Optimisation at the terminal does not only mean improving productivity and reducing operational costs. Optimisation represents a new approach to managing container terminals; it is the mostsignificant driving factor in changing the traditional operational approach and methodology applied at container terminals. It also allows terminals to have a focus on efficiency which needs to address the trade-off between vessel service time, terminal capacity, and cost per move.
In terms of the marine shipping industry, one of the most accurate definitions of optimisation is: “The act of making a system, design or decision as effective or functional as possible.” Optimisation as a discipline is an ancient science best illustrated over time.
The history of optimisation
Greek mathematicians used to solve optimisation problems related to geometrical studies. After the invention of calculus, mathematicians were then able to address more complex optimisation problems. Following the start of the World War II and the advent of the operations research field, the concept and practice of optimisation began to develop and received significant academic and industrial focus. Mr J. Von Neumann, a leading individual behind the development of operations research, contributed substantially to the field of algorithmic research. And in the 60s and 70s, complexity analysis began to further support the use of optimisation. Then, in the 80s and 90s as computers became more efficient, algorithms for global optimisation with the purpose of solving large-scale problems began to gain momentum and credibility.
Considering the present
The continual advancements in technology with respect to computing power along with significant research in applied mathematics and computer science have solidified the value of optimisation to the industry and the end user. This has enabled advanced theory to be applied in a way that has sometimes invisibly improved our lives during last 20 years. The progress is amazing. Today, companies such as UPS and Federal Express utilise complex routing algorithms for resource allocation and supply chain distribution to deliver an item to our door with seamless efficiency. Their results have in turn changed the way millions of us find information, shop, and even do our jobs.
Today, many industries use optimisation as a more general term that covers areas from manufacturing process efficiency to improved distribution techniques. The core objective of optimisation is improving and controlling the process – whatever it may be – and allowing people with responsibilities in those areas to make better decisions. Operations research, for example, is a discipline that deals with the application of advanced analytical methods to help make better decisions at the right time and within the time constraints of a live operation.
As with other industries, the shipping and container space is currently going through its own step change to achieve new levels of operational productivity in response to mega-trends, such as globalisation and sustainable operations. To compete, ports and terminals have decided they need to adapt to their changing demands by optimising their activities in areas such as berthing allocation, vessel planning, fleet size optimisation, shift resource planning and equipment scheduling. All of these areas are critical for minimising the cost per move factors and maximising overall terminal performance and throughput.
Optimisation also provides the intelligence and the tools to support this changing industry, but it is not meant to be a black box. A container terminal is a very complex system with many unpredictable variables. Those focused on achieving optimisation will need to be able to control, monitor and configure the behaviour of this intelligence behind the machine and systems, filling any critical gaps between the planning and execution.
Containerised cargo makes up about 60 percent of all dry cargo trade in the world; since the advent of the cargo container more than 50 years ago, this number continues to grow. The appeal of containerised cargo is well known – cargo can be seamlessly transported from origin to destination via a variety of modes without the need to unload and reload its contents. The marine container terminal is at the junction of water, rail and truck transport modes. And as a consequence, marine container terminals are some of the most essential, yet challenging, links in the global supply chain.