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A New Approach to Stowage Planning Automation

Changes in ship size and work environment of planning

As was discussed in our previous piece Ideas for Improving Stowage Planning System with an Eye to Cost Reduction by Namhoon Jung, quite an amount of worldwide commercial freight is transported through sea routes, most of which is carried in container ships. Container ships operate on designated sea routes, and loading and discharging are done at ports of call that lie on specific routes. Stowage planning takes much time and energy because of a lot of structural and operational limitations related to ships and containers.

Furthermore, the recent sharp increase in the number of large ships that are minimum 10,000 TEU requires several times as much time as otherwise for planning or preparing data such as CBF (Container Booking Forecast).

Moreover, with greater demand for on-time ship operation, terminals now require a higher level of accuracy in a stowage plan. However, since it is hard to secure a specified level of quality for a stowage plan that depends on a planner’s experience and intuition and as skilled planners are approaching their retirement, people now see urgent need for education and a system for training a new generation of planners. This is the market situation lately facing medium and large shipping companies, and under such circumstances, we witness sharply increasing demand from shipping companies for stowage planning automation.

Planning process for a stowage planning automation system

For last several decades, scholars have continuously conducted researches related to stowage planning automation. But as they focus on developing algorithms, they have revealed limitations in being applied to actual tasks where various business rules exist. To ensure its introduction into actual operation, one needs to develop an automation system that reflects an understanding of the specific work process as well as the user’s experience and intuition.

What we are going to describe below is a planning process for stowage planning automation system, which is designed on the basis of actual planning. The system can automatically create a stowage plan according to an applicable process. Also, as the system creates a stowage plan according to input parameters and evaluation criteria that incorporate user experience, a user can easily apply a specific stowage plan in actual operation.

Planning process for a stowage planning automation system
Planning process for a stowage planning automation system

 

Step 1. Set up Stowage Rule

First of all, implementing a stowage planning automation system needs CBF, vessel definition, ship schedule, and initial BAPLIE, which data must be entered in the form that can be processed by the system. Because the system creates a stowage plan while considering the cargo volume to be uploaded from forthcoming ports, one must enter not only the booking data for ports covered in planning but also the booking data for next ports on schedule. Also, ship schedule must include the schedule for all ports for loading or discharging that exist on initial BAPLIE and CBF.

Step 2. Generate Basic Stowage Plan

Next, you put into the stowage plan various business rules such as container loading guidelines or restrictions and set up user options to decide priorities for various criteria for evaluating a plan. For most user options, default value is provided or a value is automatically calculated by the system to ensure that robust results are thereby generated in different situations. Therefore, options need not be set for each time they are executed, but a planner better set the options to make sure that his or her experiences or preferences are reflected in a stowage plan.

When all options are set, the stowage planning automation system automatically creates a stowage plan accordingly. In order to generate a bay plan as the final output from the system, the system creates a block pattern internally, determines the position of special cargo, and decides the loading position for containers by the slot. The stage for creating a block pattern is crucial in determining the entire stowage pattern, and the engine decides a block pattern while considering space usability, long gang, and stability, which are the most important evaluative elements. Once a block pattern is determined, one decides the position of special cargo based on the determined block pattern and creates the final bay plan while considering various container loading guidelines and container weight.

Step 3. Generate Ballast Plan

When the bay plan is created, the system generates a ballast plan that at once satisfies the user requirement for stability and minimizes the amount of ballast put in the ballast tank. A stowage plan generated by the system may be modified by the user, or options may be changed before the system is re-executed. Once it gets through the final check by the user, the final stowage plan is completed.

Improving productivity at work through automation

Using a stowage planning automation system guarantees steady quality and productivity based on the system, so you can reduce time and energy consumed in stowage planning during a routine operation and significantly decrease errors by preventing human errors. Also, as the system includes a planner’s experience in input fields, decision-making is possible through experience and options.

As far as an automation system is concerned, however, you shouldn’t expect a perfect system that automatically churns out everything. A lot of researches and products related to stowage planning automation have come a cropper and failed to be applied in actual operation, probably because users hold expectations of full automation like that. To make sure that users can create a stowage plan that they want, they must be able to enter their experience and intuition into the system and in some cases, users must be allowed to change details based on a review of system output, thus coming up with a stowage plan of a better quality. Like this, organic interconnection between a system and its user can improve the productivity involved in planning and thereby create a stowage plan that the user wants.

To repeat, stowage planning automation system cannot replace a user. Still, this system can improve the productivity involved in planning and thereby increase the freight space in a vessel. While there are a lot of shipping companies that understand the need for stowage planning automation, there aren’t many of them that aggressively take advantage of it. Therefore, we expect that by empathizing with our presentation of an approach to stowage planning automation and moving briskly, shipping companies will be able to create new standards for stowage planning automation.