Ocean carriers now deploying the latest ultra-large container ships are looking for ports that can most efficiently handle cargo.
One factor that can help get a vessel back to sea — where it makes money — is how fast ship-to-shore cranes can discharge and load boxes.
Global Terminal & Container Services in Bayonne, N.J. — part of the Port of New York/New Jersey — and two terminals at the Port of Long Beach are making strides to improve crane productivity.
Global currentlys lift between 25 to 27 containers per hour with its post-Panamax cranes. But a new expansion of the container yard that includes 20 semi-automated, rail-mounted gantry cranes is expected to also benefit the cranes working the vessels, Rich Ceci, vice president of information technology at parent company Global Container Terminals Inc., said.
The rail-mounted cranes, which cull the container yard and deliver boxes to and from trucks, will help longshoremen more quickly move boxes off the dock, which will eventually enable the ship cranes to lift and drop in the range of 35 to 40 containers per hour, he said.
Global Terminal in Port New Jersey
Global is still making necessary software and process adjustments to the new systems, and dock workers must also gain more experience with them, so reaching those targets may take some time, he said.
Global's semi-automated yard cranes are similar to those at the high-tech APM Terminals' facility in Portsmouth, Va. APMT cranes are able to move 35 to 40 boxes per hour, and Ceci said Global officials believe they can achieve the same work rate.
(Read the feature story about the Global Terminal modernization in the August issue or the online version here
Meanwhile, Pacific Coast Terminal, located on Pier J at the Port of Long Beach and operated by SSA Marine, has raised its crane productivity from an average of 25 moves per hour in 2011 to between 33 and 36 moves per hour, while SSA's Terminal A has improved from 28 to 33 moves per hour, the port authority and the terminal operator say.
Edward DeNike, president of SSA's domestic container operations, challenged his managers and unionized dockworkers to improve loading and unloading speed. The original goal was 27 lifts per hour, according to the Port of Long Beach's July newsletter. International Longshore and Warehouse Union officials say the key ingredients are better management-labor teamwork and better working conditions.
Pier J is the furthest from the union hall and was previously avoided by longshoremen because of the extra commute time.
Several changes enabled the terminals to improve crane speeds, including opening up a second parking lot for ILWU workers so they wouldn't lose 30 minutes per shift when buses bringing in crews had to wait for on-dock trains to pass. Other improvements included cleaning up the docks and bathrooms, and a greater focus on safety.
On May 17, a single crane at PCT moved 534 containers in a single shift, averaging 66 containers per hour. A few days later, a crane at Pier A averaged 61 moves per hour.
East Coast ports have a better reputation for crane productivity. West Coast ports average 25 to 28 moves per hour, while ports on the other side of the country often operate in the mid-to-upper 30s per hour. There are many variables behind the numbers, including how ships are stowed, how many cranes are deployed for each vessel, weather, gang size, the crane operator, and different unions on each coast.
In an interview in his office last Friday, PortMiami Director Juan Kuryla said the port's six Super Post-Panamax cranes, which have a reach of 22 containers across, lift boxes at an hourly rate in the low 30s. The port's smaller profile cranes, which have an outreach of 15 containers, move somewhere between 27 to 29 boxes per hour.
PCT also achieved 1,938 moves for an entire day on May 17 using six gangs. The large number translates to 40.4 lifts per hour. Officials say the achievement is notable because the more gangs there are the more difficult it is to coordinate all the dock workers.
In June, PCT set a port record for the highest number of container moves for a single ship call when longshoremen moved 21,958 TEU in 11,481 lifts while discharging and loading the Cosco Excellence. The vessel has a capacity of 13,100 TEU.