Hello, I’m Dr Manu Sasidharan—I am a research associate at the University of Cambridge, focusing on the resilience and management of critical transport infrastructure. I specialise in the asset management of transport infrastructure but as a part of the UK5G Port of Felixstowe project, I’m working on the predictive maintenance of cranes: a critical asset to keep the Port running.
The project is using 5G Internet of Things (IoT) devices and predictive data analytics to reduce unscheduled downtime of cranes, to boost the productivity and efficiency of the operation of the port’s ship-to-shore quay cranes. This will also show how the use of 5G technology, replacing fibre optical cable, will improve the performance of remote control yard cranes enabling the port to increase both efficiency and safety and develop new skills amongst its workforce.
The Port of Felixstowe is a critical national infrastructure. It is essential that they are able to operate seamlessly for 365 days of the year, 24-7. This is why I’m working with a team of researchers within the University of Cambridge’s Asset management group to develop an Artificial Intelligence system that will use the data collected from sensors to predict faults on the cranes. The aim is to inform engineers of issues before the problem disputes the crane’s operation—also known as “predictive maintenance”.
This is a use case that can easily be replicated worldwide. Almost 90 per cent of global trade is via shipping. I mean, we saw how turbulent the recent disruption of the Suez Canal was! 5G is a huge business opportunity for the shipping sector. I also recognise our work as an application that could easily be used in other infrastructure sectors, too: for example, in construction or railways, we can apply the very same principles to improve asset management.
The interesting part of this project, for me at least, is looking at cranes as critical assets. We have a team of five researchers at Cambridge with expertise in asset management, IoT, AI and data management led by Dr Ajith Kumar Parlikad . My key role is coordinating conversations across the different project partners such as Port of Felixstowe, Three UK and Blue Mesh Solutions, as well as informing the predictive maintenance angle of the project. We’re on a very very time-sensitive deadline so it’s a hands-on process, with lots of collaboration and interaction.
A rigid structure is essential. Having said that, when working in research you always have to leave room for new angles, improvements and complexities—making discoveries is the fun bit!
1. What do you enjoy most about working on the project?
It’s always exciting to take on an engineering challenge and find the solution. This particular project has progressed so much and I'm excited to be a part of it. 5G is a new technology to tap into and trying new things is exactly what research is all about.
2. What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve done in the name of 5G?
That would be climbing up a 45-metre high quay crane at the Port of Felixstowe, overlooking the North Sea, and finding myself staring down from inside the driver's cabin with a glass floor! Did I mention that we once got to see all seasons in one day and that the seagulls are not supposed to be fed?
3. What excites you most about the project?
Being involved in one of the first transport-based 5G trials in the UK! Helping to improve national infrastructure—something which has a very wide impact—is really exciting.
4. What would you like people to know about the project?
We are making a crane smart. It’s just like a human body and using AI, we are able to provide it with the correct diet plan to increase its performance.
5. What’s the biggest benefit you think 5G will bring to the UK?
Aside from faster communication, it will open a lot of doors for a lot of sectors. There’s so much potential. British railways, for example, will soon be powered by 5G. The benefits are a multitude and not industry-specific.