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Pushing the edge in container handling through technology

Pushing the edge in container handling through technology
The container shipping industry is becoming increasingly competitive and complicated and leading terminal operators such as Hutchison Ports are taking steps through the use of technology to serve their customers better as well as cut down inefficiencies.

In its latest newsletter, Hutchison highlights one of the key issues and some of the efforts it is making towards resolving them by making use of technology. This comes along with investments made on IT and support infrastructure to serve these growing needs as well.

The rapidly growing volumes in the thriving intra-Asia trades have caused some ports in the region to become victims of their own success, with resulting congestion and delays. Citing industry figures, Hutchison Ports noted that intra-Asia container volumes are set to rise from around 31m teu in 2018 to approximately 34m teu in 2020.

Noting the complex and fast-moving nature of the intra-Asia trade and its particular characteristics, group commercial head of Research and Analysis Helen Li said these included high service frequency, requirements for quick vessel turnaround time, transshipment connectivity requirements, and late instructions or last-minute changes.

“Because of the nature of the intra-Asia trade, the requirements it places on ports and terminals is the need for flexibility and efficiency. This creates challenges to terminal operations in yard shuffling needs, as well as transshipment and operational complexity,” Li added.

The problem is serious, with port congestion at smaller Asian ports resulting in delays of up to seven days, earlier this year. The growing container volumes were exacerbated by inefficient operations and inadequate infrastructure exacerbated by bad and unstable weather conditions, particularly in eastern China.

Although equipment issues have been most readily blamed for the congestion and delays, with the lack of availability of quay cranes at many smaller Asian ports seen as reducing the number of moves per hour, and thus resulting in even further delays, part of the problem can also be attributed to the characteristics of smaller vessels which also restricts the number of cranes that can be deployed.

“Vessels catering specifically to the intra-Asia trade are relatively smaller than those deployed on the main trades. The smaller vessel sizes and shorter vessel lengths of intra-Asia vessels (approximately 1,500 teu) makes it more difficult for terminals to achieve higher productivity, because operators would not be able to deploy as many cranes to service these smaller vessels,” Li explained.

“In addition, these Intra-Asia vessels may not necessarily require as many crane moves, which affects operational efficiency as the time required for berthing and unberthing would still be similar despite the relatively lower volume of moves,” she added.

To mitigate the time carriers lose to delays caused by congestion, bad weather and the knock-on effect of extended waiting time on other Asian ports, Hutchison Ports works closely with carriers towards improvement in operations planning, handling efficiency and fine-tuning the capabilities required to cater to the needs of customers.

“Our terminals co-ordinate with shipping line customers to make adjustments to the berth plan to spread out the workload as much as possible. We will alert shipping lines in advance to changes in our berthing situation so that they can make the required adjustments to their sailing schedules and port calls accordingly,” said Li.

“We also continue to work with carriers to encourage optimal stowage which would allow shorter vessel turnaround times,” she added.

Read More: Hutchison’s new Laem Chabang terminal will showcase remote controlled port operations

In addition, investments have been made in the latest equipment such as at Hutchison Ports Thailand’s Laem Chabang Terminal D, which has become the world’s first port facility to operate both remote-control Quay Cranes (QC) and Rubber-Tyred Gantry Cranes (RTGC).

The group is also making effort to increase efficiency through more standardisation and shared services. Driven by Hutchison Operations’ strategic direction, the first in-house Regional Operation Centre (ROC) was commissioned in Karachi in the second quarter. The centre aims to centralise stowage planning delivery for both Hutchison’s Pakistan terminals as well as extend this expertise to other Asia terminals within the group’s network.

“Hutchison Ports has a strong presence in Asia serving the Intra-Asia trade.  We are enhancing the capabilities of our facilities across the region, such as the development of Terminal D in Laem Chabang (Thailand), to serve growing volumes,” concluded Li.

Learn more about smart ports at Seatrade Maritime Middle East in October 2018

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