Global Container Terminal 2.0
New Jersey marine facility adds capacity for big ships with large technology investment.
The seven-year-old APM Terminals facility at the Port of Virginia no longer is the most modern, technologically advanced marine container terminal in the United States.
That distinction now arguably belongs to Global Container Terminals’ load center in Bayonne, N.J., which in mid-June celebrated the completion of a four-year, $325 million expansion and transformation that raises the bar for high-tech port operations.
Global is the first semi-automated terminal at the Port of New York and New Jersey.
The investment, a partnership between GCT and the port authority, puts the terminal in prime position to handle greater traffic from ultra-large container vessels now being deployed and become a destination for more big ships from Asia when the Panama Canal widening is ready in early 2016. In fact, it is designed to accommodate Suezmax vessels, which are even bigger than the 14,000-TEU behemoths that will be able to fit through the new Panama Canal locks.
The project is part of a multi-billion dollar, port-wide effort to prepare for the Panama Canal enlargement that includes the deepening of the harbor to 50 feet, raising the Bayonne Bridge so the massive new ships can reach inner harbor terminals, and expanding on-dock rail capacity.
The expansion and a significant portion of the project’s funding were made possible by the sale and leaseback of Global’s existing 98-acre facility on the Port Jersey peninsula. In 2010, the port authority acquired the property and leased it for 37 years to Global, which is owned by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. Under the deal, Global agreed to develop an adjacent 70-acre, former auto terminal and combine them into one 168-acre container terminal. The lease agreement includes revenue sharing on containers and phased-in rental payments over the course of the development.
The port authority provided $150 million towards the redevelopment as part of the sale price and also agreed to eventually develop a rail facility on adjacent property that could handle up to 250,000 containers per year.
The acquisition and development relieved the state of New Jersey from a $150 million financial obligation to the federal government to cover the cost of channel deepening.
Global officials tout the fact that their facility is the closest container terminal to the New York/New Jersey harbor entrance, reducing transit time by two hours each way compared to inner harbor terminals in Port Elizabeth, Jersey City and Staten Island.
New land, equipment and efficiencies have increased terminal capacity beyond 1.8 million TEUs, up from 928,000 TEUs. Crane capacity has more than doubled to 1.1 million lifts per year, an important revenue metric for terminal operators.
Global borrowed heavily for its expansion from APM Terminals’ facility in Portsmouth, Va., starting with project manager and Vice President of Information Technology Richard Ceci, who previously was responsible for APM Terminals’ information technology in the Americas. He brought with him three other APMT personnel and used many of the same suppliers.
In an interview on Global Terminal’s wharf during the grand opening, Ceci explained that the technology in Bayonne is similar, but improved.
One of APMT’s innovations was bringing a best-of-breed strategy for technology acquisition and systems integration to the port sector rather than trying to self-develop built-to-order, customized systems for automating terminal functions, as some European terminals have done at great expense.
GCT is using a Navis terminal operating system, a gate management system from NASCENT Technology, and other systems from different technology providers. During the past seven years the vendors have each upgraded their products.
Ceci’s systems integration expertise was developed while automating factories and other industrial buildings for automobile manufacturers like Ford.
High-Tech Gates, Cranes. GCT’s showcase feature is its semi-automated, rail-mounted gantry cranes for stacking containers in the yard and serving trucks receiving import boxes or delivering exports. The company installed 20 RMGs, which weigh 180 tons and can lift 40 tons, at a cost of $3 million apiece. Ten cranes are deployed against the landside. They move across eight rows—versus six for a rubber-tired gantry crane—and can service 150 to 160 trucks per hour. The other 10 cranes are used to move containers between the 10 stacks and the waterside transfer zone at a rate of 180 to 190 an hour.
The Konecrane RMGs have regenerative-drive motors that consume energy during the lift cycle and generate it back to the grid when setting down a box.
Lessons learned from APMT helped Global improve some design elements for the RMGs, Ceci said.
In Virginia, where the stacks are 60 TEUs long, officials cared more about the travel speed of the gantry crane because they had to move longer distances. In New Jersey, where the stacks are 37 TEUs long, the emphasis is on lift speed.
GCT was able to almost double the speed of the hoist motors.
“So we don’t lose much because of the short distances, but we gained a lot more by that tradeoff and how fast we can operate,” he said.
