LONG BEACH, Calif. — It costs a carrier about $61,000 for every day one of its 12,500-TEU ships stays in port, so the quicker a terminal can turn a vessel around, the more a carrier can save.
“Faster turn times save $20,000 per day,” Andrew Penfold, project director for Ocean Shipping Consultants, told the JOC’s annual TPM Conference in Long Beach on Tuesday.
That is one of the chief reasons that container terminals all over the world are trying to automate their terminals, to become more competitive in an era when volumes are not growing fast enough to mask flagging performance, Penfold said.
He described a new port productivity tool being introduced by The Journal of Commerce that provides terminal users with the metrics to compare port productivity. It collects operating data supplied directly by 17 ocean carriers regarding 400 ports and 700 terminals globally. It measures ship arrival and departure times, the number of container moves during the ship’s time at a terminal and the individual vessel size.
The data on port productivity will be published quarterly, which factors out seasonal variations. “We have to compare oranges with oranges,” he said. “Each terminal has a different customer base and type of operation. So it’s hard to measure productivity.”
Although terminal automation is the desired goal of many northern European terminals, full automation may not pay off for some U.S. terminals, other panelists said in the session on port productivity.
“Automated terminals are quite complex,” said Dr. Felix Kasiske, partner in HPC Hamburg Port Consulting Group. “Do you have the project management to manage all the complex elements? Do you have terminal operators who can manage the operation?”
Kasiske said terminal operators have to think through the process of automation very carefully before they invest in the complex systems required to operate an automated terminal.
“In automated terminals, the system drives the robots. You buy the machine for the next 20 to 30 years, so you have to think up front before you buy the machine how you want to configure the terminal,” he said.
On top of that, after a terminal invests as much as $58 million to fully automate a terminal, a demand by one of its carrier customers for one additional crane and the rails on which it moves can wind up costing an additional $4.3 million, or $56,000 more per day, Kasiske said.
Mark Sisson, senior port planner at AECOM, said the cost of longshore labor on the U.S. West Coast, the highest-priced port labor in the world, is driving the move toward more automation. Adding momentum to that movement is the strong interest in sustainability.
Sisson said terminals that continue to use manual labor can achieve the same rates of productivity as automated terminals, and can also use electric RTGs and yard tractors that make them as “green” as a fully automated terminal. But in the end the main forces driving the move to automate terminals are their improved safety and sustainability.
Ed DeNike, president of SSA Containers, said his company’s terminals don’t have enough volume to warrant the cost of full automation, so it has adopted the approach of automating its truck gates and investing in computer equipment that can tell truck drivers where to unload and pick up containers without human intervention. He said the automated gates have eliminated lines of trucks entering or leaving SSA terminals. “Our driving motivation is to make money and stay alive,” he said.
SSA has invested $8 million to $12 million per terminal to automate and centralize its gates, which DeNike said has paid for itself in 2 1/2 years. “If we increase the number of container moves per hour, it falls right to our bottom line,” he said. “One more container move per hour is $10 million. If we do 10 more per hour it’s $100 million.”