Digital Brains for the Port
Can artificial intelligence (AI) support the port in its explosive growth and the challenges we face? Can the labor shortage be solved with the help of AI? Koen de Jong is firmly convinced of this. With his team at Supplai, he is among the pioneers developing and applying AI solutions in the port. “This offers unlimited possibilities!”
From his office in the Rotterdam Science Tower, Koen de Jong (34) looks out over the Waalhaven. Every day, he sees numerous container ships passing by. He grew up in Spijkenisse, where he still lives with his family. No, he never thought his future would lie in AI. But Koen always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Therefore, a study in commercial economics at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences was a logical step.
Heart on His Sleeve
After six years of working for a chemical company, he decided to become an entrepreneur within the same company. Three years later, after a successful tripling of the business, it was sold. “I have always been fascinated by data and efficiency,” Koen recalls. “Moreover, I am constantly looking for creative challenges and new learning opportunities.” Through acquaintances, he heard about AI. He laughs broadly. “When I delved deeper into it, I really thought: yes, this is the new revolution!”
A bizarre coincidence had him sitting next to a man who owned his own AI company on a flight to Dubai. Koen says, “I chatted with him the entire flight, asking him everything about his and my ideas. It felt like fate that we were sitting next to each other. All I thought was: ‘Wow, AI is really mindblowing!’ That conversation on the plane brought back the energy I had lost when I went back to being an employee.”
The Faster, the Better
After this spontaneous meeting, Koen was sure: AI would be the next step in his career. “Once home, I started talking to many people in my network. I wanted to discover where my new application would be most valuable.” And so, the young entrepreneur ended up at the port. “The port is growing incredibly fast. Numerous automation initiatives are being implemented to make work faster and more efficient. The faster a ship, train, or truck can get back on the road, the better. I saw enormous potential for AI here.”
Three years ago, Koen started Supplai, which uses advanced Deep Learning AI algorithms for real-time video analysis. This technology can detect and read container codes, ISO codes, and hazard labels on video images using AI OCR (Optical Character Recognition).
As a result, Supplai offers a flexible, cost-effective, and innovative product known as a solution for reading codes from containers or wagons in the form of Gate, Rail, Crane, and Reach-Stacker OCR in the port. In a video, Koen shows how the system detects the codes on incoming trucks in real-time and converts them into readable text.
Koen doesn’t do this alone; the team has now grown to thirteen members. Men and women who have specialized entirely in AI. “Initially, it was mainly about experimenting and continuously improving our algorithms. We did this largely by collecting more and more data through our solutions.”
He was the pioneer who literally introduced AI to the port three years ago. “Although we are entering an existing market, it is still crucial to prove that AI is just very effective. Working with new technology can be challenging and even stressful, but it is also extremely satisfying.”
Supplai works with entirely new technology. “That innovative character is what I find so incredibly cool,” says Koen. “I always see creative solutions everywhere. Because we were able to build our company from the ground up, we have completely shaped it in an AI way.” And Koen is far from done. He looks out of his window towards the Waalhaven and muses a little longer about the future: “The port creates a huge manufacturing and knowledge industry and a tremendous number of jobs. Without the Rotterdam port, I could not have built my company. It’s a shame that the chemistry and the port in Rotterdam are sometimes spoken of so critically.”
But the Rotterdam port is just the beginning. At the moment, AI by Supplai is already being implemented with customers in Belgium and Germany. “With the enormous number of inland ports, we are currently only focusing on Europe, but this technology is applicable worldwide.” The possibilities are endless.
AI algorithms can perform complex analyses with abundant data and make predictions that go beyond what the human brain can achieve, Koen explains. “AI offers unlimited possibilities and enables us to control port processes much better. This is a valuable asset for the port.”
From his existing relationships, Koen has started a project with the Rotterdam Short Sea Terminal. “Here, we want to develop a product with a new spin-off of Supplai, called Loadmaster.ai, to plan and optimize container stowage using AI. In a second phase, we aim to make the stacking processes more efficient with the help of AI.”
Will people then become redundant in the port? Will the port soon be controlled by robots? Koen doesn’t think so. “On the contrary, I see that AI actually contributes to the preservation of jobs. At the moment, the port is struggling with a significant shortage of personnel, which is really a problem.
In addition, costs are constantly under pressure. To remain competitive in Europe, we need to work more efficiently. By using automation to bridge the existing gaps, we ensure that jobs are preserved.”
To accelerate the process, Koen has set up a third company: Visionplatform.ai. Thanks to his expertise in real-time video analysis, he received more and more requests for quality control in the manufacturing industry and security surveillance. This involved both existing security cameras and cameras on drones. “In fact, there are already several companies conducting autonomous drone flights, which has created the need to analyze these camera images in real-time using AI. This is something we are actively working on. With these various issues coming to Supplai, we had to think of a way to make scalable AI video analysis available. All the knowledge we have built up is integrated into our Vision Platform. Through Visionplatform.ai, anyone, even without a technical background, can now easily turn any standard camera into an intelligent AI camera.”
Three companies, who would have thought? “Maybe there will even be a fourth,” laughs Koen. “There are so many possibilities!”
And so, Supplai, Visionplatform.ai, and Loadmaster.ai are working with full commitment to various AI solutions for the port. “We have now built a strong team with in-depth knowledge of both AI and the field.
We are able to add significant value to the port. We are grateful for the innovative partners in Rotterdam who have given us this opportunity and are open to this new technology. Together, we are working to ‘digitize’ the port a bit more. Or as our slogan says: Digital Brains to Offload Yours.”
This article was written by Onze Haven; the only real online and offline port magazine!