The Panama Canal builds its ‘digitization locks’


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Through the Panama Canal, which connects more than 140 maritime routes and 1,700 ports in 160 countries, a total of 13,342 ships that transported 516.7 tons of goods. This great engineering work from 1914, which was completed in 2016 with a third set of locks, is going through a key moment for its operation. The expansion opened a new interoceanic transit route, doubling current traffic and complying with rigorous environmental standards. But above all, strengthened the competitiveness of the service, contributed economies of scale and attracted new markets such as liquefied natural gas ships.

These five years have been one of learning, and they are already in a consolidation phase in which “digital transformation represents the next technological frontier of the Panama Canal,” say sources from the Canal administration.

It is necessary to maximize the value of current facilities “and the best way is through technology.” To do this, a $ 500 million investment over the next decade, in data analytics (‘big data’) and revenue management, with a strong focus on digitization and automation.

The installed capacity of the Panama Canal has a ceiling. «Data and technology can help us be more efficient. Taking advantage of technology, we will find new ways and knowledge on how to expand our value to clients and to the country, making the most of the existing infrastructure of the Canal ”, adds this organization.

We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment, and the fourth industrial revolution has arrived. “With the accelerating pace of technological advances and the physical limitations to expand the Panama Canal, we must integrate the massive amounts of data available, incorporating information technology (IT) with the operational technology (OT) system, to take advantage of ‘ Big Data ‘, advanced analytics and machine learning technologies ”, indicate sources from the Channel. In this way, they can find new knowledge about their operations and management, to be able to act in advance, optimize resources and get new ideas on how to approach the market. “The transformation is supported by a cultural shift in our workforce, towards a digital and agile mindset,” they point out.

Its digital transformation program aims to integrate all processes to have data in real time and thus act more efficiently and effectively. In addition, advanced data analysis will be performed to reach new conclusions and support decision-making. The digitized processes will be optimized and improved and will be adopted to the existing technology. “We have to make our digital interactions with the rest of the world transparent, agile and secure and maximize our existing technology-backed resources.” A comprehensive update which opens new doors to Spanish companies, which have always played a leading role in the development and growth of this infrastructure.

Sacyr, for example, led the consortium that carried out the expansion of the Panama Canal in which more than 50 companies participated. There were many technical challenges that had to be facedAmong them, “designing and manufacturing a concrete capable of withstanding more than 100 years of service from a very deficient rock (local basalt)”, the Spanish company highlights. All the tools for the design, construction and operation of the third set of locks were up to date. technological tip of the time, «It could not be otherwise for the digital control of the designed model, the machinery and facilities used in construction, the more than 2,000 reception and integration tests and the control system on more than 70,000 signals that reach the centers control during the operation of the new locks, “they add.

The most advanced systems available at the time were used for all possible jobs. For example, him 3d modeling (which was a novelty at that time), documentary control, personnel control (the number of employees was 14,000), monitoring and production of machinery and facilities “, say sources from Sacyr. For operation, the entire system is redundant to ensure 99.996% availability (the operation can only be stopped 3 hours a month) and “it is centralized in the control towers, where with a simple mouse you have 100% control of the entire system.”

Eyes and ears

Indra participated with its technology in the Canal expansion works. It implemented, among other projects, a ship detection system, which identifies any floating object within the operative area of ​​the lock chambers to avoid accidental closing of the gates if a small vessel, container or any other object is in its path, thus increasing the safety of the operation closing and avoiding any damage to the gates. «The solution is based on laser sensors, an innovative application of these systems, which are often used on roads to measure traffic volume or speed, “he says. Luis Perez Madariaga, Head of Port Business Development at Indra. From the perspective of maritime operations, ‘safety’ and ‘security’, “Indra’s solutions are the eyes and ears of everything that happens within the Panama Canal,” he points out.

Now, the mammoth infrastructure builds the ‘set of locks’ of its digitization. And Spanish companies will fight to be in the front row again.

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