In a global business such as shipping, cycle time is everything. However, rising global shipping traffic and larger container ships are slowing some ports down. Ports must find ways to tackle increasingly daunting issues, such as: larger container volume; larger container ships; rigid, fixed scheduling systems causing a queue of vehicles and trucks; and the loading, unloading, and checking of these vehicles slowing the process even more. Ports must get “smart” to solve these issues. Ports that become more efficient by implementing smart technologies, such as automation, will attract more and more business while those ports who do not keep up will wither.
This is where automation plays a crucial role in the smart port initiative to drive innovation and create efficiency. Numbers show automation is one technology that ports will increasingly adopt. The global automated container terminal market is expected to grow 25 percent by 2021, and research from McKinsey shows 35 percent of port stakeholders believe the proportion of automated ports will rise above seven in ten. Automated terminals allow ports to handle containers more efficiently by using operating systems to plan storage in accordance with collection and trans-shipment times. This reduces unnecessary box moves, shortens cycle times, and enables consistent and predictable throughput numbers with the potential for 24/7 service. At the same time, automation reduces carbon emissions, giving ports an additional competitive edge in an industry increasingly focused on sustainability. By digitizing and automating activities once handled by human crane operators and cargo haulers, ports can reduce the amount of time ships sit in port and otherwise boost port productivity by up to 30 percent by some estimates. Automated systems also allow seaports to boost the efficiency of one of their most limiting, finite resources: space. With only so much waterfront property to go around and the volume of cargo rising, ports face a dwindling amount of real estate into which a port must cram its pier side functions, cranes, truck traffic patterns, and container patios.
Here is a look at a few automated terminals and how they successfully adopted automation to take their port efficiency to the next level:
The Port of Shanghai is not only the world’s busiest post, but the also the world’s largest fully automated port.Phase 4 expansion of Yangshan Deep Water Port, covering 2.23 million square meters, began trial operations in December 2017. Once fully operational, the terminal will add seven additional berths to the port and eventually boost the Port of Shanghai’s capacity to over 40 million Twenty Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) per year. Upon completion, the Yangshan container port will be fully handled by 130 automated guided vehicles Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), the most in any single container terminal in the world, 26 bridge cranes, and 120 rail-mounted gantry cranes.
The APM Terminal at the Port of Rotterdam’s Maasvlakte II facility calls itself the world’s “most technologically advanced and environmentally sustainable container terminal.” The 180-hectare terminal has a 2,800-meter long quay of 19.65 meters and offers a throughput capacity of 4.5 million TEUs annually. The terminal began automated operations in 2015, controlling its ship-to-shore cranes to transport containers to and from vessels and lift-AGVs, which have the capacity to carry two containers at once. Guided by an onboard navigation system, they then automatically transport these containers from quayside to the container yard. There, 54 automated rail-mounted gantry cranes take over placing containers at their designated locations, be it in the container yard, on a truck, or at a rail terminal.
While the efficiencies gained from automation are significant, it also increases a port’s vulnerability to cyber risks with the use of technologically advanced and networked systems. The challenge to protect automated terminals lies with their inherent complexity. These terminals use industrial control systems (ICS) that translate sensorial data and commands into mechanical actions. The network links between mechanical equipment and sensors are exposed to the same threats as data networks. ICS are not designed with cyber risks or active network monitoring in mind. The complexity is also intensified by the extended time it can take to detect and fix vulnerabilities in automated systems. A breach could take weeks or months to detect in a compromised terminal. In an automated system, different system components must effectively work together as one, stretching the time needed for detection and remediation. A software fix may require significant down time.
As we continue to emphasize, ports must invest in cybersecurity to increase their security posture as they move to implement any smart port technology. Automation is no exception. Such steps include:
- Design with defense-in-depth in mind
- Design basic safeguards into your smart port systems
- Practice good cyber hygiene
Automation aids in competitive advantage for ports worldwide by achieving operational efficiency and boosting productivity. However, cybersecurity must be in the forefront when implementing this smart technology.