Real or no real?
Simulation is being driven by larger ships and higher productivity demands. Felicity Landon reports
A specially designed quay crane simulator helped draw attention to DP World London Gateway’s stand at the Multimodal conference earlier this year – especially as the original Stig from the BBC's Top Gear was in the driving seat. Visitors were challenged to see if they could beat him in a race to offload virtual containers from a virtual ship.
All great fun, of course – but these days, simulators are playing an increasingly vital and serious role in the drive for top efficiency and speed across the world’s container ports.
“In former times, simulation was mainly being used within the planning phase of new terminals,” says Holger Schütt, chief executive of Bremerhaven-based ISL Applications. “Now, more and more, simulation is also being used in the operational phase, to optimise the operation itself. This is supported by connecting the terminal operating system directly to the simulation models, a technology called emulation, or virtual terminal.”
In this way, various tests can be done with the simulation controlled by the real ‘strategies’, without any distraction from weather conditions, and without burning fuel and generating noise and pollutant emissions, he points out. “Furthermore, these virtual terminals can be used for training issues – for example, crane drivers using crane simulators, and pilots training on vessel simulators.”
Crane simulation specialist Kongsberg GlobalSim has the same message. As it points out, when your cranes are working, they are making you money but you don’t want your bottom line ruined by accidents or reduced productivity by inexperienced operators. Simulators enable training of new operators and training to increase productivity without taking those valuable real cranes offline.
According to Dr Schütt, one of the main factors driving an increased use of simulation technology is the complexity of port operations; that complexity is leading the demand for new technologies to support development and planning, and this is particularly the case in automated terminals, which need control systems running with 100% reliability.
“If something goes wrong in a manually driven terminal, people know how to overcome the problems; if the equipment driver gets an order and it is senseless, he doesn’t need to carry it out but can make a decision and press a button, and the system will change the order,” he says. “But in an automated system, there is no one on the AGV or crane to press the button. So the machine will stand still and wait for new information. Therefore, in automation, you have to be more reliable than in a manual system.”
Larger vessels and higher productivity demands are also speeding up simulation technologies, as the terminal operator has to fulfil the shipping lines’ demands and ensure that the operation is as productive as requested, adds Dr Schütt. “This holds for the TOS functionality as well as for the control staff. They have to be trained in a special way to be in the position to make the best decision at any time. This may be supported by training environments based on virtual terminals.”
Scott Huntsman, president of Kongsberg GlobalSim, says: “We have been finding increased recognition of crane simulation value worldwide. Users of simulation often note increased speed of operation.”
After GlobalSim recently installed a highly customised system for the Georgia Port Authority in Savannah, Georgia, port authority executive director Curtis Foltz said: “This equipment will allow GPA to conduct a more effective and efficient training programme. Our ship-to-shore operators are already industry leaders, completing more than 40 container moves per crane hour. The simulator will ensure that new recruits maintain that performance level and existing operators keep their skills sharp.”
New ships have also played a role in simulation, Mr Huntsman points out. “We recently developed a new ship model for a 22-wide Maersk container ship to allow training on these new high-capacity ships. As ships continue to get larger, we will continue to develop new simulation models, allowing operators to prepare to safely load and unload these vessels.”
GlobalSim’s most recent installation, completed in early October, was in Chittagong, Bangladesh. The system includes six visual displays and a six degrees-of-freedom motion base, and simulates three types of equipment – ship-to-shore crane, rubber-tyred gantry crane and straddle carrier. Eight small desktop simulators were also installed, to supplement the large simulator.
“Ports want a lot of flexibility in a simulator,” says Mr Huntsman. “Most want to be able to use the simulator to train operators on multiple types of equipment and in various situations. This places a premium on our ability to customise a product for a specific customer. Such customisations include making the virtual training arena look like a specific port, using custom crane controls, and allowing trainers to create custom training scenarios to test and train their students.”
An important factor is also maintaining a 60 hertz refresh rate, he adds.
“As would be expected, high-quality software is another major demand from ports. While using a simulator, operators need to feel like they are using the actual equipment. To achieve that high level of realism, simulation software must accurately recreate the visual and physical experience of using a port crane, or whatever piece of equipment is being simulated.”
GlobalSim’s MasterLift crane simulators stretch across a wide variety of maritime cranes – and the size of a simulator station can range from a 40-ft dome to a transportable suitcase configuration. The company’s latest generation of simulation software includes improvements in the visual experience of the crane operator – improved dynamic shadows create better visual interaction between the operator and the virtual goods he is moving, and better night lighting also allows for realistic training for night operations, says Mr Huntsman.
ISL Applications, the commercial subsidiary of the Institute for Shipping Economics and Logistics, has as its flagship family of products the CHESSCON range for container terminals – including Terminal View, a 3D visualisation of the terminal, and others for planning the terminal’s capacity; simulating, planning and optimising a terminal’s layout and processes; and Virtual Terminal, for testing and optimisation of TOSs.
Users can set up scenarios and then ask the questions: what would be the impact if a different mix of vessels arrived? what would happen if the quay cranes’ productivity dropped from 30 to 27 moves per hour?
“CHESSCON products are developed to be used by the end user himself, whether it be the terminal planner or terminal operator or others,” says Dr Schütt. This is supported by importing as much information about the terminal – layout, equipment, etc. – and the current planning state of the next shift, including yard inventory, work queue definition, equipment allocation, and so on, directly from the TOS. Thus current shift planning can be imported directly from the TOS.
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