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Published: September 2017
The key to terminal automation
With the next wave of terminal automation projects expected to be dominated by brownfi eld developments, Kalmar is taking a more fl exible approach to the market.
The Explore Automation event in Tampere this month was a chance for Kalmar to demonstrate its major commitment to automation. The company’s Competence Centre in Tampere now features an automated RTG, as well as an ASC, Shuttle Carriers, terminals tractors (including an automated version) and other equipment. Terminal operators can see a remote control centre working actual cranes, and Kalmar personnel supporting automation sites remotely in live operation.
It was an impressive display of Kalmar’s big bet on terminal automation, and Tero Kokko, senior vice president, Automation and Projects, said the company is confident about its strategic direction. “We have been listening and looking and investing. This is where we are going,” he declared.
Looking ahead, Kokko said that, in the coming years, there will be a “drastic change” in the nature of the automation market, as the focus shifts from greenfield to brownfield terminal automation.
Of the nearly 120 “prospects” – automation projects in various stages of planning and delivery at the moment – 50% are brownfield retrofits, 10% are greenfield terminals, 30% are extensions at existing terminals, and 10% fall into other categories.
The rate at which these prospects are being converted into firm orders, however, is slowing down, and Kokko said there are three main reasons for this:
- Uncertainty over port calls, following the new carrier alliances.
- Lower growth at terminals.
- The need to see evidence that automated terminals can deliver consistent productivity of over 30 STS moves per hour.
There is a firm belief within Kalmar, however, that this is temporary, and automation will continue to gather pace. The only one of the three factors above that Kalmar can influence is to improve productivity at existing automated terminals, and it is pushing very hard in this direction.
The company has, however, chosen to go down two roads at once. It has not lost faith in the value of its OneTerminal concept with integrated Kalmar hardware and its Terminal Logistic System (TLS), plus the Navis TOS, as the best way to deliver an automation project. At the same time, it is responding to requests for greater flexibility around its automation environment, in an effort to move automation forward at a faster pace.
This is partly driven by the coming wave of brownfield automation projects. These terminals already have existing systems and equipment in place, which makes it even more important to find an automation environment that can work with hardware and software from different vendors, as well as delivering an effective solution for RTG automation.
RTG automation is a separate subject, and Kalmar’s approach will be covered in a forthcoming WorldCargo News article. The important point for now is that it has a system, and, said Kokko, “we are ready to automate any equipment in any environment”.
The new move announced in Tampere is that Kalmar is to offer software development kits and APIs, to allow third-party products and applications to connect to its own equipment control system, the Kalmar TLS.
Access to the TLS will be governed by Kalmar Key, an offering of licensed software development kits and APIs. Terminals will be able to connect third-party hardware, applications and systems to the TLS themselves, or using a third-party developer, and use the Kalmar TLS as an automation platform to control other brands of equipment.
“We want to speed up the industry transformation of container shipping, by offering our customers an automation platform they can utilise in their development. One of the most important factors holding back our industry today is the lack of global commercial standards for terminal automation. Until now, most terminal automation systems have been based on extensive integration of various subsystems and solutions, and each deployment has been more or less unique. Now, we have a common open platform to build on, allowing us to adopt a systemic approach in designing terminal automation,” said Antti Kaunonen, Kalmar president.
“Now, our customers can start building complete automation solutions that are exactly right for their business. Today, separate systems are needed for managing different brands of equipment. As our solution can be used with all brands, Kalmar Key enables customers to develop their automation system in an agile way. With open interfaces, the automation system can be customised and augmented with the required functionalities, and a broader range of capabilities will be available for continuous development. We believe that this will pave the way for robust and diverse business ecosystems around terminal automation that will provide new opportunities for terminal operators, independent developers, and automation system providers,” said Kokko.
The APIs, or application keys, will be available on a licensed basis. They will be provided with professional development documentation, and Kalmar will launch an online forum for partners to collaborate. The first application keys will be available for free, initially, on a trial basis, moving to a fee structure as and when they are used commercially – intended to be in 2018.
The Kalmar Key was welcomed by terminal operators as a good step forward, and some noted that they had been pushing for open access for some time. For terminal operators sitting on the fence over whether to automate, however, the decision still comes down to cost and productivity – in particular the need to see a performance at least as good as their manual operations are delivering today.
Kokko said Kalmar is making good progress in this regard. As reported on page 1 of this edition of WorldCargo News, Victoria International Container Terminal in Melbourne has almost hit 20 moves per hour within its first eight months of operation, and is targeting getting to 25 moves/ hour within 12 months. Terminal operators visiting Tampere heard that Kalmar is planning to cut the ramp-up period for a terminal to hit 30 moves/hour to 10 months, as well as enabling terminals to earn higher customer revenue, starting from the second month of operation.
Arto Keskinen, vice president, Intelligent Service Solutions at Kalmar, presented a case study highlighting how reducing the ramp-up period from 12 to 10 months has the potential to improve revenue by US$1.4M, and to generate a near US$2M improvement in cash flow on a business earning US$150 per move and handling 250,000 TEU in its first year as an automated environment.
The wider automation environment in the industry, however, remains very challenging. In particular, there is still very little standardisation of processes. “Otherwise it would be easy,” said Kokko. The industry is also hampered by a low level of repeatability, with every new project requiring a lot of development work.
Kalmar is focused on helping the industry do better. It has taken on a further 50 employees in the Tampere Competence Centre, taking advantage of Microsoft Mobile and Nokia’s withdrawal from the city to recruit additional software expertise. Kalmar is also hosting the annual PEMA meeting later this year, where issues around standardisation and interoperability are expected to be discussed across vendors.
Success with terminal automation also depends on terminals themselves understanding their own limitations, and properly preparing their organisation for what is a fundamental transition.
Kokko challenged terminals to think harder about the role of systems integration, which is still something many terminals want to do themselves. Integration is vital, but by itself “adds no value”, he said, and there is a pressing need to make it simpler, which is where Kalmar is going with its Kalmar Key initiative....
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This complete item is approximately 1000 words in length, and appeared in the September 2017 issue of WorldCargo News, on page 24.
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