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Published: September 2017      

VICT on the road to 30 MPH

The new fully automated Victoria International Container Terminal is another step forward in the industry’s journey with terminal automation.

As well as being one of the few ‘fully’ automated terminals in the world, Victoria International Container Terminal (VICT) is ICTSI’s first ever terminal with equipment automation. Speaking at Kalmar’s Explore Automation event in Tampere this month, Anders Dommestrup, CEO of VICT, described the terminal as “the big bet” on terminal automation. It was required as part of the bidding process for the terminal concession, and, when VICT decided to implement a full terminal automation system, some of the technology it needed was not yet available.

VICT is built to handle Neo-Panamax ships up to 19-rows wide, and has a total capacity of 1M TEU initially, which can be expanded by 400,000 TEU on full build-out. The terminal is one of the most, if not the most, automated facility in operation today. It features five ZPMC STS cranes with ABB crane automation and remote control, 20 Kalmar ASCs, 11 Kalmar AutoShuttles, Kalmar Automated Truck Handling (ATH), Kalmar Terminal Logistics System (TLS), and the N4 TOS from Navis. Other systems include OCR (both crane and gate) and the 1-Stop vehicle booking system.

The terminal is now handling one weekly service, and regular ad-hoc calls from vessels subcontracted from other terminals in Melbourne. Dommestrup said the average container exchange is 1,500 boxes, with some vessels requiring over 2,000 exchanges.

As noted on the front page of this edition of WorldCargo News, STS crane productivity is now averaging just under 20 moves per hour (MPH). This is not yet at the level the terminal wants to achieve (30+ moves per hour).

At the landside, productivity has been excellent from the start. The terminal handles almost no transhipment, and truck turn times average less than 20 minutes, with an average of 1.6 containers per truck call. Single container turn times are just 12 minutes, and the automation system is delivering 95-98% accuracy in truck handling.

Ramping up

Commenting on the process of improving productivity and the ramp-up period, Dommestrup said VICT had benefited from Kalmar being able to test the ASC crane control system and software interface on one of the ASCs in Tampere before any equipment was actually delivered. Close attention was paid to the testing environment, and, just as others with experience in automation have said, Dommestrup stressed the importance of doing as much testing as possible before going live, when problems are much easier (and cheaper) to solve.

Nevertheless there will still be issues. At one stage, the automation systems produced several thousand alarms in a single day, all of which must be cleared by an operator. Kalmar and VICT have been working systematically to make the system smoother, but there is a need, said Dommestrup to reduce the “sensitivity” of some of the crane automation systems, and to categorise alarms so cranes do not stop for events that do not need intervention. Both of these can be achieved without compromising safety, he added.

With regard to the “teething problems” experienced, Dommestrup said that 50% of the issues are related to technology, and 50% to people and processes. VICT began with a completely new workforce, including the remote control STS crane operators, and has had to focus a lot of attention on reinforcing operational processes, and getting people to follow the detailed steps required. Automation does, however, provide a lot of transparency, in the form of data on how the equipment is operated. VICT had one incident where a crane driver hit a ship with a container, and the crane control system provided full visibility into exactly what happened.

Lessons learned

Automation is a challenge right from the start, and Dommestrup said it is important to recognise that the whole way of operating at an automated terminal is different. This is a major challenge for people with experience in conventional terminals. When issues arise, there is a temptation to “customise” the system, which is really just trying to go back to a manual way of operating, instead of using analytics to identify and solve processes issues. Getting the right personnel is one of the major challenges, and “you will have to look in different places” to find these people, added Dommestrup.

He also made some interesting comments on the process of specifying and purchasing terminal automation. Some consultants have pushed the message that automation specifications need to be very detailed and prescriptive, with tight definitions of what each system and sub-system should do, and how they should be integrated. VICT’s experience, explained Dommestrup, is that automation is evolving, and this requires flexibility. In particular, he advised terminals to “look beyond consultants”, and to “demystify” automation for themselves.

VICT began with four separate contracts for the automation systems. It later revisited and changed this arrangement, in part because changes were constantly being made that affect more than one aspect of the project. VICT adopted more of a “project management” approach than a highly prescriptive, specification led approach.

The numbers

For terminals still wondering whether automation makes sense from both cost and productivity standpoints, VICT’s experience is insightful. The facility is now targeting 25 moves per crane within its first year of operation, and is supporting each STS crane with two shuttle carriers. Dommestrup said he is confident VICT can operate at 30 moves per hour at this ratio.

The CAPEX requirements for automation are still a challenge, but the operating costs of an automated terminal are a significant advantage. VICT will get to 500,000 TEU with a staff of 100 people, and to 1M TEU with 130-140 people.

This is really just the beginning, however, and Dommestrup said there are a lot of value-added services that automation can support by leveraging the data the system generates. As an example, VICT decided to install a container weighing system on its ASCs, and incorporate the actual container weight into its processes, right from the start. It is now looking at how it can “harvest” that data as Australia tightens its Chain of Custody regulations around the safety of freight transport by road and rail.

ALP still coming

VICT was to be the first terminal to purchase Bromma’s Automated Lashing Platform (ALP), with the goal to automate the last remaining manual process under the STS crane. However, when VICT made its decision, the ALP was only a prototype, said VICT CEO Anders Dommestrup. It was designed with an emphasis on operating entirely autonomously from a crane, complete with its own power source.

In operations so far, the ALP has successfully automated the process of inserting and removing a twistlock, but VICT needs to automate not just this physical process, but all the data processes around the twistlock removal, in order for the complete system to be a success. In that respect, Dommestrup added, “it should be part of the crane”, both in terms of being connected to the power supply and to the information flow in the STS crane process.

Bromma is working on a final product that meets VICT’s needs, and Dommestrup believes it is very close. The new version will be fully integrated with the STS crane process, and VICT is looking for a reliability figure in the 98-99% range. Until it arrives (expected to be at the end of this year), VICT has taken the ALP out of its operation....

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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 28.

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