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Terminal operators to come together on automation

FEPORT and PEMA have launched a joint initiative to establish “Terminal Industry Committee 4.0” to try and get the industry to agree on standards that support the development of innovation, including terminal automation.

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The need for standards to assist the container terminal industry to adopt digitalisation and automation has been a constant theme at this year’s TOC conference in Rotterdam. The conference kicked off with Keith Svendsen, COO of APM Terminals, calling for terminal operators to work together on standards if the industry is to improve its performance implementing terminal automation.

“We believe automation has to happen, but we still need to address many issues and we need to work on standards and not increase complexity for the sake of it,” said Svendsen. “Many other industries have solved the complexities associated with automation and terminal operators have to step up and take responsibility for this.”

Earlier this month Kalmar President Antti Kaunonen said suppliers cannot deliver better automation outcomes by themselves. “As solution and service providers, we simply can’t build an industry-wide standards framework as fast as it is needed, if such a framework is not urgently demanded by the industry; i.e., our customers. The terminal industry needs to sit up and do more on this front”.


Svendsen agreed: “We have to standardise the many processes and operational interfaces, and establishing a Terminal Operators Association for standardisation could be the answer.”


In fact terminal operators and equipment suppliers had already taken steps in this direction. At a meeting in Brussels on 30 May between 15 members of FEPORT (the Federation of Private Port Companies and Terminals in Europe) and members from PEMA (the Port Equipment Manufacturers Association) agreed to establish the Terminal Industry Committee 4.0 (TIC 4.0) to “delineate a corpus of definitions regarding concepts and technical terminology that are specific to the container handling industry, as most of the terminology used in the sector remains subjective”. The TIC 4.0 initiative is being headed by Frank Kho, an industry veteran with both terminal operating and vendor experience, who is now a consultant.


TIC 4.0 certainly has its work cut out. The issue of standardisation was discussed in a debate I moderated to start the TEC TOCH Forum at TOC in Rotterdam. Alex Duca, Director, Head of Automation at APM Terminals said the company now has six terminals with equipment automation in its portfolio, and each has a completely different automation framework, with its own software and integration environment.

Francisco Blanquer, Innovation & Development Senior Manager, Terminal Link, highlighted how a lack of standards is not just making automation more difficult, but limiting the ability of a terminal operator to participate in Industry 4.0. The lack of any standard interfaces and protocols, he said, means Terminal Link is faced with a US$1M development project just to access data from a crane.


The five crane OEM and automation suppliers represented in the debate all backed the call for terminal operators to work together on defining standards, but there was not much agreement on what exactly should be in these standards. Tuomas Saastamoinen, Senior VP, Sales and Marketing - Port Solutions, Konecranes said terminal operators should focus on defining the processes and performance levels they require from automation, leaving it to suppliers to work on the protocols and interfaces for connecting the component parts of an automation system.


Dr Christian Koegl, Senior Vice President from Siemens, took a different view, and argued that the industry would be better to focus on defining protocols and interfaces for connecting to the key applications like the equipment control system. At the moment, he said, these are different for every automation project, and this increases the time and cost of development, and slows down implementation time.


The road to standards is going to be a long a difficult journey for TIC 4.0. It is starting by setting up sub groups initially dealing with “safety, performance of equipment, telematics, energy, environment and procurement related definitions as a first step towards standards definitions.” The work will start right at the beginning - Kho said initial definitions will include things like what is a “container move” and how fuel consumption in litres per hour for a machine should be measured.


In the meantime the industry will keep moving forward. In the WorldCargo News debate both Alan Peterson, Industry Segment Leader - Crane Systems, TMEIC and Uno Bryfors, Senior Vice President – Ports, ABB noted that as the number of automation projects gradually increases, the same suppliers find themselves working together more often, and are able to re-use interfaces and other development work from one terminal to the next. Peterson said suppliers will ultimately deliver what the market demands, and if terminal operators are able to agree on standards vendors will follow that lead, but the industry is not going to wait for this to happen.


Kalmar supports standrads, but is not going to wait for them either. This week it published the first application key for “Kalmar Key”, its automation platform with open interfaces. The first key is for automated RTGs and “opens up Kalmar’s best-practice model for systems integration in terminals that follow the ’AutoRTG with coupled manual horizontal transportation’ concept. It includes generic interface specifications, high-level business process descriptions to support integration, and access to the Kalmar Key partner forum and a software development kit,” Kalmar said in its announcement.



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