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An “AI” first for TBA

TBA’s implementation of its Yard Crane Scheduler, enabling “the First Automatic RTG Ranges in the World”, is an important step towards automated yard planning.

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RTG scheduling has long been a difficult challenge at container terminals, particularly those with larger fleets. WorldCargo News has discussed previously how yard planning tools in TOS applications can result in some RTGs being overloaded, while others have little or nothing to do.

Better tools have been on the market for a while, but getting terminals to use them has been a big challenge. TBA’s yard crane scheduler is a “TOS plug-in” that aims to make sure the yard cranes are in the right place at the right time, and the workload is balanced. It manages equipment numbers, and distributes machines in a way that prevents yard clashes and problems with demand peaks causing bottlenecks.

When yard crane scheduler was developed TBA said had two implementation options: as a supporting programme connected to the TOS to give the planner feedback on plans made in the TOS; or implemented into the TOS environment where Yard Crane Scheduler does its work automatically.

TBA has now announced that “One of the largest RTG terminals in the world has recently completed the integration of TBA’s Yard Crane Scheduler (YCS). By automating the task of setting ranges for their 130+ RTGs, the terminal has enabled their dispatchers to work proactively to prevent bottlenecks. The productivity of their RTGs has increased by 10% as a result”.

TBA declined to name the terminal or the TOS, but my best guess is that it is the RTG terminal at DP World’s Flagship Jebel Ali facility. TBA had previously announced that Jebel Ali planned to implement YCS, and it appears that now it has moved to let YCS manage the RTG fleet, which numbers about 130 machines.

With YCS RTG ranges can be managed automatically
With YCS RTG ranges can be managed automatically

The bigger point here is that TBA has automated a planning process. “TBA’s Yard Crane Scheduler represents the start of a new era in container terminal automation and optimisation. It connects to the Terminal Operating System (TOS) to continuously obtain information about the yard operation and analyses that data in real time to provide the user with a picture of the optimal distribution of the RTG workload. The RTG ranges are updated in the TOS automatically, resulting in better workload balancing and increased productivity. The Yard Crane Scheduler is beneficial for terminals with more than 1 million TEU throughput, in particular,” TBA noted.

This is an important moment for TBA. For some time now it has been pushing the message that terminals need to move from viewing optimisation applications as a tool to assist current manual processes to an automated planning environment, where the algorithms and software are left to make the decisions - a change that is as much cultural as it is about technology.

Today that same message seems to resonate more if the algorithms and software tools are called “Artificial Intelligence” (AI), even if container terminal processes might be relatively narrow and discrete compared to other AI applications.

AI or not, TBA’s core message that software can do a better job of managing a complex scheduling programme such as managing a fleet of over 100 RTGs has not changed since the company first discussed yard crane scheduling with WorldCargo News in 2013. The company states today: “The core of the Yard Crane Scheduler tool lies in the ability to automatically update the ranges of RTGs by continuously monitoring the operation. By looking further ahead than a human operator could, better decisions are made on the long run. The optimisation of the ranges is a continuous process and any changes in crane deployment or planning are processed directly. By taking the expected workload into account, the RTGs will be in the right place at the right time”. Further details of YCS can be found here.

For this new implementation the YCS software was developed and tested with TBA’s emulation software, CONTROLS. “In July 2017, the Yard Crane Scheduler was deployed full-time – for the first time – across the entire terminal with the goal of automating the RTG ranges in live operation. The RTG performance and user experience improved significantly without negatively affecting the quay cranes”

When compared to 2016 productivity data QC productivity was stable (with a slight increase) while RTG productivity “increased by 10% during the first few months of active deployment compared with the figures from 2016. The TBA Yard Crane Scheduler is still having a positive impact on the terminal’s daily operations as evidenced by their productivity reports. Another 10% increase is expected for 2018 when lane change automation is considered,” TBA concluded.

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