Navis’ system takes aim at technical issues involving bigger ships.
By Chris Dupin
The growing size of containerships and desire by carriers to minimize delays is resulting in increased interest in software and systems that can be used to optimize terminal operations, said Andy Barrons, a vice president at the terminal automation company Navis, which provides software at about a quarter of the world’s container terminals.
He noted when Maersk Line released its highly-publicized shipping “manifesto” last June, it highlighted terminals as a problem area in the world of container shipping, writing that one-third of container delays are caused by vessel operations and weather conditions at sea, two-thirds are due to terminal operations.
Barrons said terminal operators are investing in three types of systems functionality – process automation, equipment automation, and software that can optimize business intelligence.
As examples of process automation, he pointed to optical character recognition (OCR) and the use of radio frequency identification equipment. RFID tags, for example, are used by terminals in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to identify trucks.
Containers, chassis, and trucks can be virtually “tagged” as they enter the terminal — either at the gatehouse or as cargo is discharged, then tracked until they leave the facility.
“It gives the terminal real-time information as to what’s happening across the terminal so they can make decisions about the most efficient moves,” Barrons said.
For example, a truck entering the terminal is identified and systems make sure it’s not dwelling too long. Navis software can also be used to schedule truckers more efficiently, and help reduce the amount of time they spend idling their engines.
Today companies are using the technology to send instructions to drivers and tell them where to place or retrieve containers, and Barrons said “the next step will be to send the instructions to the vehicle itself and drive the vehicle in an automated way around the terminal and so that will provide a higher level of efficiency and increased safety as well.
“There is a push to automating the horizontal transport within the terminals,” he added. “Once you have the capability to do that then you have all that data in the terminal operating system so the terminal itself can look at it and you get into the business of optimization.”
For example, he said ships often have a tight window of time in which they need to discharge and load cargo.
“You can use technology to recalculate all the moves you need to meet a tighter window. It gives the fast decision support that would be done manually today,” he said.
Navis said its SPARCS N4 system has been selected for high-profile terminal projects such as Dubai Port World’s London Gateway, OOCL’s Middle Harbor Terminal in Long Beach, Calif., and the Global Terminal in Bayonne, N.J. It is also bidding on the Maasvlakte 2 project in Rotterdam.
DP World, APM Terminals, Ports America, and International Container Terminal Services Inc. are all users of the company’s software at multiple facilities, Barrons said. The world’s two largest port companies, Hutchison and PSA, have their own in-house systems.
“The dynamics of the industry is such that the terminals of the future need to be more competitive. As you get bigger vessels, they need to be unloaded more quickly and containers need to move through the terminal with greater velocity so that industry can leverage the scale of the bigger vessels and the efficiency that they provide,” he explained.
“There is optimization technology out there today, but there is a long way to go,” Barrons said.
“We have some advanced apps like ‘Prime Route,’ which calculates the optimal moves for a vehicle around a terminal yard,” he said.
Barrons said most industry consultants say ports are looking for a 10- to 20-percent improvement in productivity from optimization software to get good return on investment.
Optimization software can help a terminal with real-time operations, for example anticipating where congestion is going to build up and take action before it occurs. It can also aggregate and track data and compare it against key performance indicators so that executives can better manage terminal performance.
Navis licenses its SPARCS N4 platform so that terminals can add various applications for tasks such as routing equipment, stowing cargo or billing.
“Every terminal is unique in terms of the mix of equipment, yard layout, and volumes going through, so the system has to be highly configurable to meet all the demands. The other aspect is integrating other technology such as OCR,” Barrons said.
“We will work with any technology provider and make sure their technology integrates with the Navis operating system,” he said, and in some cases it has worked with equipment makers to create pre-integrated interfaces so implementation is easier.
Navis was acquired by the Finnish crane and equipment manufacturer Cargotec in 2011 and the company has begun to market its hardware and Navis’ systems jointly. DP World’s London Gateway will use the Navis N4 system along with 40 automatic stacking cranes and 28 shuttle carriers manufactured by Cargotec.
While the N4 system is usually run from an on-site server, the company has begun working with terminal companies so they can manage multiple terminals from a single site. South Africa’s Transnet Port Terminals manages seven terminals from a single system, and Haifa Port Terminal in Israel manages four sites from a central location.
Despite concerns voiced about automation by labor leaders like Harold Daggett, president of the International Longshoremen’s Association, Barrons said “investment in automated terminals around the world has actually moved ahead at a faster pace than we anticipated originally.”
The company now has 50 of its N4 systems installed at terminals handling 30 million TEUs, compared to 21 systems at the end of 2010 handling 15 million TEUs.