The future is NOW

28 Апр

В статье рассматривается роль и значение автоматизации технологических процессов на транспорте. Особое внимание уделяется контейнерным операциям. Автор отмечает повышение эффективности бизнеса и смягчение негативного влияния человеческого фактора в транспортном бизнесе в связи с автоматизацией (компьютеризацией) производственных и технологических операций.

Since the early 1990s, automation technology has come on in leaps and bounds and now represents one of the container sector’s most rapidly evolving and exciting fields.

Industrial automation, essentially, is the use of mechanic, hydraulic, pneumatic, electric, electronic and computerised elements or systems to control equipment and processes, thereby reducing the involvement of humans in such activities.

Removing, or at least reducing, human intervention in industrial activities, allows for a higher control of the equipment and processes involved. This results in the standartisation of performance and service levels, the elimination of uncertainty in response times and the reduction in operational costs and human errors. It can also mean added security: a computer can’t be bribed, after all.

These advantages, coupled with the rapid pace of technological developments, and given that the current volume of worldwide trade means that an economy based only on manual labour is nowadays virtually inconceivable. Automation is a global trend present, to a greater or lesser extent, in almost all industrial fields.

The logistics sector and the supply chain are no exceptions. And in the port sector the greatest proponents of automation are container terminals.

Automation technology has and will continue to play a key role in developments in container handling and automated systems enabling remote operations of hardware (for example, of ship-to-shore (STS) and stacking cranes) as well as monitoring automatic gates.

From an initially slow start, automation in container terminal yard operations has now taken off. Hundreds of driverless cranes are now in operation in container yards worldwide and these are rapidly becoming the standard. Horizontal transport between the quayside and the stack has not yet reached the same level yet and in many cases, automated yards are served by manned horizontal transfer vehicles.

However, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) have been deployed and proven for horizontal transport at a number of facilities and automated shuttle carriers are now offered by some suppliers.

The development of sensor and navigation technology during the last two decades has made it possible to physically remove the driver from the container handling machine. The unmanned machine is then completely controlled by a computer or by using a combination of robotic and remotely operated work phases in sequence.

A huge driver in the adoption of automation technology and its development are the rapid changes seen in the container sector in recent years. More 16-19,000 teu vessels are being introduced every month and soon the average vessel size on the Asia-Europe trade will be an eye-watering 14,000 teu.

The resultant cascading of larger vessels, plus new shipbuilding activity, means the average ship size will almost double in the next few years. This means that while terminals will have fewer ship calls to deal with, the size of the calls will be much bigger, and no increase in the time available to make that call — usually fewer than 24 hours — will likely be forthcoming

The launch of the ECT Delta Terminal in the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands in 1993 introduced the concept of “automated terminals” to refer to the highest level of automation to date, and since then Europe has traditionally led the way. ECT was equipped with automated stacking cranes (ASCs) and automated guided vehicles (AGVs), allowing it to manage, without operators, the handling of storage and interchange equipment respectively.

Since then many terminals have embraced automation, and it has been consolidated as a global, permanent trend in the sector.

Nowadays the term “automated terminal” is used to refer to container ports which in reality have only automated the movements in the yard and dockyard interchanges, such as the ECT Delta Terminal. In these cases ship-to- shore operations remain manual whilst remote controllers assist the interaction between yard cranes and the inland transportation. This is, however, only one of the many automated possibilities in the terminal sector.

An intermediate solution between automated and manual terminals is, for example, the partial automation or semi-automation of principal movements. The term “semi-automated terminal» is used for terminals where, whilst yard movements are automated, dock-yard interchanges are carried out by conventional equipment, or vice-versa. Automated and semi-automated terminals implement major or total automations, resulting in automated equipment such as ASCs and AGVs.

The term ‘semi-automated’ can however also refer to the use of equipment controlled remotely or the systematisation of some of the functions of the equipment through minor or partial automations. Major or total equipment automations are the sum of a comprehensive and integrated group of technologies or systems which separately could be considered minor automations. Thus, at times, it is possible to completely automate conventional equipment by implementing the necessary low level automations following a retrofitting process. This is a solution for terminals in operation that have not yet depreciated their initial investment in equipment

Three primary trends are evident in today’s market;

•          The automation of gates, both land and sea, using optical character recognition technology;

•          The automation of yard operations;

•          The automation of quay cranes.

Often the first automations implemented in container terminals, as well as being some of the most advanced automation systems in today’s market, are those related to the processes that take place at the terminal gates.

Yard automation is the most apparent trend in terminal operations. The automated technology of storage and transfer equipment is similar and handles the automation of the inventory of the stock of containers located in the yard and the monitoring of equipment in real time. It is evolving towards the design of handling systems that are increasingly self-sufficient in operational and economical terms such as those composed by the combination of ASCs + AGVs, ASCs + ALVs (Automated Lifting Vehicles) or ASCs + AShC (Automated Shuttle Carriers), amongst others.

The list of automated and semi-¬automated terminals has not stopped growing over the past years and it will continue doing so given increased investments being made in automation projects and the construction of new automated terminals in different geographic areas.

