Drones buzzing at the port makes for smarter work

Drones are being used more and more in the air above Port Esbjerg. They are used to provide an overview, for inspecting and surveying. They make it easier and faster to detect damages to the quays, and companies can better monitor their inventories. Still, this is only the beginning, because there is no end to what drones can be used for at the port. Wheeled robots are expected to be deployed soon.

There is a loud sound like that of a swarm of bees. We are at the East Port project yard, but there are no bees out today; temperatures are close to freezing, and the wind is blowing at 18 miles per hour.

The noise is from a drone that was just launched. This happens more and more, and from this exact spot, it occurs a couple of times a month. This way, Port Esbjerg can precisely survey the yard and get the precise location of goods stored in the area. Although the area covers about 45 hectares, a drone can pinpoint a nacelle’s location or the mass of goods down to mere centimetres. That is valuable knowledge when Port Esbjerg leases out vacant space.

The drone is a Matrice 210 model. It weighs six kilograms and costs in excess of EUR 15,000. As drone pilot Millad Azadi of Lorenz Technology explains, it can fly in 32 miles-per-hour winds and withstand gusts of up to 47 miles per hour. Winds are blowing at 18 miles per hour, so flying should be a breeze for the drone today. At a price tag like that, you don’t want to lose it in the waves or have a hard landing.

The drone is managing well, drifting back and forth for about 20 minutes. That’s how long it takes to survey the yard. The drone pilot has predefined the route on his computer, so basically he is merely making sure that it does the job it has been programmed to do.

It is cold working outside today, and the pilot’s fingers get freezing cold within minutes in the strong winds.

“It’s more fun during the summer,” he says with a wry smile.


The drone is a Matrice 210 model. It weighs six kilograms and costs in excess of EUR 15,000.

Work smarter, work faster

Port Esbjerg’s CCO Jesper Bank is excited. For several years, his office has been looking at smart ways of using data, and a couple of years ago, Lorenz Technology approached Port Esbjerg to ask if the company might be given the opportunity to provide certain services to Port Esbjerg. Bank responded that maybe they could and asked if they had checked the weather conditions at the port. They hadn’t.

Eight months later, Lorenz Technology returned. They had found a drone capable of flying in strong winds, rain and snow and doing it all year round.

The drone captures images in fog, is water and salt resistant and provides more than just images and videos. It also has a thermal imaging camera to make images more accurate. For example, a thermal imaging camera can be used to identify damage on quays or faulty ladders.


The drone captures images in fog, is water and salt resistant and provides more than just images and videos. It also has a thermal imaging camera to make images more accurate. 

The many uses of a drone

Now that they had got the right drone, Port Esbjerg began to ponder which types of data they didn’t already have and which data would be available by working smarter when using a drone.

One of the first things they thought of was the simple job of checking roof gutters. Port Esbjerg owns buildings with miles and miles of roof gutters. Cleaning them usually requires a man, a ladder and half a day’s work at each building. Now, however, they were able to check the gutters before dispatching the man and his ladder.

Creativity took over from that point on, and the range of assignments for Port Esbjerg has since exploded. Area measurements, checking 14 kilometres of quays, checking lorry trailers, buildings and much else.

Bank believes that the drone has even greater potential for Port Esbjerg’s customers, so workshops were arranged to demonstrate the possibilities.

Measuring mounds of coal, monitoring vehicles and lorry trailers and many other things have got the ball rolling.


“It’s more fun during the summer,” says Millad Azad from Lorenz Technology who stands to the right and controls the drone.

Swapping the scooter for a drone

One of the first companies to see the potential was the engineering company NCC. They use drones when taking stock of their gravel piles at the port once a month.

“It makes it a lot easier to measure the value of our inventories,” explains Søren Graae, Area Manager at NCC’s west division.

Previously, they needed a scooter and a height gauge to do the job. Now, the drone makes measuring faster and more precise.

“For us, it’s a fantastic tool. For business reasons, we have to take stock of our inventories once a month, and using the drone saves us both time and money,” he says.

