Background for Spreading Terminal Automation and Its Expected Influence on Terminal Operating System
Born in Europe with expensive labor for the purpose of improving profitability of terminals, automated terminals have since gained in vitality. Recently, their sphere of influence is gradually widening to include Asia, Middle East, and the Americas. While there is not much expectation of an improving shipping market, we may take a look at the background for the increased automation of terminals and look into forthcoming changes.
1. Cause for spreading automation of terminals 1: increased terminal traffic
Container shipping companies are pushing for new strategies in order to secure operational efficiency in the face of an unstable market and rising oil prices. Two major strategies are the up-sizing of ships and the hub-and-spoke system. In step with the changed strategy of shipping companies, which are their customers, container terminals have in turn come to draw up their own strategy.
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As shown in the figure above, container ships have steadily gotten bigger for last 50 years, and construction of 20,000-TEU ships is expected to realize sooner or later. Accordingly, having to accommodate such increasingly large container ships, container terminals have found it inevitable to implement changes in their berth operation such as terminal dredging and replacement with large cranes. Especially as the up-sizing ships cause the concentration of workloads on different quay cranes inside a terminal and thereby make it important to distribute work and secure productivity up to the yard, interest in terminal automation has grown naturally.
Meanwhile, the expanded operation of the hub-and-spoke system by shipping companies also contributes to the spread of terminal automation. While sharply reducing the number of ports of call on the existing routes for large ships, global shipping companies want to include on their routes only the main terminals that serve as hubs for different regions or sectors. Therefore, terminals have to equip themselves with greater competitiveness compared to their neighboring terminals in order to be chosen as hub terminals that could host large ships. As one of the strengths, they are presenting the reduction of on-board work through terminal automation.
2. Cause for spreading automation of terminals 2: falling prices of IT equipment and technological maturity
The lowering cost for realizing latest technology in a company’s business, which is enabled by the accelerating development of IT, serves as a factor that speeds up terminal automation. In general, many of the newly built automated terminals realize automation by securing high-priced automation equipment such as unmanned cranes and unmanned transport equipment. However, even without replacement with new equipment and with improvement of hand-held devices, sensors, and network alone, a terminal can be run like an automated terminal. Thus, cheaper IT equipment has made even ordinary manually operated terminals give a realistic consideration to the realization of an automation system.
The trend is further accelerated by the increasing maturity for existing core technologies such as RFID, GPS, DGPS/INS, OCR, and CCTV, which are used to identify the location of equipment and cargoes and related operations in the terminal, and exciting initiatives for tapping into the new technologies such as IoT, cloud, and big data.
3. Paradigm shift of terminal management system
What kind of influence will the terminal automation, which is spreading for such reasons, exercise on terminal management? While the erstwhile terminal management system has several different systems running in sync with TOS at the center, the axis will move to automation down the road. In other words, in the existing TOS-centered terminal management system, basic data is manually entered beforehand, which is saved into the database and used for terminal operation. On the other hand, an automation-focused operation of terminal management system uses real-time operation data in the terminal as basic data for terminal operation, and its operational results are fed into the planning and running operations.
With such evolution of terminal automation technology, a considerable portion of tasks except planning, so far conducted in terminals, will shift their operation to automation-focused mode. That is, as accumulation and utilization of real-time terminal data become possible through automation, the influence of TOS dwindles while that of automation solution increases on terminals.
In this light, we forecast an increase in solutions and related suppliers that can supplement or replace the functions of TOS. Now, not only the existing companies possessing the core technologies for automation such as Identec, Wherenet, and Certus, but also TOS suppliers such as CyberLogitec and Navis will register an increasing tendency to expand the scope of automation. Besides, we expect that optimization and simulation companies and equipment controller companies will actively participate in terminal automation through cooperation and partnership among companies.
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