Automation will provide the critical, long-term strategy for creating capacity and improving efficiency in cargo-handling at West Coast ports, according to the recently released Pacific Maritime Association annual report.
The 2011 annual report by waterfront employers contains statistical information on cargo volumes and International Longshore and Warehouse Union wages, but it also presents a preview of what marine terminals at West Coast ports will look like as they are reconfigured to accommodate a doubling of container volumes in the next decade.
“West Coast terminal operators are preparing to automate on a scale not yet seen in the United States,” the PMA stated.
West Coast waterfront employers indicated that in conjunction with the ILWU they resolved in past contract negotiations the same issues that are of major concern today to East and Gulf Coast employers and dock workers. The International Lognshoremen’s Association is negotiating with employers for a new contract to replace the agreement that will expire on Sept. 30. http://www.joc.com/labor/ila-talks-quiet-start
The PMA report said employers and the ILWU have paved the way for automation. “The union has recognized the right of terminal operators to automate cargo-handling equipment. The PMA has provided assurances that maintenance and repair work on automated cargo-handling equipment be handled by the union,” the report stated.
Efforts to automate West Coast container terminals are underway in Southern California. Construction has begun on Orient Overseas Container Line’s Middle Harbor terminal in Long Beach. Mitsui O.S.K. Line is expanding and automating its TraPac terminal, and APL plans to automate its facility in Los Angeles.
The report stated that a number of other terminals in Southern California are “deep into the planning stages” of automation.
The report left no doubt as to the type of automation that West Coast terminals will implement. Automated equipment includes super post-Panamax cranes capable of lifting two 40-foot containers at once, automated guided vehicles to move containers from the wharf to container stacks and electric automated stacking cranes in storage yards.
The ports are also deepening their channels and adding more storage space in order to handle vessels with a capacity of 13,000 20-foot containers that they anticipate will soon be calling regularly on the West Coast.
“In the end, it will be about increased productivity and faster turnaround time to accommodate larger vessels carrying up to 13,000 TEUs,” said PMA CEO Jim McKenna.