Saturday, February 12, 2011

No Man’s Ground

Have you ever felt that intelligent machines can make the human race an in danger of extinction species in the near future? My Visit to a 'No Man’s Ground - one of the most contemporary and automated container terminals in the world- the Hamburger Hafen und Logistik (HHLA) Container Terminal Altenwerder (CTA) in Hamburg, Germany, gave me a telescopic outlook into the future, bringing my imaginative fears into practical reality. I got this wonderful chance, to envision the exuberant effects of technology on the future of Shipping Port Operation and Logistics.

CTA is HHLA’s most recent facility and the most modern container terminal in the world. It is indeed recognized worldwide as a state-of the-art facility, with its compact layout and high degree of automation. The terminal’s most superior technology and innovative Electronic Data Processing system ensures efficient discharging and loading of giant container ships of the latest generation, and sets the scene for the future of container handling. Located at the south of Hamburg on the river Elbe, the CTA Terminal is owned by HHLA (74.9%) and Hapag-LLoyd AG shipping lines (25.1%). Three giant vessels often lie along the CTA dock wall simultaneously. The container gantry cranes zoom overhead with a regular rhythm, while the transporters and rail-mounted gantry cranes move about the terminal with perfect synchronization. The dance routine resembles a ballet.

The enormous speed of handling at CTA is hardly recognizable from the outside. Since the inauguration in June 2002, specialist visitors from across the globe have been marveling at how the various system elements interlock. The interaction of the semiautomatic container gantry cranes, driverless guided vehicles Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and computer-controlled, rail-mounted gantry cranes was based on elaborate planning and a sophisticated software control system, achieving both high efficiency and quality. These are also used for the discharging and loading of trucks and trains. All in all, CTA provides its customers with a fast, efficient and comprehensive service. The terminal was originally planned for a handling capacity of 1.9 million TEU/year (1 Twenty Feet Equivalent Unit = 1 Twenty feet Container i.e. it can handle 1.9 million 20 feet containers/year). Currently it stands at about 2.4 million TEU/year (i.e. it can handle 2.4 million 20 feet containers/year), and the people managing the same say that the capacity may be increased to 3 million TEU/year (i.e. it can handle 3 million 20 feet containers/year). The CTA moreover has been already equipped for the next ship generation. The container gantry cranes for example can already reach across 22 rows of containers; although today’s largest ships usually accommodate no more than seventeen. Astonishing productivity rates are being achieved even in handling giant vessels.

With an average of 3600 container movements, all handling of such ships is completed in around 36 hours. This additional capacity at CTA has been made ready by HHLA to facilitate its customers’ future growth. At the CTA, the container management starts from the waterside, where the double-trolley gantry cranes load and discharge containers to and from the vessel. The gantry cranes main trolley is operated by a driver, using manual controls to unload a box from the ship. Thereafter the work process is completely automated. The second gantry trolley takes over the container automatically, lowering it on to the unmanned vehicle-the AGV that itself selects the fastest route from the gantry crane to the storage block. Here, the containers are temporarily stored, before either being transferred on demand to a truck, or removed using internal interim transport for loading at the rail terminal. Landside release is carried out by staff in the control centre, using a joystick and camera to lower the container on to the truck or chassis. If the container is to be carried on by truck, it remains on the chassis. In case of rail transport, it is led to the station. The terminal’s own chassis is used for moves between the storage block and the rail terminal. It is loaded there by one of the manual rail cranes on the train. Six tracks are available on the CTA site for assembling complete trains. The drivers of the trucks receive their driving orders from radio data transmission terminals within the CTA. Before leaving the port, the railway or the road, another tariff control takes place.

Thus, with its unique high degree of automation and innovative IT systems, the CTA is being recognized worldwide as a ‘state-of the- art’ container handling system for new generation giant container ships.

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