Flexibility: unlocking technology benefits



Paul Kennedy, Product Manager, Jeppesen, Göteborg, Sweden


Port operators around the world are facing an increasingly competitive and challenging operational environment. Pressure on shipping lines for increased fuel efficiency has seen ships sailing slower, which allows for less time in port, while growth in global trade has increased total demand.

On the supply side, record low unemployment levels and the contraction of available workforce in many industrial nations will make it increasingly difficult for ports to attract and retain staff, while urban growth prevents increased land allocation.

These factors combine to create a challenge common to all port operators – how to increase the throughput rate for containers or trailers at the terminal and meet customer service levels, whilst keeping costs to a minimum. Addressing this challenge requires a three-pronged approach using automation, coordination, and flexibility:

• Automation, through technologies such as robotic gantries or optical readers, enables operators to streamline repetitive activities.

• Coordination, through technologies such as common data exchange or electronic messaging (SMS), enables operators to orchestrate continuous chains of  activities avoiding stop-start and idle time.

• Flexibility, to increase operating hours potentially to 24/7, as well as the situational flexibility to accommodate disruptions due to weather or mechanical faults, is required to exploit the advances of automation and coordination technologies.

While the first two have seen significant gains through the effective use of terminal operating systems (TOS) and other software, the latter aspect – flexibility – has not been addressed. The emphasis has been on the goods to be moved rather than on the allocation of staff and equipment resources to do the moving.

Adding a staff and equipment planning and optimisation system to an existing IT infrastructure can bring significant benefits and enable substantial increases in capacity. Maximising throughput.

Complexity that demands an innovative approach

Assignment of work duties at a maritime terminal is complex due to personnel having different qualifications for tasks to be done, different work preferences, and the need for shifts that conform to labour and safety regulations. Workload demand can vary dramatically, according to season, days of the week, as well as across a given day. Delays in arrival of ships, and on occasion freight, necessitate frequent, comprehensive and rapid re-planning of work and rosters.

The failure to balance resources to meet demand will result in delays in ship movements, overtime payments, loss of personnel goodwill due to late roster changes, excessive payroll costs during idle periods, and labour costs for manually re-planning.

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