Port automation: The route to the future



Dr Rafiq Swash, Founder, AIDrivers


The first port terminal to introduce automation was Rotterdam in 1993. Terminal operator ECT was a forerunner in its vision to implement automated systems to move containers from quay cranes to the container stack.

Today, Rotterdam is fully automated along with a small number of other ports including China’s Qingdai (QQCTN), Yangshan, Ningbo Zhousan and Australia’s Port of Melbourne.
QQCTN and Melbourne were the first ports to reach the prestigious milestone of full automation in 2017.

However, it is much more common to find partial or semi port automation widely throughout Asia and Europe as operators seek the trade-off between increased cost efficiencies, increased productivity and the reduction of downtime with the overall cost of implementation.

Over the last decade, port operators have shown a clear understanding that automating processes are replete with upsides and in turn the majority are adopting automation where they can.

Benefits range from lower longer term operating costs, greener credentials, less fuel consumption and therefore lower emissions and crucially, improvements in productivity.

The quick installation of automation is highly attractive especially with the collateral safety upticks it brings and entices terminal operators to upgrade facilities.

The key question port terminal operators must address is the level at which the Return on Investment (ROI) makes sense for their operations. This is directly linked to the improvements in sustainable operating maintenance costs.

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