The evolution of cargo handling equipment has kept pace with the dramatic increases in international shipping activity. As vessel sizes continue to increase, the volume of container and roll-on/roll-off cargo continues to grow. Efficiencies in handling these packaging forms has become increasingly important and marine terminal equipment design and manufacturing continues under the gun to meet the growing challenges.
It is obvious that the process of cargo handling has shifted. In the past, what was once labor intensive activities are now almost totally dependent upon the application of advanced equipment technology. Dependence upon labor to manhandle cargo has dramatically decreased. Marine terminal operators, while placing their fate in the hands of computer driven systems to control the flow of input and output, also look to more sophisticated cargo handling equipment that looks somewhat like it did years ago, but doesn’t act like it.

The Velocity Factor

At major port terminals, the days of longshoremen going into the ships hold to work cargo, lift it to the dock with ships gear and take it away with truck and trailer for warehousing to eventually be loaded onto a truck for inland distribution are no longer the norm. Looking back on the years of port operations since the container became a major factor, the interchange necessary, the speed in which cargo must be handled and the rising costs associated with these activities are the main elements that are constantly addressed. Today, many modern container terminals have assigned their longshore staffs to computerized gateways and control towers, locating or positioning containers and guiding truckers - overseeing the cargo via computer and handling it with automated vehicles.

The above elements reflect upon cargo configuration, speed of handling and the cost of doing business. At the same time, however, they have also encouraged, albeit, demanded the development and application of what is commonly referred to as “technology”. Technology affecting cargo handling has largely been on-going since the introduction of the container but has now become a way of life for all commodities. It impacts virtually everything the international marine terminal community seeks to accomplish.

Technological development has focused upon changing the tools of the trade. It has touched upon larger vessels with dramatically increased cargo capacity. It also has addressed the development of larger, deeper, more sophisticated seaway connections and seaports with deeper channels and berths. All of the facets of today’s marine terminal activities have become intricate parts of today’s technology, facilitating the movement of increasing cargo volumes.

Some examples of the expanse of technology that has played an important role in the growth of containerization and ro/ro include:

Container Vessel Design - Computer design capabilities play a factor in modern container vessel design. Major features such as length, width and height require intricate calculations and must consider ocean passage ways (canals) and the limits of marine terminals. From a marine terminal perspective, the critical aspect of these three dimensions are vessel width based upon canal restrictions, water depth and container crane height under the boom. Vessel length can, under certain conditions, also have an impact based upon berth restrictions but is not normally an issue. Three ocean carriers have taken delivery of vessels in excess of 1,300 feet long. Vessel widths are locked in at 58.8 meters or 190 feet based upon canal transit restrictions. Container capacity of all three of the largest vessels now afloat is in the range of 20,170 to 21,400 TEUs.

Dockside Container Gantry Cranes - The size and sophistication of dockside container gantry cranes includes remote control operations and height under the boom, and above the vessel’s highest container on deck stacks. In many ports seeking the services of some of the largest container vessels afloat, the number of cranes per berth and crane lift speeds must also be considered.

Of note is the technology utilized to design the three dockside container gantry cranes recently ordered for delivery to Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Crane manufacturer ZPMC was awarded the bid. Based upon the location of the marine terminal that will receive the cranes and Federal Aviation Administration height restrictions, the new cranes will be limited to the approach guidelines. This placed the design of an A Frame style dockside container gantry crane out of the question. The overall height of an A frame design with adequate height under the boom was not feasible. Utilizing its experience and design capabilities, ZPMC guided by Lift Tech Consultants was able to offer a crane design that met FAA overall height restrictions with clearance under the crane boom that would provide the Port a capability to service some of the largest vessels in container service.

Shipside Cargo Takeaway and Delivery Systems, Terminal Handling and Interior Transport - This is a long-winded term capturing a description of a system that works shipside for container discharge and loading, as well as intra-terminal delivery to terminal positions including open storage stacks, intermodal transfer sites and land transport interchange. It is a combination of sophisticated self-propelled ground transport (AGV) and a computerized control system that virtually covers all major on-terminal container movements. The system works with programmed dockside container gantry cranes for discharge and delivery of containers shipside as well as automated landside gantry cranes for storage, receiving and delivery and intermodal connections. AGV’s, (Automated Guided Vehicles), are wheeled platforms, capable of handling a 40/45/50 foot containers with a maximum of 70 ton loads. AGVs can be either battery or electric driven. They are guided by a software management system and navigation transponders programmed to navigate a specific route between dockside container gantry cranes and yard or dockside container cranes.

Ro/Ro Equipment Technology - Roll-on/roll-off cargo holds a close second to containers, taking precedent on many trade routes and a large number of ports, sharing container facilities. Technological advancements involving cargo handling equipment applies to activities surrounding ro/ro cargo, providing a positive impact.

A great deal of effort has been dedicated to the development of equipment to handle ro/ro cargo. Lift truck manufacturers, utilizing sophisticated design technology, have concentrated upon increasing capacities but lowering the center of gravity, reducing the lift trucks wheel base and mast extension for greater maneuverability inside the ro/ro vessel. In addition, equipment manufacturers have created yard tractors that are specially designed to work inside ro/ro vessels, handling specially designed trailers. Roll trailers are low to the ground and capable of handling cargoes weighing 100 tons or more.

Technology Critical

No matter what the commodity and the style of handling, today’s marine terminal technology can affect the ability of a facility to adapt efficiently. The volumes of cargo transported and the speed in which it must be handled include the ability to lift, move, calculate and coordinate where cargo will go and to whom it is for. In the end, the resulting development of technology in our industry has brought about efficiency, safety, positive economics, and improvement in the quality of life and the environment.

There is no question that technology plays an important, if not critical role in the state of modern day cargo handling operations. Technological development encompasses vessel design and operations, port development, almost every cargo handling tool conceived, and ultimately more sophisticated inland transport and delivery systems. In the pursuit of the best of these elements, manufacturers of marine terminal lift equipment such as dockside cranes, yard cranes, straddle carriers, container handlers - toplifts, reach stackers, yard tractors, bombcarts, forklifts and chassis have benefitted from cutting edge technology that enhances their equipment’s individual characteristics. The goal is always the most effective and economic handling solution.