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Algorithms developed by University of Nottingham Ningbo China help transform world's busiest port

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Port of Ningbo

13 June 2019: The Port of Ningbo has successfully completed a one-year trial operation of its intelligent truck dispatch system developed by the University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC). According to the Port, the new system has helped achieve efficiency gains and progress toward greener operations.

This system is the brainchild of UNNC Artificial Intelligence and Optimisation (AIOP) Research Group, led by Professor Ruibin Bai from the School of Computer Science.

The Port of Ningbo has long been one of the world’s busiest ports and in recent years has become number one in terms of annual cargo, which now surpasses one billion tonnes. However, along with rising cargo volumes came the challenge to raise productivity with limited resources. The Port turned to digital innovation for the answer.

Responding to the Port’s needs, Professor Bai started the project in 2015 with several other UNNC researchers and identified a bottleneck in truck traffic management, especially crane-truck synchronisation.

Although the Port was already equipped with a terminal operating system to generate automated solutions for real time crane-truck matching, results were derived from oversimplified rules based on human experiences, which were not ideal. Consequently, many container truck drivers would drive around with no cargo loaded, which the team identified as a defect that needed to be improved.

Built on classic mathematical models with machine learning techniques, the intelligent truck dispatch system uses algorithms that can produce optimised solutions within one second.

After running the system for a year, the Port concluded that productivity had been greatly increased and costs slashed. A project summary report detailed that the idle time for cranes has been reduced by approximately 10%, empty vehicle driving distances shortened by more than 10% and emissions decreased as a result.

Professor Ruibin Bai is now working with the Port to fix other operational challenges. He says his long-term goal is to support more businesses - including logistics and manufacturing - to “go smart”.

He said: “In 2003, the University of Nottingham was the first in the world to develop the Hyper-Heuristics method. 16 years later, we use this method to create real world solutions that benefit the local economy. We feel very encouraged, seeing the feedback from Ningbo Port, and more determined to apply our research to wider industry needs.”

Learn more about Professor Ruibin Bai 
Posted on 13 June 2019