The truck gate is outfitted with the latest optical character recognition (OCR) technology for reading container numbers and radio frequency identification device (RFID) readers to help speed shuttle drivers in and out. What makes Global’s arrangement relatively unique, according to Ceci, is that the OCR (made by CAMCO Technologies of Belgium) and RFID (WhereNet by Zebra Technologies) systems are linked together, and much fewer cameras are needed. The only other place with a similar set up is APM Terminals’ Virginia facility.
There are 29 truck lanes at the Global gate—19 outbound and 10 inbound.
Terminals that use them, including Global’s legacy facility in Bayonne, typically have OCR cameras in every lane. But the new Global facility only has two inbound and two outbound lanes with OCR cameras. The reason is Global uses special, high-powered OCR cameras to also do remote damage inspections, which requires better lighting than an outdoor setting, Ceci said. At Global, the camera system is set up in drive-through buildings where the lighting can be controlled. There, seven cameras capture attributes from five sides of the container, as well as the chassis as the driver pulls through at about 10 to 15 mph. The container number is then associated by software with the truck information from the RFID tag. When the truck pulls up to the kiosk the gate management system automatically pulls up the images for that transaction. Maintenance mechanics conduct the inspection from the administration building.
But there are other ways to capture the same data at less expense, according to Brian Shultz, vice president of sales and marketing at APS Technology Group, a provider of automated systems for marine container and intermodal terminals based in San Diego.
OCR is fairly ubiquitous in North America. Most facilities use area-scan cameras, an older technology that takes several dozen snapshots of the container, truck and chassis as it passes through the portal. The photos are almost exclusively used to capture the image of equipment identification numbers. Trying to assess equipment damage and assign liability from the photos is difficult and time consuming.
More expensive line-scan technology is a few years old and only in about 10 percent of marine terminals around the world, Shultz estimated.
It produces a nearly perfect 3D image of the tractor trailer by combining a few photos into a horizon-type view that enable fast and easy detection of damaged areas of a box.
U.S. freight railroads mostly process railcars and intermodal boxes using line-scan technology.
Shultz said the line-scan system has such a focused light beam and restricted aperture that it virtually eliminates shadows or other interference. The cameras are so good that expensive sheds are unnecessary.
Ceci insisted the structures do make a difference. Global Terminal has both area- and line-scan cameras—the front and back images are taken by area-scan devices while the chassis, side and top pictures are taken with line scan.
“Without the buildings, depending on the time of year and the time of day, you’ll get glare on the sides of the containers that will wash out the image so you can’t look for defects,” he said in a phone interview.
Global uses APS’ OCR system on its ship-to-shore cranes. The area scans use ambient lighting and work well because they just grab the ID number on the container. But the system requires sophisticated software to be effective because, unlike trucks that follow an exact path through the portal entrance, the crane cameras are capturing the number on the fly at different trajectories and speeds as the swaying boxes are lifted.
Ship-to-shore crane OCR technology “wasn’t mature enough to take a chance on,” when APM Terminals built its private terminal in the middle of last decade, Ceci said.
License plate readers, like those on a toll booth, are the easiest and cheapest way to identify the truck and match the transaction to the images captured at the portal, Shultz said. A couple of low-positioned cameras capture the license plate as the truck crosses the portal.
The primary expense with RFID is the readers that must be installed around a facility.
Most marine terminals use license plate readers, even in cases where RFID is deployed because if the RFID tag comes off or isn’t working the terminal still needs to identify and process the truck, Shultz said.
OCR technology is used throughout many marine terminals—at the gate, the crane, the rail transfer and for handoffs inside the facility—and is especially important in semi-automated facilities to precisely confirm that the correct box is placed in the correct stack. APS has a product called Matchmaker that automates the handoff between the ship cranes, terminal tractors and stacking cranes. A series of cameras capture a 2D bar code affixed to the top of the shuttle trucks or yard tractors. The system matches the container ID from the crane OCR to the assigned vehicle. The automated stacking crane does the same thing on the other side.
A terminal will lose productivity if a container is lost because the stacks have to be shut down while someone manually goes out and counts boxes. The container then has to be transferred once it’s located.
The ability to closely track a container is another benefit of using semi-automated RMGs, Ceci said. Finding a container in a stack serviced by RTGs is more dependent on visual cues and ballpark location estimates because not all moves, such as when containers are shuffled, are tracked.
