Ports & Terminals

Terminal Velocity – Automation in America

\As ocean carriers strive for greater productivity and less dwell time, terminal operators look toward automation as an answer to the question “How do I get containers in and out of my gates faster?” Terminal automation is not a single solution but a series of processes focused on enhancing various parts of vessel handling and container yard operations. Several of the more common types are:
  • Automated gate operations
  • Driverless yard delivery systems
  • Automated stacking operations
  • Step deck and dual hoist container cranes
Most container terminals in the U.S. have automated gates where optical character readers (OCR) allow remote “checkers” to visually verify container information and clear units onto the terminal. Advancing this process further is the idea that drivers can load cargo information into a hand held device allowing them to pre-clear delivery info, which can be verified by using OCR technology. CERTUS Port information (http://bit.ly/29z0ysd) discusses in depth how a combination of remote and on site screening can be used to speed cargo onto the pier. The Port of New York and New Jersey has advanced information sharing through the Freight Information Real-Time System for Transport (FIRST). FIRST will coordinate information from the ocean carrier, customs broker, terminal operator and trucker to provide real time container status to the cargo owner. The benefits can be seen in improved turnaround time and a safer working environment, as clerks are not required in the truck lanes. Automated gates are a blessing when working properly but as happened this June, Virginia International Gateway (VIG) Portsmouth was closed for two days when computers which process gate information malfunctioned. If you recall Maher Terminals New Jersey suffered a disastrous meltdown in 2013 when the introduction of new software forced ship owners to redirect cargo during a two-month information purgatory. APM Terminals, a leader in automated facilities, built VIG in 2007 leasing it to the Virginia Port Authority in 2010. This facility had the first semi-automated yard in the United States constructed with a mixture of manual and automated handling equipment. The container yard consists of 65 acres of rail mounted gantry cranes stacking empty and full boxes for pickup and delivery operations. The terminal, recently sold to Alinda Capital Partners USA, separates the automated container stacks from truck mounted areas and gate operations through a series of interconnected roadways. TraPac Los Angeles completed the semi-automation of its container yard in 2015 utilizing rail mounted stacking cranes to deliver boxes to waiting trucks. Unlike Virginia, the terminal’s automated guided vehicles (AGVs) move boxes to and from the stacking units. Quayside ship to shore cranes “ground” containers, which are then picked up by the Kalmar automated horizontal transport system. These rubber tire autostrads (automated straddle carriers) operate within a “Safety Zone” in a human free environment providing additional protection for long shore labor. Computer monitoring maintains the neutral zone and shuts the whole operation down if the perimeter is crossed by a human. OOCL Middle Harbor in Long Beach will be the first fully automated terminal in the U.S. With a scheduled completion date of 2019 the terminal will feature electric rail guided stacking cranes feeding containers from the yard to waiting trucks with no interchange of over the road equipment on the main terminal. The evolution of Ship to Shore Cranes has had to keep pace with the rapid expansion of larger and larger container ships and the need for faster discharge rates. Not only have they increased in size but quayside cranes in Europe and Asia are now designed so that one operator can manage two or more lifting units. Single hoist and dual hoist tandem lift cranes while more prevalent outside the U.S. are now being considered at ocean terminals in anticipation of the next wave of mega containerships. Also being considered are single hoist step deck cranes, which allow multiple operations vertically rather than horizontally as with dual hoist. Rather than “grounding” two units simultaneously, the step deck crane lands boxes in a two-step operation. The first container is lowered to a mid level deck and then lowered to a waiting ground transport unit as the second container is being lowered to the deck. In 1851 Physicists George Stokes defined Terminal Velocity as the highest velocity attainable by an object as it falls through air. Evaluating the force of drag on its relationship to speed and time, I’m sure he wasn’t thinking about modern container terminals. However, when it comes to today’s need for speed in cargo handling as you can see, everything is relative.
Matt Guasco
Matt Guasco


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