Improving the operational performance of STS cranes



Erik Lindeberg, Automation System Design Engineer, ABB Crane Systems, Västerås, Sweden


As global trade continues to increase there is a steadliy growing worldwide demand for container handling capability at the lowest possible price. Competition is sharpening as new container terminals are being built using the latest technology and existing terminals consider ways to increase their capacity while decreasing  their cost. Not only is the total volume of annually shipped containers growing but so is also vessel sizes and the number of containers handled in a single port of call.

Whether a large new terminal with massive automated yard handling capacity or a smaller terminal trying to keep up with competition, they all have the same strong incentives to improve the operational performance of the STS cranes in their terminals. To meet the increased demand in quay crane capacity, different strategies can
be adopted using a larger number of cranes or more complex crane designs such as dual trolley or dual hoist cranes. For all types of mechanical crane designs automation features can be implemented to increase a crane’s productivity and decrease its operational cost further.

Even though there are evidently strong incentives for improved STS crane productivity and automation concepts can be used to achieve these goals, there has been widespread resistance against fully adopting the concept of automation in the crane business. Automation features have been perceived by some as too complex
and by others as resisted among the crane operators since there is something in the notion of automation inherently conflicting with their professional pride.

However, as STS automation has been around for quite some time by now and as terminals adopting automated rail mounted gantry cranes as their choice for yard container handling bear witness of the proven large scale productivity gains due to automation, the general view is changing. Confidence in crane automation is growing as the concept is gaining a more widespread understanding and acceptance.

Terminals actually using their STS automation features indicate that with the implementation of proper operational policies and providing the right incentives for operators and maintenance personnel STS automation can successfully be implemented to increase the overall operational performance of a terminal. The rapid development in areas such as sensor technology promise that the future will see a continuing development in crane automation systems.

Automation technology

Over the years ABB has been pushing the frontier of container crane automation in terminals worldwide and has developed a wide range of products and systems for the automation of both STS and yard handling RMG cranes. By choosing to combine these products and systems in different ways, an STS crane can be equipped to a varying degree with automatic features to aid the crane operator in achieving productivity benefits while still maintaining control and responsibility over the crane in every situation.

The automation of STS cranes is sometimes referred to as semi-automatic since a crane operator is always present tosupervise the automatic motion and to handle  the parts of the job sequence requiring manual operation such as for example pick up and set down on the vessel. Over the world ABB crane automation has been applied to regular STS cranes as well as dual trolley cranes and soon the world’s first automated dual hoist STS cranes will be in production. The ABB STS automation product portfolio includes a series of optional products that can be combined freely to create a suitable automation solution for any needs:

Electronic Load Control (ELC)

The ELC system provide sway free manual operation of the load by means of Sway Control and automated travel cycles between any selected positions on vessel and quay following an optimal safe path and accurate positioning at the target by means of Position Control.

Ship Profile System (SPS)

A laser based ship scanning system generating a height profile of a vessel for use in providing the optimum safe path for the ELC. By enabling main hoist smart slowdowns and trolley obstacle avoidance over the ship, the SPS guarantees fast and safe container handling over the vessel.

Skew Control

By minimising the skew motion of the load and controlling the skew angle to a given reference, Skew Control speeds up the landing sequence on both vessel and quay. Skew pendulum is usually induced by unevenly distributed load, the wind or by mistakes during landing.

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