Container Terminal Automation Trends and Why It is Unavoidable
As freight space increases with growing ship size, automation is now inevitable with container terminals. Terminal automation is expected to become more pronounced as it follows the following trends.
1. With their P3 alliance blocked by China, Maersk and MSC are now focusing on 2M VLS.
Forced by China to drop P3, Maersk and MSC recently reached a long-term agreement for 10-year vessel sharing. The agreement is not limited to a specific part of the world but covers a vast area including 21 routes in transpacific and transatlantic regions, plus more in Asia and Europe. While Maersk will operate 110 ships, MSC will deploy 75 of them, totaling 2.1M TEUs. And this is comparable to 2.6M TEUs to be served by P3 with 255 ships operating in 29 routes.
2. Cascading is a foregone conclusion for major routes.
According to Drewry, 23 ships to be delivered to 2M by 2016 have an average freight space of 17,583 TEUs. While the market leaders wage a price war with their large ships, followers have no choice but to join it. If maritime transport follows the current trend for large ships, a cascade of vessels will further intensify in other routes. While the global economy does not see a rapidly growing demand, it seems that the hub-and-spoke strategy will be adopted by those ports that can accommodate large ships.
3. Not only major ports but even those in South America and Africa cannot resist the investment incentives for terminal automation.
So far, automation has been led by the large terminals in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. In other areas, even those terminals which take up relatively major positions haven’t been under great pressure to go for automation, because they have handled a cargo volume that is not large enough. Even in those regions, however, if cargo masses to those major ports, automation in a certain mode should be inevitable.
4. A higher-level automation of container terminals will come along.
If existing terminals get to handle 1.5 or 2 times as much cargo per vessel as before, this does not mean that its stacking area is doubled, while twice as many cranes and transportation vehicles are deployed. As twofold machines means fourfold complexity, a system should be capable of handling even larger increase of complexity in order to ensure mutual optimization between machines and their proper operation. Moreover, since a crashed system creates great spillover effects, even greater dilemma is involved in having to handle complexity and ensure stability at the same time. That’s the reason why investment in terminal automation and TOS should be done with greater care.