Closing engineering gaps: our journey in collaborating with ports

Ian McRobbie, our Programme Manager for Ports and Maritime Infrastructure, shares experiences and ideas regarding collaborating with ports and closing the engineering gaps

19 March 2024


Closing engineering gaps: our journey in collaborating with ports

This article was first published in the March – April 2024 issue of Ports & Harbors, the official magazine of the International Association of Ports & Harbors (IAPH). It is reproduced here by kind permission of IAPH 


Ian McRobbie, our Programme Manager for Ports and Maritime Infrastructure, shares experiences and ideas regarding collaborating with ports and closing the engineering gaps

Please give us a brief introduction of your role and how you interact with the Port sector.

I am the Programme Manager for Ports and Maritime Infrastructure at BMT in the Asia-Pacific region, playing a pivotal role in the strategic planning and execution of maritime infrastructure projects. My role is to use my expertise and experience to ensure that BMT’s projects not only meet the current demands of the maritime sector but also anticipate future developments and challenges. In my role, I act as a focal point for maritime infrastructure initiatives, overseeing BMT’s projects and strategies across the Asia-Pacific region. My responsibilities include governance of ongoing projects and engagement with current and prospective clients to ensure BMT’s offerings align with the evolving needs of the maritime sector.

What do you see as the critical factors now when planning and implementing Port infrastructure development and guaranteeing a return on investment?

I believe that there are several critical factors in port infrastructure development that are crucial for ensuring a robust return on investment. These include: the efficient use of capital, both in the construction of new port infrastructure and, enhancing the operational efficiency of both new and existing ports, with a notable industry trend towards the adoption of automated port operations.

Environmental compliance and social license to operate are also paramount in port infrastructure solutions, encompassing the management of emissions, water quality, noise, and light pollution to meet community expectations and regulatory standards.
Finally, future-proofing port infrastructure is essential, requiring foresight in planning for factors including increasingly larger ships, multi-user and multi product cargo handling and the integration of renewable or alternative fuels and shore power; which will significantly impact port design and operations in the future.

How has your range of services expanded in recent times to accommodate the new needs of Ports; can you highlight one that you see as being particularly successful?

BMT has broadened its service offerings to meet the evolving needs of ports, merging environmental expertise with infrastructure design for a holistic port infrastructure design approach. A key example is BMT’s involvement in a 2022 green port initiative at Malaysia’s Port Klang. Here, we conducted a feasibility study for an International Ferry Terminal Development, where our environmental and engineering consultancy services combined to promote a sustainable yet operationally efficient port ecosystem. This project underscores BMT’s ability to provide ‘blended’ consultancy outcomes, offering integrated solutions for the complex demands of contemporary port development.

What do you identify as the main technical factors underpinning Port development going forward?

Looking ahead, I highlight several technical factors that will underpin future port development.

The implementation of flexible digital tools and the development of digital twins can revolutionise port planning, construction, and operations, offering unprecedented efficiency and decision-making capabilities. Moreover, as ports become increasingly integrated within urban centres, technical solutions that mitigate their impact on neighboring communities, such as the electrification of port operations, increased use of rail over road haulage, and the adoption of low or zero-emission fuels, will be crucial. Utilising digital modelling tools to quantify and validate these mitigations will be vitally important.

BMT’s involvement in enabling the energy transition through our port infrastructure solutions underscores the critical role ports play in supporting marine energy systems, such as offshore wind, tidal and wave power generation. BMT’s expertise in global offshore wind energy, coupled with its comprehensive experience in port infrastructure design and development, positions it uniquely to support the growth of renewable energy infrastructure development in the region and globally. This holistic approach not only addresses the operational needs of ports but also aligns with BMT’s broader environmental and sustainability objectives.

Is there anything you want to add about you and/or your company’s approach to handling the complex challenges relating to modern port operations?

BMT’s increasing focus is on innovation, data-driven technologies, and smart port operating models and reflects our commitment to redefining port operations for enhanced efficiency, security, and sustainability, which is what port developers and financiers are increasingly demanding. The development of integrated supply chain models and advanced solutions for port handling and security highlights BMT’s holistic approach to tackling the increasingly complex challenges of modern port infrastructure design and low carbon operations.
BMT’s extensive project portfolio and strategic initiatives, reflect the increasing need for a comprehensive, data driven and forward-looking approach to modern port developments.

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