Automated cranes at container ports



Harry Valentine, Transportation Research Engineer, Cornwall, Canada


Simultaneously transferring multiple containers between ships and barges

Present port operations

The majority of intermodal container movement involves transfers between ships and trains or ships and trucks and major ports. Recent innovation has increased the efficiency by which a crane moves a single container on or off a ship. At some ports, operators can now remotely control a crane via a telecommunications link from a ground-level play station. The technology uses multiple cameras and computer assisted control to reduce container transfer time for a single crane.

Precedents for future innovation

New technical developments usually involve improving earlier technology, or by borrowing precedents from related technologies to produce a useful product. Future crane technology may be based on developments from bridge technology and may include cantilever bridge spans. Operators may remotely control cranes via telecommunications lines and play stations while computer programming would allow automated cranes to greatly increase the number of containers being transferred per single movement and within a specified time duration.

Technical improvements in barge-train technology on the Mississippi River enhance the viability of future containeron- barge transport that would interline with oceanic ships at ports where rivers meet the ocean. The V-notch stern allows barges to be coupled into a rigid train that a tug may push and steer from the stern. The design allows for rapid coupling and uncoupling of barges to and from the barge train during stops. The combination of improved barge technology and automated crane technology promises to greatly improve the efficiency and cost competitiveness of ship-barge intermodal transportation at several major ports.

Ship-barge intermodal prospects

Barge trains operate along such rivers as the Yangtze, Mississippi, Danube, Parana and the European barge canal network. They interline with oceanic container ships at ports such as Rotterdam, New Orleans, Buenos Aires and Shanghai. Barge trains offering viable container-on-barge transportation already prevail along the Mississippi, Danube and Yangtze Rivers. Evolving technology has the potential to greatly increase the competitiveness of ship-barge intermodal transport against shiprailway and ship-truck intermodal operations.

Depending on the allowable beam, barges may carry between3 and 11 barges abreast with 3 to 7 barges placed lengthwise, on  multiple levels. The economics of container-on-barge transport depends on the ability to move very large numbers of containers by barge, along selected routes. Barge trains of up to 15 coupled barges have sailed on Canada’s Mackenzie River. Extended length barge trains could sail such rivers as the Parana and Ganges, which are both without navigation locks. Future ship or barge intermodal ports would be designed to moor barge trains parallel to container ships.

Crane design basis

Precedents from bridge design involving piers and cantilever spans may be incorporated into future crane design. Ships and barges would be moored between extended parallel bridgetype piers that duplicate as a dock that carries several parallel rail lines on which the crane moves. The design would be compatible with the parallel mooring of ships and barges that carry containers parallel to their keels. Groups of automated cranes would be assigned to each ship and simultaneously transfer of multiple containers in single movements between ocean ship and inland ship.

A group of 3 vertical support cantilever structures mounted on rail wheels would carry the weight of the cantilever span that would straddle over the barge, ship and the outer piers. The crane may move parallel to the ship. Rails built into the cantilever span would carry a suspended carriage, similar to the overhead-suspension train at Wuppertal, Germany. The carriage would house cables linked to multiple sub-carriages with locking pins that would connect to shipping containers to raise and lower them. The suspended carriage would move sideways over the ships and piers as it simultaneously transfers multiple containers in a single movement between ship and barge, guided by automated computer control.

Automated conveyors

Automated computer control would direct and coordinate the operation of cranes and conveyors built on the central pier and placed between the rails at the base of the vertical support structure. The computer would contain the ship’s manifest. Via camera, it would read the number on each container that a crane picks up, know its destination port and direct the crane to either transfer it to the adjacent ship or place it on the conveyor. The conveyor would move it to a different location along the pier, where another crane would transfer the container on to a designated barge.


To read the full article download PDF

Cookie Policy. This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.