In an era where technology has evolved at an expeditious pace; the degree of automation is often the differentiating factor amidst market competition for ports and terminals. Lionel Alva...
The industry is abuzz with a new pioneering approach towards building ports. There has been a greater emphasis on building smart ports that enhance efficiency while optimising port operations and reducing costs. Hence ports and terminals are seeking out different avenues to reduce their costs and transit time, and to speed up information exchange in order to offer lean supply chains for containerised cargo.
This has led to a greater adoption of technology, especially automated systems to reduce dwell and turnaround times. And recent trends in automation place emphasis upon the automation of operational processes as well as equipment handling for both ports and terminals.
Understanding automation philosophies
With ships getting bigger and container traffic increasing at an exponential rate has led to a greater focus on port and container terminal (PCT) efficiency. Furthermore, ports require automation to stay ahead of the competition while being equipped to deal with mega ships.
Alex Duca, director, Terminal Design and Automation, APM Terminals – Hague, observes, “Increased vessel exchange size is definitely putting pressure on terminal infrastructure. At first, ports needed to be ready to receive these mega ships, which require upgrades in deeper navigation channels, berth pockets and crane extensions, but also requires an assessment of landside interfaces to balance the increase in container traffic needs.”
Ports, across the world are using automation to enhance productivity in ways that was not possible before. Current trends in automation are focused on automating both equipment handling and operational processes for ports and terminal operators.
"To stay ahead of the curve, leading port operators should continually update their use of automation to further raise the bar on productivity improvements," said an Accenture report.
As far as equipment is concerned, there are solutions for yard cranes and horizontal transportation vehicles. For quay cranes, revolutionary new functionality has been developed for remote operations that are currently going live in Jebel Ali and Rotterdam.
Since the automation solutions, as well as other types of technological solutions designed for ports and container terminals, have traditionally been focused from a systematic point of view - describing the practical elements of systems and their main responsibilities, interfaces and interactions.
“Our strategic answer to these challenges has been the Liverpool 2 terminal, with major investments in container handling equipment, AutoGates and a new terminal operation system, all of which will help us provide ‘best in class’ capabilities and efficiency to our customers,” says David Huck, port director, Peel Ports.
Taking a departure from the standard approach, companies like APM Terminals have implemented a modular system. In such an approach, the facility is broken down to smaller and reusable terminal modules, or operational interfaces, and standards for deployment are documented and then implemented across terminals and projects. Decoupling each operational interface in terms of operational approach and performance should provide a better visibility over the bottlenecks and actual scope of optimisation at the terminal/port level.
This approach has led to talks on the automations of quay and yard cranes and inland gates and, as a consequence, of automated and semi-automated terminals.
This is primarily because on the pure operational side, yard capacity and performance remains the key of an efficient operation as terminals need to simply do more with less. Increasing the yard performance through smart decking rules and optimisation of horizontal transport allocation and usage will add flexibility to the terminal ecosystem during high volume operations.
Duca highlights,“Besides facility-wide port optimisation, there is a clear need of addressing waste buckets within each operational interface, and here automation is the key element. So we are addressing the gate interface, crane to horizontal transport interfaces, other operational terminal areas where container handling equipment operates and interacts with one another - there is an important scope of improvement in safety and operational efficiency to be gained.”
Furthermore, larger vessels and container traffic delineate into more time being spent at ports with a pertinent need to expedite vessel turnaround time. To remedy these problems, the IT solutions as well as the automation of the port must work in perfect consonance.
“One critical factor that affects efficiency is idle time and there is a lot of time being wasted owing to the downtime of ships in ports. There may be many factors responsible for this such as human error, breakdown and torrid weather conditions. While software can’t fix all of these problems, it can help to reduce the wasted time,” asserts John Dunlop, international development, Solon Software.
Dunlop further expounds upon how an effective IT solution can help improve efficiency, “Hence the planning process becomes more efficient as it communicates to the port management system about where the ship is and when it shall arrive at the berth as well as which berth should be kept ready and to get the work gang ready. These steps help optimise the supply chain. The software helps save time and reduce turnaround time to a degree.”
An effective IT solution can also keep a track of areas of inefficiency and find ways to fix problems. It can also help a port respond more effectively to situational challenges and allow it to develop contingencies for areas of concern. Since each port has unique geographical and infrastructural challenges and presents a unique proposition to an IT provider. These significantly impact the implementation of technology.ww
“Automation and technology do play a vital role. Ultimately, our goal is to provide a predictable, repeatable, reliable and stable operation that will meet the needs of our customers. The newly built environment at the port and the IT systems help us to do that,” avers Huck.