Forging your own path for digitalising port operations – Case Port of Aberdeen

Port of Aberdeen is demonstrating an exceptionally proactive stance toward digitisation. Taking matters into their own hands they’re open-mindedly investigating and developing ways to leverage new technology in port operations. In this article, we discuss how the port utilises drone surveys to create a top-of-the-line digital twin which can be used to improve efficiency and sustainability of the port.

Port of Aberdeen is a busy multimodal port in the North East of Scotland. During 2022 alone, the port received over 6800 port calls with 27 million tons of goods and 163 000 ferry passengers.

Aberdeen is always open to new ways of working, whether it is modernising port technology, excelling in the green transition, or delivering the largest marine infrastructure project in the UK.

A digital twin is essential in optimising operations

Our co-operation begun in 2022 when Aberdeen started digitising the port’s land and sea assets related to the construction of their new South Harbour.

Like many ports across Europe, Aberdeen in recent years has invested in drone technology. Primarily the use case of the drone laid with the marketing department. At the time the port was operating its own drone to capture pictures and videos to promote progress of the South Harbour project and general activities in the North Harbour.

To aid the digitisation project, GISGRO encouraged the port to diversify the use of the drone to gather photogrammetry data which could be used to generate 3D models and orthoimagery.

The successful trial period saw the port capture regular orthophotos which allowed them to accurately track construction progress and generate updated base maps.

3D models and point clouds were created to produce a digital twin representation of the newly constructed infrastructure.

The lack of drone surveying experience was not evident with the drone pilots as they showed quick and promising results. After field work, the survey data was sent to GISGRO for uploading to Port of Aberdeen’s GISGRO account. From here it’s made available to relevant personnel for evaluation and analysis.

“GISGRO provided encouragement and useful information on using our old drone and what survey options we needed to use to create the ortho imagery. After some trials and a bit of a learning process we quickly got to the point where GISGRO staff were impressed by the level of imagery we were able to produce. However, not satisfied with the detail we had, we decided to invest in a new larger drone specifically with surveying and digital twins in mind”, says Alexander Bisset, IT Manager at Port of Aberdeen.

Port of Aberdeen Drone images
Image shows the significant difference in resolution between Google Maps images top left and new Port of Aberdeen Drone images bottom right.

Aberdeen invested in new drone hardware at the beginning of 2023 to increase accuracy and quality of the survey data. With the new drone setup, Port of Aberdeen can develop their digital twin to better serve their needs, as updating the data is in their own hands.

At the same time, they increased their number of CAA certified pilots to five and identified a clear business case of how the drones would be utilised further in the future.

The goal for 2023 is to produce detailed and accurate 3D models of both North Harbour and South Harbour.

Orthophotos are being collected regularly which serve as base maps in GISGRO. This means the Port gets accurate data about site conditions, allowing them to make informed decisions without having to visit a site.

“With the Zenmuse P1 survey camera on the drone and using the excellent WebODM software we are able to plan missions on the drone and upload the images to WebODM to stitch them together. This creates images that are sub cm accuracy per pixel. We had originally thought Google Maps provided sufficient coverage but using our own drone has been transformational”, says Darren James Stott, IT Engineer at Port of Aberdeen.

Utilising the Drone Survey Data

Accurate 2D and 3D data is the foundation in which GISGRO is built upon. The combination of data will aid the port in accurately identifying specific asset locations.

Long gone is the traditional perception that a digital twin is merely just a model. Instead, it’s inclusion of relevant meta-information of port infrastructure proves beneficial when used for crucial operational tasks such as planning berth allocations.

By generating a digital counterpart of the port, Aberdeen is able to benefit from a variety of GISGRO tools to aid them in vessel planning and asset management.

The information provided in the digital twin is currently being used to improve safety of vessel traffic by displaying the bathymetry and clearance depths in the port’s seaways.

In addition to other on-going digitalisation ventures, Port of Aberdeen leads a KTP (Knowledge Transfer Partnership) project for creating better practices for Just-In-Time (JIT) Arrival and automating berth planning with the help of digital tools and AI.

Adding a live AIS feed to the digital twin helps visualise the current status of marine operations in the port.

Port of Aberdeen Digital Twin GISGRO
Accurate 2D and 3D data is the foundation in which GISGRO is built upon.

The GISGRO Vessel Traffic Module contains a range of features which will add new opportunities in improving the efficiency and sustainability of port calls.

Utilising state-of-art technology and the latest scientific knowledge will have a remarkable influence in streamlining port operations, shortening waiting times and minimising the carbon emissions of marine traffic.

“Integrating our Port Asset Management system and AIS data along with the future KTP project provides exciting opportunities for getting staff to understand what is going on in the port. Colleagues are able to bring up the map on the boardroom screen during a meeting and zoom in on detailed images around the port which has saved time having to go walk the area.”

“Our VTS (vessel traffic services) will be able to plan berthing operations using GISGRO and the KTP tool will be able to provide AI solutions to planning the arrivals, movements and sailings reducing the time it takes to create berthing plans and enabling them to react to last minute plan changes without having to spend long periods of time reworking the day’s movements”, concludes Bisset.



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James Hosken
United Kingdom
Client Executive
+358 50 544 7177