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Empty container handling goes up a few levels in Singapore

Cogent Logistics Hub in Singapore has space for 10,000 TEU of empty containers stacked up to 15-high

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Reefers are stored separately from dry boxes
Reefers are stored separately from dry boxes

During an event hosted by Konecranes in Singapore this month, WorldCargo News joined a tour of the new Cogent Logistics Hub. This new logistics facility occupies a total of 1.65M ft2 in a seven-story building in Jurong, and is now part of the Cosco Group.

The Logistics Park features docks for unloading containers, cold storage for refrigerated cargo, plugs for 160 reefer containers, and a fully integrated container inspection system. The facility is accessed by two circular ramps at
either end of the building. Cold storage is on the ground floor (with 160 reefer points), logistics and warehousing on floors two to five, breakbulk cargo on the sixth floor, and empty containers on the seventh floor, which is the roof
and is known as the Sky Depot.

Overhead cranes

The empty containers stored in the Sky Depot are managed by 11 overhead bridge cranes that can stack boxes up to 15-high. Because the building is not a regular rectangle, the cranes have different travel lengths and spans.

The cranes themselves were supplied by Konecranes, and are based on a standard Konecranes industrial crane with straight rope falls, electronic load control and a target positioning system. Remote control is possible, but the operators at Cogent are in the cabin.


The cranes have a lift capacity of 12t in total, and are fitted with a special lightweight spreader from Elme with a 5t SWL. Operating speeds are 120m/min for long travel and 45m/min for cross travel, with a hoist speed of 65m/
min laden and 100m/min with an empty spreader.

When the cranes long or cross travel, the container is held in position by a blocking system between the spreader and the headblock that physically prevents sway.


The cranes find their target automatically using a target positioning system (TPS), and the hoist is automatically controlled until the last few centimetres. The operator has camera views from the spreader to assist with the operation, and there are flippers on the spreader and a micro motion system between the spreader and headblock for fine positioning. The lifting cycle takes between four and six minutes to complete.

The original concept was to use overhead cranes to manage all the stacking on the seventh floor, and the cranes were estimated to be able to achieve 1,000 moves in 10 hours. However, Cogent modified the design to integrate seven-high empty handlers and standard FLTs on the same floor.


The empty handlers manage lower height stacks where containers experience a shorter dwell time, and the machines have a faster cycle time than the four to six minutes it takes for an overhead crane to move a container. Together, the empty handlers and overhead cranes are moving close to 2,000 containers over 10 hours currently.

While containers can be stacked 15-high most of the time, the limit is 13-high. Dwell times vary from three days for some customers to 15-21 days for others.

Cost benefit

From a commercial perspective, combining warehousing and container stuffing/stripping with depot functions, including container storage, inspection and repair, eliminates a step in the logistics chain by literally placing everything under (and on) one roof. The way the facility is designed requires a truck to access the building from two separate points for an import/export move. But with turn times currently in the 24-18 minute range for dropping off a container and less for picking up a container, the facility operates very efficiently. All trucks have appointments, but there is no OCR system to identify arrivals automatically.


It is also safer, said Cogent, to stack containers very high with an overhead crane than a mast truck empty handler or a reach stacker.

Such a building is, however, very expensive to construct. Cogent management did not disclose any financial data, but it believes there will be more facilities of this type in Singapore and elsewhere, especially where land is very expensive. One of the main drivers in Singapore is that the Jurong Town Corporation has decided that it does not want to have any more conventional depots. Cogent has a patent on its design for Singapore, the USA, Europe, China, Hong Kong and Japan, with other jurisdictions pending.

Cogent is now considering introducing technology to try and automate the container inspection process at its new facility. Currently, it performs two inspections for incoming containers – one for shipping line-owned containers, and a different process for leasing company-owned containers.

A shipping line box inspection takes around five minutes to complete, but a leasing company inspection takes 15 minutes, said Cogent. Leasing company boxes are typically inspected using processes specified by the International Institute of Container Lessors (IICL). These include tests for wall and roof panel deflection, among other things.


An automated inspection process would save significant time and money. WorldCargo News has previously reported on attempts to integrate laser sensors with OCR images to detect damage to containers, but, as far as is known, this did not succeed. In November 2018, WorldCargo News reported that OCR supplier Camco was investigating neural networks and AI to analyse OCR images in such a way that it may be possible to automate damage inspection, but this has not yet been commercialised.

Empty handlers and FLTs manage separate stacks on the same level
Empty handlers and FLTs manage separate stacks on the same level

Konecranes is now working with a Finnish start-up called Conexbird that has developed a system using vibration-measuring technology and intelligent image analysis, coupled with machine learning and artificial intelligence to generate and analyse the data to determine the condition of the cargo and the shipping container automatically. By literally banging a container with a mechanical hammer, Conexbird can generate a vibration footprint that, it is claimed, can be analysed to determine the structural condition of an empty container. This could be done either under a spreader or at the entrance to a facility like the Cogent Logistics Hub.

As well as identifying the condition of a container at an inspection point, Conexbird can be used to gather data on how well the cargo is secured. Following a container and repeating this process through its journey can produce information on any changes in the container and cargo, allowing the vibration pattern to act as a kind of virtual seal.


A container can also be tracked throughout its lifetime, potentially, enabling maintenance to be planned and scheduled around the actual condition of the container. Conexbird is now working with Konecranes to bring its concept to market.



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