Friday, 22 June 2018

TOC tackles automation

The container terminal industry gathers in Rotterdam next week for TOC Europe, the largest and most important event in the trade show calendar, and terminal automation is on the agenda.

This year’s TOC Europe conference and exhibition takes place against the backdrop of a container terminal industry that is increasingly embracing automation. Almost every month more information comes to light on terminals that are investing in automated and remote controlled container cranes, including STS cranes and RTGs. Even if they are not planning to take drivers off equipment immediately, terminals are making purchasing decisions today with automation in mind for the future.

However, at the same time there is deep concern within the industry over the cost, time, complexity and risks of terminal automation, particularly for the next wave of automated terminals, which are forecast to be brownfield terminals retrofitting automation to their existing operation.

Terminal operators want the benefits of automation, but do not want to see their facility become a development laboratory for new technology, with a long ramp up period to achieving acceptable productivity. At the same time automation suppliers do not want, and can not afford, to develop new systems and technology for every new project. Though terminal automation is not new, there are still issues around the complexity of connecting the various components and systems that make up a terminal automation system. Somehow finding a way forward to simplified, repeatable, cost effective automation is proving difficult.

These issues will be discussed at a debate I am hosting on Tuesday, June 12 to start the TECH TOC stream of the conference. The debate brings together two terminal operators and five of the leading suppliers of cranes and crane automation systems. We will be addressing the issue of whether it is time for open standards in terminal automation to help address the issues the industry is facing, and how the industry might approach developing such standards while maintaining a competitive market that encourages innovation.

This is a big question to tackle in one session, but hopefully terminal operators will come away with some insights into what they should be looking for, and what they should be asking suppliers who claim their equipment is “ready for future automation”.

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