Over the past few years, we have seen attempts at automation in marine terminals with RFID, GPS and optical character reader technology with very few successes. That’s due in part to the rush to implement these systems and the manner in which they were attempted. While an economic downturn is not good news for our industry, 2009 may provide time to pause and evaluate the standard approach to implementing electronic locating systems and gate and yard automation.
The typical legacy terminal-operating system lacks the necessary framework to easily accept the hardware interfaces required for full automation, and the cost and disruption of replacing such systems is typically prohibitive. While many terminals automated their processes in 2007 and 2008, this year may see a different trend: the strategic introduction of middleware solutions between the terminal-operating system, planning system and hardware peripherals.
The painfully slow hardware implementations of the past few years have not highlighted a failure of hardware providers, but rather one of terminal-operating systems. Single-version terminal-operating system applications with multiple installations lack the flexibility and agility to be customized to satisfy the unique hardware interfaces required for each installation. A middleware solution allows the customer access to the source code, business rules and multiple interfaces that make the inflexibility of the terminal-operating system irrelevant.
2009 might be a year of cost-cutting and retrenchment as we wait for volumes to pick up and a new rush of international commerce to begin. However, it also might be a year in which small, cost-effective investments can lay the groundwork for future upgrades to technical infrastructure. When cash is available for larger automation projects, intelligent middleware can help those tools to “plug and play” rather than grind and fail.