The first mission was easy. In August 2018, an HHLA drone transported the key for the inauguration of the Digital Hub Logistics centre to Managing Director Johannes Berg. “We want to be the motor behind the digital revolution,” HHLA Chairwoman Angela Titzrath said, marking this “key” moment.
Even beyond such prestigious occasions, drones are now used more and more often in business.
Westphalian farmers use drones to monitor their wheat fields, for example, in order to prevent fawns from being killed by combine harvesters. In Rwanda, they deliver blood to doctors in inaccessible regions. Icelanders have pizzas delivered by drone.
Experts predict that the economic significance of drones is set to expand. In Europe alone, revenue from commercial drones is set to increase by more than 40 percent per year until 2025.
This also represents a vision for HHLA. The best-known example is surely the heavy-duty drone that will one day fly empty containers through the Port of Hamburg. A feasibility study conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute shows that flying containers could be technically feasible in the foreseeable future.
Jan Bovermann, Head of Corporate Digital Development, is leading the project. “HHLA needs drones,” he says decisively.
For example, a drone regularly monitors the container gantry cranes at CTT. The remote-controlled drone checks whether the giant steel structures show any signs of wear on their weld seams or any other areas subject to heavy use. Each inspection flight and the data it collects are stored. This allows for subsequent reconstruction of how container gantry cranes age over time.
The advantage for HHLA is that the inspected container gantry crane is not out of action for very long.
Further areas of application are maintenance flights along the facades of the Speicherstadt historical warehouse district and inspections of the AGV vehicle transponder surfaces in the Container Terminal Altenwerder.
This is also where HHLA engineers are testing an automated monitoring system of the railway tracks for block storage cranes, as part of an EU project with the Technical University of Braunschweig.
As part of this project, automatic drones check whether the gantry cranes are still on track at the railway sidings. This kind of regular monitoring is important so that the cranes don’t suddenly malfunction as a result of ground subsidence. Thanks to the automatic drone inspection flights, there are no interruptions to business operations.
Currently, third-party companies still manage the inspection flights over the terminals. But a subsidiary of HHLA, the drone start-up Spherie, is in the starting gates and aims to take over this task. The latest HHLA virtual reality film was filmed using a Spherie drone, for example. And the team of young engineers and technicians under Spherie entrepreneur Nicolas Chibac have additional plans.
Now a team of twelve, they are working on a new drone that can create virtual 3D models, known as digital twins, of buildings, quayside facilities and container gantry cranes. The example of the Speicherstadt historical warehouse district shows how this works. The target status is digitised with the aid of the drone. Then a piece of software digitally overlays the actual status and detects any deviations, as well as any necessary work to be completed on facades. This could be another key moment for HHLA drones.