The potential benefits of terminal automation are enormous. Automation is becoming a necessity in the future for many terminal operators worldwide. It is almost 25 years since the first automated terminal was created at Rotterdam, and today there are a total of 53 semi and fully automated ports around the world. As terminals seek to become smarter, shifting to automation is increasingly on the agenda.

Improving terminal capacity, predictability and safety

With terminal automation new business and operating models are being revealed that offer great opportunities for the terminal operator – such as maximising container yard capacity on the same footprint in comparison to manual operated yards.

The key commercial benefit to automation is that it creates far greater stability and predictability in a terminal’s operational performance. It also becomes easier to meet client contractual agreements and deliver a seamless service to shipping lines.

For example, a delay in loading containers onto a vessel means a longer stay at the terminal, causing further port delays, potential penalties and a knock-on effect for onward shipping. Automation delivers stable, reliable performance.

Automation also drives significant gains in safety. Separation between people and machinery is widely seen as the way to reduce major accidents and ensure staff go home safe. In an automated terminal, employee roles are mostly in supervision and process management rather than machine operation.

Automation in practice

One of the fundamental automation systems used in an automated terminal is the Equipment Control System (ECS) that steers automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and automated stacking cranes (ASCs) on the terminal. The ECS also calculates fastest routes, minimises waiting times of equipment, routing for avoiding deadlocks and collision of equipment, and controls container handover zones.

Other key automated functions include gate automation (truck handling) and crane automation (remote crane operations). Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology is also implemented on many automated terminals on quay cranes, truck lanes and rail tracks for the purpose of automating container number detection.

With automated processes continually updating the central system, terminal operators can provide full transparency to port authorities, as well as to clients and their logistics partners throughout the supply chain, about the location of each container in real time. 

Revolution in reality

The container terminal sector is a highly competitive one, with terminal operators worldwide vying against each other to attract and retain shipping lines. Most terminal operators today are seeking to future-proof their operations by implementing automated concepts on their terminal.

Operational processes are largely based on repetitive and periodic patterns, and due to the amount of data which automated terminals produce, there is a huge opportunity for artificial intelligence (AI) technology to make operational planning even more predictive, anticipate bottlenecks and optimise operations.

Royal HaskoningDHV has the expertise to deliver terminal automation concepts right from the initial business case through to go-live for a new build greenfield site, or to retrofit a manual operated terminal to automate operations.

Contact our team today to learn how Royal HaskoningDHV could support you in automating your terminal’s operations.