NCC began using the drone last spring. To check the precision of the drone’s measurements, NCC had the drone measure a pile of which NCC knew the exact weight. The drone returned a measurement that was correct down to a few percentage points. 

Now, NCC has begun using drones at some of its other building sites.

A three-minute flight replaces a ship and a three-man crew

Back at the harbour in Esbjerg, the drone takes off again, this time from a quay at the west end of the area. Drone pilot Millad Azadi grumbles about a few ships docked at the quay. It is impossible to inspect the quay if a ship is moored along it, and all quay walls must be inspected several times a year. Sometimes a vessel may be docked at the harbour for months, which makes the job more difficult, but it is always completed in the end.

Hovering four metres above the harbour waves, the drone is taking photos of the quay. Some 100 metres of the quay is photographed in great detail, and the images are checked by both Lorenz Technology and Port Esbjerg. A new software program designed to inspect the images and identify changes on quays and ladders is expected to be ready soon. In other words, artificial intelligence can be used to detect if a step has broken off a ladder, because it was intact in a previous photo.

Flight time for the drone along this quay is three minutes. Previously, a ship with a three-man crew had to be dispatched on a manual inspection of the quay.


The drone has a thermal imaging camera to make images more accurate. For example, a thermal imaging camera can be used to identify damage on quays or faulty ladders. 

 


A thermographic image is colored according to how high the temperatures are.

Port Esbjerg has come a long way, but there’s more in the pipeline

According to Kristian Skaarup, CEO of Lorenz Technology, Port Esbjerg uses digital technology a lot more than other ports his company works for. Lorenz Technology has developed technology solutions for many different companies, including Port Esbjerg.

Lorenz Technology helps kick off the digitalisation process, but the practical side of the task has been assigned to G4S, which already performs a number of services at the port.

So, drone flights will be G4S’s domain going forward. As the company already works at the port, it will be better placed to perform individual assignments and doing it faster and cheaper.

According to Skaarup, the drone currently in service will be able to perform many different assignments for the companies operating at the port.

“It can do everything from surveying to detecting if migrants are hidden on the roof of a lorry or to localise a lorry trailer. That makes performing the job cheaper, easier and faster. This drone is ideal for helping ports to digitise,” says Skaarup.

As an example, Skaarup explains that by using a drone, DFDS saves a minute and a half per trailer when localising lorry trailers. That amounts to big savings for a ship loading 300 to 400 trailers.

“Last week, one of our drones detected 15,000 litres of water on the roof of one of the buildings at the port. Imagine if it hadn’t been discovered and the roof had collapsed. The costs would have been a lot higher,” he says.

He predicts that the sound of buzzing drones will become even more common in future. Soon they will be able to spot bird droppings on the new, imported cars waiting to be transported on from the port. Or to detect signs of danger on containers and forward images. They are already capable of recognising trailers by type and sending GPS coordinates, numbers on trailers and much else.

“But the potential is even greater. I predict that drones will soon be flying much more often than they do today. Perhaps they can automatically take off when a ship leaves the harbour, for example to check the quay for damage. It probably won’t be long before we have wheeled robots. They can check for migrants or be deployed when it’s too windy to fly a drone. The potential is huge, and I’m really excited about the many possibilities available with this technology,” says Skaarup.

For Jesper Bank, the benefits readily at hand include greater safety and many different jobs being performed faster and at a favourable price.

“There are already many benefits, but the mere potential just makes it all so much more exciting,” he says.  

Millad Azadi packs up his drone and gets ready to move on to the next quay areas scheduled for inspection. A few minutes later, there is the buzzing sound like that of a swarm of bees at the east port area.


“It can do everything from surveying to detecting if migrants are hidden on the roof of a lorry or to localise a lorry trailer. That makes performing the job cheaper, easier and faster. This drone is ideal for helping ports to digitise,” says Kristian Skaarup, Chief Executive Officer of Lorenz Technology.  

Facts:

Drone weight: six kilograms

Price: EUR 16,000

Water resistant and capable of flying in rain

Flight time of up to 30 minutes per battery charge depending on wind and temperature

Operational range: 5-7 km

Fitted with thermal imaging camera

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