The terminal industry will require new business models that enable collaboration and inclusion if they are to take advantage of the potential benefits of automation and digitalisation.
That was the view expressed during the first panel session of the Container Terminal Automation Conference (CTAC) event on 1 December 2020, which looked at the future of automation, how far the industry has progressed and what it needs to do in the near future.
Oscar Pernia, Director of Automation and Process Engineering, Terminal Investment Limited (TIL), said the industry needs to “modernise the workforce environment” and that automation is ultimately “all about people”.
Pernia said terminal operators and authorities need to work closer with labour unions to widen the talent pool. This not only involves attracting new people to the industry but also training those who are already working in terminals to reap the benefits of automation.
Furthermore, he called on governments to offer more help in forging new partnerships between terminal operators and labour unions, claiming barriers had to be removed.
This view was shared by Eva Savelsberg, Senior Vice-President, Logistics, INFORM, who said it was important to find training methods to help and improve the competencies of employees at terminals if the benefits of automation are to be reaped.
“There is also a responsibility for software vendors to make systems easy to use so they can be an easy bridge to the new age,” Savelsberg added.
This ‘new age’, Savelsberg insisted, will involve automation and smart technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).
Utilising smart technologies to their full potential could also help the industry achieve other goals, such as sustainability, as cargo can be processed more efficiently.
Carlos Lopez Barbera, Director of Product Management, Navis, while moderating the panel asked if the COVID-19 pandemic will have a positive effect on the implementation of automation and efforts to diversify the terminal industry.
He cited the rapidly growing need for technology and the growth of remote working for evidence that it might well do so, and hinted agreement with Savelsberg’s claim that the future workforce of terminals will be far different to today.
Automation and smart technologies will also have wide-reaching implications on terminal projects and developers, authorities and operators will have to implement AI-based decision support optimisation tools at the design phase.
Christian Blauert, Global Director of Port and Terminal Development, Moffat and Nichol, said a challenge is the lack of a standard best practices in IT, automated configuration, automated equipment or civil structure at this phase.
The many challenges the industry faces in implementing and utilising the technologies on offer led Lopez to ponder if automation projects had been approached in the right way in the past.
Instead of first automating the equipment in the yard and on the ship-to-shore side, terminals and operators should have first identified business models and tried to find ways to include supply chain stakeholders.
Gerhard Fischer, Head of Sales, Siemens, disagreed and said that it was “reasonable” to start with automating the equipment and that the digitalisation phase was the natural next phase as the industry was learning from what it did before.
Where all parties agreed was the need for collaboration between terminals and supply chain stakeholders, which technologies such as AI and ML can do by building new business models based on big data.
The role of the terminal may well change in the coming years as the supply chain becomes more connected and it could take more responsibility in bringing stakeholders, instead of being a thoroughfare for goods. However broad the business transformation, digitalisation will be at the centre of it.