GCT also conducts remote inspections of empty containers in the exit lane to make sure the driver is leaving with an empty box instead of someone else’s load.
When a truck reaches the pedestal at GCT’s out gate, the RFID signal gets matched to the booking and the driver gets an automatic exit ticket printed within five seconds. More than 75 percent of the out-gate moves are completed without human intervention. A gate transaction process that once took anywhere from five minutes to an hour to complete, depending on the queue, now takes 20 seconds to two minutes, Operations Manager Brian Jackson said.
GCT also invested about $900,000 per copy for 17 sprint carriers or “shuttle trucks,” which essentially are lighter, faster versions of a straddle carrier. The vehicles, made by Terex in Germany, drive over a container, pick it up and move it between the ship-side and container yard transfer zones.
When a trucker gets the green light to enter the facility, he or she is routed to one of the 10 stacks in the landside transfer zone to pick up an import or empty box based on the truck’s RFID match with the booking number. The RFID system will read the tag and automatically tell the crane which box to dig out. The system gives priority to trucks parked in the transfer zone, but if a crane is available it will start to dig out a box when the signal is received from the in gate transaction. The system knows a truck has arrived for a particular box at that point and makes sure no other containers are stacked on top. And, if there is no vessel at berth, the waterside gantry crane can be deployed to help the landside cranes.
The best way to reduce wait times is for an appointment system, which a port authority task force on performance issues recently recommended for the entire New York/New Jersey complex, because then the cranes can pre-position boxes for quick pick up, Ceci said.
Safety is a major component of the semi-automated system. The trucker must get out of the cab and stand on a pressurized mat between two concrete barriers. The weight sensor signals to the crane, as well as the remote operator, that the driver is in a safe position. The crane automatically completes most of the move, but an operator using a joystick in the administration building takes control for the last few feet to land the box on the chassis. If the driver steps off the pedestal, the crane will automatically stop and then has to be reset.
Global’s management had originally proposed the trucker press a button for the container to be loaded or removed from the truck, but the International Longshoremen’s Association maintained pressing the button constitutes a new job created by technology that should be performed by a union employee. The passive mat appears to have resolved the disagreement.
The waterside transfer zone is controlled by a red light/green light system, which won’t let a “shuttle truck” or RMG occupy an area at the same time.
As of July 11, GCT had not yet activated the new landside transfer zones because doing so before finishing some software modifications to the terminal operating system would have a negative impact on the operations of the existing fleet of rubber-tyred gantry cranes, Ceci said.
The new 70-acre addition has done some work transshipping cargo between ocean-going vessels and barges, but hasn’t operated the RMGs against incoming trucks yet until the software bugs can be ironed out, he added.
When all the improvements take effect truck turn times are expected to be about 45 minutes, compared with up to two hours in the past to make a double move and depart the terminal, according to a port authority news release.
Ceci said Global would like to eventually implement “generic dispatch,” whereby a trucker that comes for one of several containers controlled by a customer gets the one that’s easiest for the cranes to reach.
In the meantime, the company does its best to ensure efficiency by spreading boxes from the same customers throughout the stacks because that way if one stack is busy a trucker can get another box without having to wait. The same strategy applies to export boxes. Terminals normally group boxes in the yard to go together on the vessel, but spreading them out across all stacks ensures that multiple cranes can be used instead of just one, Ceci explained.
The terminal operating system automatically knows not to put import containers on the waterside of the stack, so that when a trucker comes in his or her container is only a short distance away.
Global two years ago extended its berth area 900 feet to 2,700 feet, giving it the ability to handle two large ships at once, and will receive delivery of two new Liebherr super post-Panamax cranes next summer, Jason Jasovsky, director of maintenance and repair, said during a tour of the facility.
The new facility includes six stacks of refrigerated slots where up to 600 containers can be plugged in, high-efficiency LED lighting throughout, and a new 18-bay repair shop for chassis and containers. The building has better welding equipment and lighting, an improved layout and 10 more bays than the previous one, Jasovsky said.
Global has no immediate plans to convert the legacy side of the terminal to a semi-automated operation, but if the new addition achieves anticipated productivity levels and there is sufficient customer demand the company will consider upgrades, Stephen Edwards, Global’s president and chief executive officer, said.
This article was published in the August 2014 issue of American Shipper.