Through the early morning haze over New York harbor, Richard Ceci’s window offered a postcard-perfect vista of the Statue of Liberty, the new World Trade Center tower and the Manhattan skyline outlined against the rising sun.
Ceci had no time to savor the view. The vice president of information technology at Global Container Terminals is project manager for the Bayonne, N.J., terminal’s $300 million modernization and expansion, and a 7:30 a.m. operations meeting was about to begin.
The meeting was brisk, no small talk. Global managers in orange-and-yellow safety vests delivered updates and fielded questions on a dozen issues including construction status, the terminal’s wireless network, new truck gates, an accidentally severed electrical cable, unexpected bunching of ship calls and plans for a G6 Alliance ship arriving to drop off and load 4,000 containers.
Multitasking has been the norm at Global for more than a year, spiced by surprises that included Hurricane Sandy last October. But the three-year project is on schedule, and by this time next year, Global will leapfrog Virginia International Terminals’ Portsmouth facility as the East Coast’s most technologically advanced container terminal.
Like Virginia, Global will use remotely operated rail-mounted gantry cranes on its container stacks. The New Jersey terminal will go a step further by installing optical character recognition scanners on dockside cranes, and a high-tech gate system that meshes OCR and radio-frequency identification data to smooth the flow of trucks and containers.
“It will be cleaner, safer, more efficient, and much higher density than our existing terminal,” said Jim Devine, CEO at GCT USA, which operates Global and New York Container Terminal on Staten Island. “I think it’s going to be a really slick operation.”
Amid bulldozers, surveying crews, temporary concrete barriers and trucks spraying water to suppress construction dust, the project is taking shape rapidly. Despite more than a month of disruptions after Sandy flooded the terminal with four feet of seawater, Devine estimates work is more than two-thirds finished.
New gates have opened for trucks, although the inbound gate had to be closed temporarily to deal with startup problems. Crews are laying 10 sets of tracks for rail-mounted gantries. Modern equipment-repair shops have been built. Final touches are being applied to a new cafeteria and workers’ break room. A 900-foot berth extension has been completed, with sheet pilings driven for 50-foot quayside depth at mean low water. Permits have been secured for an additional 1,200 feet of berth to meet future demand.
Outside the terminal, work is under way on an intermodal railyard. State and port authority funds are supporting a $350 million upgrade of the New Jersey Turnpike interchange near the port. Truck lanes at the terminal have been rerouted for smoother traffic flow.
The expansion will add 70 acres to the terminal’s existing 100 acres, but Devine notes Global will remain the port’s smallest major container terminal. “This is why density is so important,” he said. “We have to use our limited footprint as efficiently as we can.”
That’s where technology comes in. Global’s project team is working to meld information systems, yard equipment and work processes into an operation that minimizes wasted motion and maximizes efficiency and safety.
Ceci and several of his colleagues came to Global after working on Virginia’s Portsmouth terminal. Ceci previously spent most of his career as an automotive engineer and in process automation for factories. He said container terminals have unique features, but that their work “is much more generic than people think.”
Container terminals will never operate with the tight precision of an auto assembly line — there’s always a box that arrives out of sequence or must be rolled to a subsequent voyage. But Ceci said terminals need to rely more on process and less on improvisation. “There’s too much that goes on unplanned, and too much loss of efficiency,” he said.
Located in on a peninsula jutting into New York harbor, Global is the port’s only major container terminal that doesn’t have to worry about Bayonne Bridge clearance problems. It already handles ships with capacities of more than 8,000 20-foot-equivalent units and will be ready for the larger vessels the port expects to attract when the Panama Canal’s larger locks open in 2015.
When Global opened 41 years ago, a 1,500-TEU ship was considered large. Global was a wheeled operation — containers were stored on chassis and could be tracked with clipboard and pen. That’s impossible with today’s volumes. There’s no time to root through a five-high stack to uncover the right box.
Global’s new gate system will use RFID tags on drayage trucks, required under a new portwide program, to provide a heads-up on arriving trucks. OCR cameras at gates will identify the container and set in motion an information flow designed to direct the box to the right place. OCRs on dockside cranes will identify import containers as they’re lifted off ships.
The idea is to leverage technology so containers don’t get lost, Ceci said. “Identify the container once, track it every time it moves, and then you don’t just have a big pile of boxes that are going to Algeciras,” he said. “You have a very specific set of containers going to Algeciras, and you know where every one of them is and the order in which you need them on the ship.”
Under the plan, dockworkers will concentrate on exceptions — OCR scans that aren’t clear, or last-minute changes to accommodate customers. “When a person is involved, there will still be plenty of opportunities for them to add value to the process,” Ceci said. “The value they add will be to do their work exactly accurately every single time.”
Global’s expanded terminal will be semi-automated, as Devine has emphasized repeatedly. Unlike terminals in Rotterdam and Hamburg that use automated guided vehicles to transfer boxes between ship and container stack, Global will use small shuttles driven by longshoremen.
“We’re not designing this terminal to eliminate jobs,” Devine said. “We value our longshoremen and want them to be able to make a good living and to work in a safe environment.”
Alongside the remotely operated rail-mounted gantries in its new yard, Global will continue to use manned rubber-tire gantry cranes and straddle carriers in the terminal’s existing section. The RTGs and strads will be used mostly for empty boxes, which don’t have to be stacked in any particular order. Ceci said it makes sense to use the more technologically advanced RMGs to stack and move loaded containers, which must be tracked more precisely and cycled through the terminal more quickly.
Automation was an issue in the recently concluded negotiations for a new six-year International Longshoremen’s Association contract, and New York-New Jersey marine terminals are watching to see how the local contract’s changes are phased in. But for now the labor front appears peaceful, and several Global dockworkers said they’re pleased with the terminal’s modernization.
John Atamian, general maintenance foreman in ILA Local 1804-1, said Global’s new 18-bay maintenance building is a vast improvement over an older nine-bay structure that was too small for 45-foot containers. “This is the No. 1 maintenance facility on the East Coast,” he said.
Luigi Patalano, a 38-year member of ILA Local 1588, said the modernization and expansion would ensure Global’s viability. Standing under a towering dockside gantry crane, he pointed toward the construction farther down the pier. “That’s the future,” he said. “It’s got to happen.”