Sustainable Terminal Automation



Tommi Pettersson, Vice President (Automation) and Ilkka Annala, Vice President (Project Delivery), Kalmar, Tampere, Finland


Automation is widely accepted as the way towards improved productivity, safety, efficiency and competitiveness in today's container ports and terminals. In addition to newly built greenfield terminals, the benefits of automation are also accessible to existing terminals. Automated terminals can help improve the sustainability of operations in several ways. Optimised container flows reduce energy consumption and emissions. Automated equipment leads to a safer working environment, significantly lower accident rates and reduced insurance costs. Automated operation also extends equipment lifetimes, thus preserving resources and contributing to sustainability. A conversion to automation is a significant undertaking that requires profound technical expertise as well as the capacity to integrate numerous complex systems. In order to carry out the conversion in a sustainable way from the point of view of the environment, economy and people, both client and vendor need to focus on careful mapping of the terminal's business processes and on a deep-reaching change in operational culture.

Cornerstones of success

Automation projects always revolve around a basic wish list – an ideal implementation encompasses the following: • Minimal operational downtime • Shortest time to value • Improving / maintaining operational performance • Improving / maintaining reliability. Success in practice will depend on skilful optimisation of these and numerous other factors. A key consideration is implementation time. On the one hand, terminals seek to minimise the cost of conversion, often by combining components from multiple vendors. On the other hand, every interface between two systems must be automated. The simpler the overall system and the fewer interfaces that need to be integrated and tested, the faster the implementation. Simply optimising individual system components is a short-sighted approach. If automation is built with a ‘bits and pieces’ philosophy, a terminal may save in the (very) short run, but these savings can be lost at the deployment stage due to the added complexity of integration. By contrast, a vendor that can offer a preintegrated solution will be able to provide a system that is not only deployed faster, but is also more cost-effective as a whole.

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