Global supply chains are transforming through digitalisation and automation to become more capable, connected, efficient and insight driven. Tom Crawford-Condie, WSP’s Principal Maritime Engineer believes Australia is at the forefront of automated container terminals.
He says, “Australian ports such as Brisbane and Sydney were early leaders in the adoption of automated container handling and Melbourne’s fully automated Victoria International Container Terminal (VICT) is at the cutting edge of automation globally.
“Increased demand over the next fifteen years means we need more capacity at our ports. With a renewed focus on automation and ambitious new developments such as Westport and Port of Melbourne’s Capacity Expansion Program, Australian ports can continue to improve their performance and competitiveness and lead the charge in the future.”
Why do we need our terminals to be automated?
Tom has been involved with the ports industry for the last twenty years. Most recently, he was involved with the development of Working Group 208, developing planning guidelines for the automation of container terminals for PIANC, the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure and presented on these guidelines to PIANC ANZ Northern Chapter. He has also played a key role in planning and designing automated terminals across Australia and overseas.
He explains there are multiple benefits to having automated ports including efficiency, safety, security and reduced operating costs.
“You have less people physically working there, which means it’s a safter and more secure environment.
“Equipment is still being run by people but they’re not physically in it, they’re sitting in an office controlling it remotely and often they can be controlling multiple machines at once. For example, Australia’s hot summers can make the working environment difficult so having people working in air-conditioned offices rather than driving machinery around means less risk of heat related injury.
“There are also operational cost savings attributed to having less people required to operate the terminal. And, there are also sustainability benefits such as having a fully electrified terminal that reduces emissions and with further opportunity to draw on renewable energy sources, making them Future ReadyTM for a net-zero economy.
Planning is the biggest challenge
As shown in Figure 1, developing an automated terminal is very different to a traditional one, with the major difference being the length of time needed to design and commission it.
“It’s about looping people in much earlier in the planning and design phases,” Tom says. “You need all systems – operations, power, information technology, security etc. – to be integrated together and it has to be done at the beginning.
“You think about procurement strategy, the financials, the commercial basis and what the split of responsibility will be between the port authority and the operator much earlier than with a conventionally operated container terminal design.”
“There is a strategic function to a fully automated terminal, and keeping the continuity of knowledge throughout is important.
“By engaging WSP early in the process, we can come provide the expertise and leverage decades of experience to assist with setting up this plan and the strategy. Our ongoing support through all the project life stages can help to maintain the necessary continuity of decision making and knowledge transfer.”
Figure 1 Phases and typical timeline for development of container terminals with different levels of automation
Source: WSP, based on guidance in PIANC Working Group 208 ‘Planning for Automation of Container Terminals’
Cost is also a factor
Automated terminals can also be more expensive to build depending on the location and client needs, and the benefits take time to accumulate. Sam Harris, WSP’s Technical Executive – Maritime, says multiple different approaches and technologies are available to an organisation planning to develop an automated container terminal.
“Visual planning is important to be able to look at the different options and layouts for the terminal and to make sure it meets current and future needs.
“Using WSP’s Port Rail Intermodal Modelling Environment (PRIME), we can do advanced modelling quickly and effortlessly to see the level of performance that will be achieved by different configurations and automation as well as access information about costs, emissions, equipment and workforce.
“We can also use it to establish the required start and completion date of each phase and score performance measures to match the client’s needs. As automated terminals require bigger lead times to plan and build, this is critical in establishing a strong business case.”
Making Australia’s freight Future Ready
Maritime transport underpins Australia’s international trade and like all industries is experiencing rapid advances in technological innovations.
There are significant advantages of automating terminals including safety, productivity, consistency, efficiency, sustainability, competitive advantage.
However, the decision to automate should be based on a robust business case with planning and expertise.
“Ultimately, successful integration is the critical factor as automation requires precision. Organisations need to be ready to operate automated facilities as they’re not a simple ‘plug and play’ solution,” Tom concludes.