Flattening the layers
Adding technology for technology's sake is not the answer to improving gate systems, warns Alex Hughes
The introduction of a combination of optical character recognition, radio frequency ID tags and upgraded IT has resulted in productivity gains being made on many terminal gate systems. But is the time right for the addition of a further layer of biometrics-based technology, which could potentially slow throughput?Anton Bernaerd, business development manager of Belgium gate systems solution provider Camco, thinks not. "As far as we are concerned, existing biometrics technologies are not yet sufficiently mature enough to be used in industrial environments such as ports," he says.
In Rotterdam, registered truck drivers undergo a routine hand scan before entering the port, requiring information about their palms to be matched against an identity card. Not only does this require drivers to bring their vehicles to a halt, but significant questions remain regarding the accuracy of systems that were originally designed for indoor applications, but now have to perform in a much harsher outdoor environment.
"We do have more confidence in fingerprint technology, but only in the very latest technologies, such as multi-spectrum fingerprint system, which can read both the fingerprint and the finger vein, so that the identity of truck drivers with dirty fingers can still be validated," Mr Bernaerd says.
Additionally, he points out that the cost of fingerprint technology is cheaper because there are more vendors in the market, whereas hand scanning equipment supplier choices are limited to two. As for iris scanning, Camco does not believe this is a viable technology for external applications either.
Existing legislation typically mandates terminals to check the truck, container and driver identities, all of which can be automated by adopting a combination of technologies. Virtually all new gate installations introduced by Camco have achieved this by incorporating optical character recognition (OCR) technology as the main component in the overall solution.
Quizzed as to accuracy levels, Mr Bernaerd says that each OCR vendor offers their own definition, which can often exclude license plates or container numbers that cannot be read by the human eye. Camco, for its part, using raw data taken over an audited 24-hour period, claims accuracy of 98% on container numbers.
"98% is an achievable level, so much so that we pay back to our customers 15% for every 1% below our guaranteed rate found in any audit. Nevertheless, I should point out that it's easy to reach accuracy levels of 90%-95%, but each percentage point above is significantly more difficult to obtain. Despite that, some projects we have worked on have resulted in levels of 99%, so clearly some improvement can still be made, but this will be more on the license plate side and not necessarily on the container number side. Continuously achieving 100% is simply not possible," he concedes.
Given this limitation, Camco's processing system allocates a confidence level percentage for each number logged, allowing physical checks to be undertaken in cases of low confidence. This also helps obviate against false positives entering the system.
According to Mr Bernaerd, OCR technology is more accurate than using simple human checkers. Its deployment also helps terminals handle a significantly higher number of trucks, since human checkers require vehicles to be stationary, whereas OCR can log numbers even when trucks are on the move. Vehicle throughput on the gate is higher, while virtual automation of processes means personnel costs are lower. All of this works even more effectively, it is claimed, when a gate operating system is also in place.
"Terminals should definitely do more with the data that they capture, which is why we offer a gate operating system (GOS) solution covering this. As an example, the GOS, once it has logged container numbers, can check with the terminal operating system (TOS) to see whether a delivery has actually been booked or not. This allows the TOS to make much faster decisions on what should ultimately happen to each container," says Mr Bernaerd, adding that this means being able to do more with existing resources. This, plus higher throughput at the gate, makes ROI achievable in under three years.
Radio frequency ID (RFID) tagging works well, he says, especially when used in parallel with OCR, since it results in even higher accuracy levels and makes identification of trucks easier. Furthermore, instead of positioning cameras to read license plate numbers, it is equally possible to either apply or read tags.
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