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Designing new ways of working for a harbor of the future – a Futurice case study from TOC Europe

Mika Ruokonen • Vice President

Immediately after an exciting and inspiring Futupolis in Berlin, three Futuriceans were off to a new mission in Rotterdam. On June 12–13, our team of three visited the TOC Europe event in Rotterdam in partnership with the Cargotec corporation and its subsidiary Kalmar.

TOC Europe is a major gathering of companies and people interested in container terminal operations, shipping and logistics. In short, the whole event was all about harbors: How to make things move from ships onto trucks and trains, and then eventually to the homes of consumers and warehouses of companies elsewhere. For two days, Rotterdam was the epicenter of the future of that particular sector, as various companies announced their new equipment there, boosting e.g. automation, sustainability and sheer mastery in heavy machinery.

Our multi-national and multi-talented Futurice team consisted of Burcu, a service designer from Sweden; Lina, a neuroscientist and facilitator from Germany; and Mika, a business guy from Finland.

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On a mission

We were tasked with thinking about the maintenance of fully automated harbors, i.e. where robots handle the flow of containers between the ships and the shore. Or… our task was to think about automating the maintenance of these harbors, e.g. invent solutions that would remove manual equipment maintenance work. :) At the beginning, we spent a good while debating what really was the problem worth solving, and which would be the core – automation, maintenance, or both.

In any case, we were given roughly a day and a half to study the challenge, talk with various people (including our the mentors of our team and event visitors), then come up with a visualized concept and value proposition, and pitch that to a big audience. Quite a bit of work in a very short time frame… and within an industry that has already done R&D for decades to try and solve these issues. What new could we potentially create in this challenging setting?

While the task at hand was not a competition, we took the challenge very seriously. We built our thinking on Lean Service Creation, a design methodology developed by Futurice that brings structure to problem solving and involves various people in the process. On the first day, we interviewed eight people in order to understand the topic in more detail and figure out how to solve the issue (and why it hadn't been solved already).

As you might guess, we heard a different story from each person we talked to. Right when things were about to get fuzzier and complicated, we decided to use our IoT Service Kit with one of the experts, and that turned out to be the “a-ha” moment that helped us frame the question we’d love to solve. The problem was in fact not only about the loss of time when a problem occurs in maintenance, but also about the consequences of not being able to address the problem urgently – a cascade of problems, so to speak. So, we started ideating on how we might predict and prevent a chain of errors that could occur in a terminal.

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Rediscovering our focus

We soon realized that the problem is not so much about the automated equipment in the harbors, but instead about the people who work there. In order to make smart decisions, those people would need the most accurate data and information, predictions and diagnostics on the condition of the equipment, sparring by colleagues, as well as solid problem solving experience. In the harbours of the future, humans are still very much needed, yet their tasks will become more and more complicated, requiring not only individual mastery but also increasing collaboration between various stakeholders.

Our proposed solution was Kalmar Augmented Maintenance (see screenshots below), a system that augments the human in the field by providing diagnostics on equipment data, identifying potential problems, giving recommendations from the peer community, and supporting maintenance in real time. We wanted to augment the human, visualize the situation on the ground for them, give them a rich repository of information, use data to predict problems and estimate costs of failures, and connect the global maintenance workforce to help each other.

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This preliminary concept was validated by interviewing five people at the event. The feedback they provided was rather positive, however, some issues were also identified e.g. in scalability, the feasibility of the tech and data as well as the human element – the people’s willingness to collaborate and share. We are now curious to hear how Kalmar shall develop the concept further, and also tackle the above mentioned issues in cooperation with its partners and competitors.

So, what did we learn while visiting the TOC event? Well, plenty:

  • The marine and logistics industry as a whole is still relatively traditional and old-fashioned. Our team in hoodies really stood out from the suit-and-tie crowd in the event – hopefully in a positive and creative way :)
  • Secondly, we witnessed a lot of enthusiasm in the people at Kalmar and various other specialists. These guys are passionate, they want to improve things, create new solutions, and perhaps also apply design thinking in creating new solutions.
  • We also experienced that the time pressure was not a bad thing after all. You can do a lot of things in a day and a half if you try hard, learn fast and get contributions wherever they are available.
  • We learned that even though four minutes is a very short time, you can pitch an idea in that if you craft your message really well and get it across passionately (kudos to Lina).
  • Last but not least, we benefited a lot from our diverse backgrounds. When you have a difficult challenge at hand and a short time frame to solve it, you realize how important teamwork and diversity of thought is.

Would we do the same again? Absolutely. But next time we would still go a bit deeper into the practical life of the maintenance people in the harbours – study them and their work more closely, interview them, ask them to participate and co-create with us. This time around we did not have the chance to do so.

Would you like to hear more about Kalmar Co-Creation? Feel free to reach out to Mika Ruokonen (Business Director, Helsinki), Lina Yassin (Agile Coach, Berlin), and Burcu Arsoy (Lead Service Designer, Stockholm) – and be sure to check out Kalmar's video from the event!