Finally, quay cranes are the elements of operations whose automation is less developed, although it is foreseen that

Automation they will be the equipment with the biggest technological advance over the coming years. To date efforts to automate quay cranes have resulted in minor automations which, implemented in factories at origin or by means of retrofitting, can mechanise some of the functions that until then depended on the ability of crane operators.

These are focused on the control of the movements of spreaders, both involuntary (sway and skew) as well as their pathway, and the connection between quay cranes and transfer equipment.

One huge development in recent years has been the removal of operators from the quay crane itself and placing them in control rooms elsewhere on the terminal. Switzerland based ABB piloted the world’s first remotely controlled STS crane in Panama in December 2010. Shortly after in 2012, the company received three orders from the largest container terminals in Europe and the Middle East — from two terminals at the Maasvlakte 2 extension at the Port of Rotterdam, and from the new Jebel АН T3 container terminal in Dubai.

All the STS cranes at both Maasvlakte II and Jebel Ali T3 terminals will be equipped with ABB remotely operated crane systems, a total of 41 cranes for which production began in 2014. This market breakthrough has been driven by the growth in vessel size and the corresponding growth in the cranes needed to handle them, with operators situated 50 m or more from the ground.

By the time you read this, АРМ Terminals’ Maasvlakte II facility is expected to have begun full operations at the Port of Rotterdam. This terminal will boast the highest level of automation reached to date, combining the automation of gates and yards with almost the complete automation of the pathway made by the trolley and spreader of the quay cranes. This will be assisted by remote control from the operations control tower at the terminal only for the last few meters to the ship.

Maasvlakte II will have an initial annual capacity of 2.7m teu, and will be joined later in 2015 by the Rotterdam Gateway Terminal, which will also employ a large degree of automation.

Last summer, in a fenced-in area of the new terminal, two massive robots could be seen moving containers around with no people anywhere in sight.

William Rengelink, technical integration manager for the terminal said that the robots were “practicing” while people simply observed. Rengelink directed the hidden part of the terminal build — the software and systems that the machines and people will rely on to operate the terminal.

About 300 people will work at Maasvlakte, almost all of them outside the container yard. And of the 74 machines in the yard, 63 will run on their own with no human intervention.

Expectations for the terminal are high, not least in terms of productivity.

“Based on the yard design and with the automation, we expect to be 25-50% better in terms of container moves per hour than any other terminal in Northern Europe,” said managing director, Frank Tazelaar, adding that he expects the terminal will ultimately “compete with the best in the world.”

Until opening day, Rengelink and his team of 40 IT and operations staff will test the endurance and integrity of all the equipment and functionality of the software around the clock.

They conduct tests with individual machines and also when operating together in ‘mini-terminal’ type scenarios.

He said that the nature of the project meant that the system would not be perfect right from the off.

“We’re building a system, so we need the system to respond to changes and exceptions on its own and we won’t know all those scenarios on day one. We need to see real operations to know what needs refining and tweaking, which will be continuous until we reach our performance targets.”

While Europe has led the way, there are indications that automation could be poised to take off in regions that have been previously slower on the uptake than Europe Last year it was announced that an investment of more than US$37m is to be made at a Super Terminals container terminal in the Port of Manaus, Brazil, in order to automate the facility.

The terminal’s general manager Bruno Waskow said: “At Superterminais we will add more automation to our operations. In Brazil, and especially in Manaus, we are different from the US and Japan. We work with a lot of manual staff so we must improve our procedures and cut our operating costs by bringing in more automation.”

There are also plans for a third container handling facility in addition to Super Terminals and one other terminal in Manaus.

The plan is expected to go-ahead once the Brazilian Tribunal da Contas de Uniao (Court of Audit) has made an investigation into the proposed project’s tender processes.

In Manaus, MOL, Zim Line and Mediterranean Shipping Co make regular port calls at Super Terminals, with 45% of the deep-sea cargo unloaded at Manaus handled by the terminal.

Many US ports are also considering automation, at least to some degree, and last year JOC wrote that with US ports pondering the inevitability of automating their terminals, the obvious questions become “when?” and “how much do we spend?”

It can cost anywhere between US$300m- 500m to fully automate a terminal capable of handling 2m teu per year, meaning that port and terminal operators must “choose the right cargo handling equipment based on the physical configuration of their facilities, the size of the vessels that call there, the container volumes they will handle and the mix of import, export and transhipment cargo that they will handle.”

“The Stone Age didn’t end because they ran out of stones,” Mark Sisson, who leads the marine analysis group at AECOM, told JOC. “If automation can move cargo at least as efficiently as manual processes, but at a much cheaper cost, terminals in the US will eventually automate.”

For all its obvious advantages, automation can, however, prove a contentious issue, especially in terms of labour agreements, with fractious situations currently ongoing in both Europe and the United States in which automation is believed to be at least part of the cause.

Rotterdam World Gateway has been hit by protests and slowdowns and automation has also been cited as one of the reasons behind the disastrous situation on the US West Coast that has been unresolved for so long that the White House has seen fit to get involved.

Despite the potential drawbacks, it is clear that automation is both the present and future of the port and terminal industry and, with technology marching rapidly onwards, represents one of the sector’s most exciting fields.

Автор: Dan Blows

Источник: Сontainer Management. — 2015. — March. — P. 38 — 40.