The Future of Automation


Originating from a freight transportation idea using trailers and attributed to Malcolm McLean, container shipment is probably the biggest development in the field of logistics since the invention of the locomotive two centuries ago. Over the last 50 years, containerization has grown to account nowadays for roughly 70% of total deep sea trade (by value), with annual shipping rates of 143 million TEU (Twenty-foot equivalent units) worldwide in 2008 and an equivalent tonnage of 1.24 billion tons (UNCTAD 2008). Equipment found in container terminals has evolved over the years to enable port operators to keep pace these growing container flows. Space constraints, especially in European ports where land comes at a premium, led to denser stacking and taller, more capable cranes. Operators were quick to adopt latest advances in information technology, which have transformed the way ports operate. Much like their desktop computer counterparts, Terminal Operating Systems (TOS) control port operations, managing the flow of information between different families of equipment and coordinating their operation. In conjunction with advances in logistics and optimisation theory, they have simplified terminal management, boosted terminal efficiency and contributed to the decrease of container dwell times. Conceived as a possibility in the early 1980s and intensively developed ever since, container terminal automation involves remotely operated container handling equipment capable of operating without direct human intervention. After a period of further research and development, more operators gained confidence in the new technology and eventually ventured into their own implementations.

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