Integrated terminal automation technology – the future of storage terminals



Richard Thompson, Europe, Middle East and Africa Regional General Manager, Honeywell Field Solutions, Bracknell, UK


The story so far
The humble storage terminal has long been an essential part of many organizations operating out of ports around the world. However, many view these facilities as a ‘non-strategic’ element of the business, perceived more as a warehouse to store finished product, and not as a potential profit centre. While perhaps not unexpected, this view consequently means many sites have remained bereft of significant capital investment for many years, resulting in an overwhelming number of facilities running on technology and equipment that is, in many cases, long past its best. But in recent years a series of emerging trends and a focus on the upstream business has started to change this industry view, causing an increasing number of organizations to begin to look at their facilities as potential untapped resources.

Three of these key trends are as follows:


  • A growing number of industry examples where investment in terminal automation has produced rapid returns on investment, whilst significantly boosting on-site efficiency.
  • The increasing need (often driven by legislation) to improve on-site safety, following a number of widely publicized explosions, leaks and security breaches at terminals around the world.
  • The arrival of ambitious new independent players in the market, who are using terminal automation as a unique selling point in their service offerings to gain a competitive advantage.

Recent estimates show that terminal facilities across Europe and the Middle East are currently an average of 15 years behind the wider process industry in terms of adopting new technology, but trends show that this gap will shrink by half over the next decade, largely due to the aforementioned factors. While likely to still remain behind the industry curve, at least for the time being, this narrowing of the gap as a result of consolidation, aggression of newcomers to the market and the consequent increase in competition, will certainly have a significant positive impact on many terminals in the region over time.

The advantages of terminal automation
Port storage terminals are becoming more strategic than ever before, and a modest investment in these facilities can lead to a real competitive edge in today’s market.

The implementation of terminal automation technology is one of the easiest and most cost effective ways in which to boost efficiency on-site, and the fact that many terminals in EMEA currently have little or no automation in place makes it relatively easy for organizations to bring their automation up to 'process industry' standards.

Two areas that have been identified as key focus points for terminal automation are:

  1. Terminal efficiency – Focusing primarily on accuracy, availability and intelligence of field devices, while upgrades to the terminal control system interface and algorithms can also make an immediate and significant impact on terminal efficiency.
  2. Terminal safety/security – Focusing on alarms, overfill prevention interlocks and reconciliation, all of which play a major role in mitigating risks and safeguarding against major incidents, and help bring facilities in line with industry regulations.

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