?

Regularly performed bathymetric surveys have been a standard in safety management of ports and harbors already for decades. Bathymetric charts have been printed on paper to evaluate safe clearance depths, and divers have checked the condition of critical underwater infrastructure, and written reports on the findings.

The modern surveying technology has brought us many possibilities to utilize the 3D data itself. Not only to produce 2D charts but also to evaluate the underwater conditions affecting safety of the port. Many ports probably don’t have a dedicated GIS specialist, so 3D data needs to be easily available for different functions and teams in the port. In this article we discuss how ports can benefit from 3D data and how does it fit into the goal of being a smart port.


The types of 3D data in ports

The most common type of 3D data in ports is hydrographic data, which comes in the form of point cloud data. Seaways are usually surveyed annually, often even multiple times, depending on the rate of erosion or accumulation in the area. The survey data is analyzed for safe clearance depths and to find possible objects on the seabed.

Structural surveys in 3D have been a state-of-art method since the early 2010s. The accuracy and used frequencies of the echosounders made it possible to gather data detailed enough for structural analysis. Above water, laser scanners are used to receive even more dense point cloud data of the structures.

The plans and designs of new structures may be saved in 3D, as more and more countries nowadays require using BIM methods in construction. Also, as-built models may be found in case a survey has been conducted after the construction phase. This is still quite rare, although a survey is often very helpful in the maintenance phase of the structure’s life cycle.


3D data is needed in many processes in a port

Information about the condition of seaways and port structures is needed daily. Port operations require evaluation of safe clearance depth in berth planning or piloting. Traditionally, ports have had paper maps with depth charts and the planning has been done with scaled models of the arriving vessels. Also, pilots have used paper charts when determining the best route for a vessel to certain berth.

The maintenance team of a port needs to know the exact condition of a quay, for example, to evaluate if repairs are needed or required safety gear are in place. Structural drawings are used when planning new construction or to ensure the loading capacity of the quay area. Often this information is saved on paper drawings or digitized to PDF files.

There are several different stakeholders in the port who utilize the data. Management, operations, maintenance, and customer service may all need an access to the information regularly or occasionally. It is important to ensure that everyone finds the needed information without wasting time in searching.


How to ensure the 3D data availability?

Based on our experiences and discussions with ports, one of the most important aspects of managing a port’s 3D data is the availability of the data. It is critical to have the data in a format everyone can access, not only in a point cloud format which needs to be opened with a certain software. Also, if the personnel hold tacit knowledge, such as information on differences between the plans and the actual as-built situation, it is crucial to have this information attached to the plans. If for example a wastewater pipeline is built elsewhere than planned in the design drawings, it is good to know this before the excavator starts to dig in the area!

In port operations time really matters, as the effectiveness of a port can be measured with turnaround times of the visiting vessels. There is no time to waste in finding where the suitable onshore electricity supply is, so the information needs to be easily available when planning the perfect berth for the arriving vessel.

To make this happen, the information needs to be centralized and with an easy access independent on the location of the employee needing it. Whether you are working in the field or at the office, remotely or on board, the need for the information stays the same. Therefore, digital cloud platforms are becoming increasingly popular.


What should be considered in port digitalization?

Digital twin has been the buzz word in the manufacturing industry, and now it has also rooted in maritime transport. Digital twin of a port means combining spatial, asset, and situational data from different sources in order to create a digital model of a functioning port. The foundation of a digital twin is 3D data.

A start of the digitizing project may seem laborious as the amount of information is extensive even in small and medium sized ports. One important thing to remember before uploading the data is to ensure the coordinate and height reference systems are aligned. In addition, the usage of the information determines how it should be divided or tagged to ensure its easy utilization in port operations.

After setting up the base of a port’s digital twin it is time to add attributes, documents, and notes to the asset data. A plain model is not worth much in the daily work, but the value increases when as much essential information is gathered to the same place as possible. It is smart to check the validity and timeliness of the data before digitizing, as due to the amount of information to be digitized there is no point in saving outdated information.

All this underlines the fact that creating a digital twin of a port is not just a task of a GIS department. Port personnel has a wide variety of knowledge and data to be added to the model. 3D data is a starting point, but it needs to be updated regularly to ensure its practicality in every aspect of port’s business.


Want to know how GISGRO can smarten up your port?

Book on online demo meeting with GISGRO specialist to discuss more about how cloud technology can help to boost your port’s asset management and operations. Team GISGRO has over 10 years of experience in port digitalization and survey projects. Simply contact Ville directly or book a time suitable for you from the calendar.

Ville Mäkeläinen


+358 44 513 2222



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