Enhancing container terminal productivity: A co-maker approach between carriers and operators



Martin Ilmer MSc, Center for Maritime Economics and Logistics (MEL), Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands



Ongoing globalisation and the subsequent outsourcing of production to low cost countries have led to a steep increase in container volumes. According to research carried out by Drewry Shipping Consultants the global container volume has grown on average 10.5% year-on-year in the period between 1995 and 2004. Traffic to and from the Far East grew 12.7% over the same period. The response from carriers to this increase in demand was obvious; huge new-building programmes have been initiated. Based on the latest information sourced from BRS-Alphaliner, the overall order book equals 55.7% of the current container carrying capacity employed. A large part of this is so-called super post-panamax vessels with a capacity above 5,000 TEU.

Consequently, container terminal operators are faced with the challenge to provide the same degree of turn-around time to these large vessels as they offer to smaller ones. In a terminal landscape that is currently characterised by a lack of real expansion possibilities, especially in North-West Europe, the present key issue is how to improve and optimise the turn-around time of large vessels in a “static” production environment. Handling capacity at a container terminal is driven by two parameters, one within the span of control of a terminal and one outside. The quantity and quality of hardware and the level of staff training can be controlled by a terminal, the stowage composition of a container vessel and landside based cargo arrival/ departure patterns cannot. Especially by managing these external parameters further synergies can be reached.

This paper highlights the interaction between the two parameters and illustrates how a co-maker approach between carriers and terminal operators can result in higher production, utilising existing capacity more effectively. It emphasises the need for better process coordination and information exchange to reduce idle production time.

Terminal productivity: A thin line between capability and deliverability

Further steps in economies of scale by employing larger vessels will see a radical shift in the way ships are handled. The characteristics of a standard 8,000+ TEU vessel, with a length of 334 metres, a width of 42.8 metres and a 14 metres draught, put an operational challenge on container terminals. Larger call sizes, exchanges between 3,000 and 4,000 containers are becoming the standard, and subsequent demand for higher crane and berth productivity stimulate terminal operators to develop new and enhance existing working procedures to meet these requirements. Given the very capital intense nature of liner shipping, main priority will be given to the minimising port time. This will lead to the need of generating productivity levels going far beyond the current standards.

The first response of container terminal operators to this was to invest in new hardware such as gantry cranes, stacking yard equipment and (semi) automated production solutions. The development of the Altenwerder Terminal in Hamburg and the design of the Euromax Terminal in Rotterdam are examples of this. It is obvious that hardware investments have their limits both in terms of technical and economic aspects. A further increase in gantry crane productivity only makes sense when this productivity can be used effectively. Idle time and planning constraints often show a large difference between the technical capability and the effective deliverability of a gantry crane. This is an area when productivity gains can be made rather easily through better coordination between the vessel and the terminal. Examples of this will be discussed later. New working methods like dual cycling, tandem lift and twin-lift operations can only improve handling productivity when the vessel stow plan supports these methods. The synchronisation of stow plan design/quality and crane allocation/lifting methods is a promising area for further production gains.


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