Spreading their wings

The trend of automating terminals, as is the plan at Los Angeles' TraPac terminal, has not gone unnoticed by TOS suppliers The trend of automating terminals, as is the plan at Los Angeles' TraPac terminal, has not gone unnoticed by TOS suppliers
Industry Database

Software suppliers are eagerly eyeing the utopia of including all terminal tasks in a TOS. Dave and Iain MacIntyre report

Terminal operating systems are the nerve centre of any successful terminal business, and market leaders continually have to evolve their product based on market demand, automation and operational productivity requirements.

The best systems help terminal operators increase capacity and optimise operations to lower costs, not just in vessel and yard planning, but to optimise equipment utilisation.

Leading players spoken to by Port Strategy agree a TOS needs to be reliable, built on a dependable technology platform; flexible and adaptable so it can be configured to local operating needs; scaleable so it grows with the needs of the operator; seamlessly integrated with other systems and backed by dependable support.

“When evaluating TOS suppliers, terminal operators should not underestimate the value of the supplier’s domain expertise,” says Michael Schwank of Tideworks.

“A TOS supplier with an operational background, one who understands the customer’s business and its pain points, not only can provide solid recommendations as to the right mix and type of technologies to deploy to meet the business objectives, but can also – if requested – assist the customer in process improvement and the implementation of best practices from a basis of experience.

“This will help ensure that the customer receives the maximum benefit from the technology, that the commercial TOS software isn’t unnecessarily customised around perhaps less-than-optimum processes and, ultimately, that the customer receives a greater return on its technology investment. The TOS supplier’s goal should be to help the terminal enhance productivity and profitability…not simply make a software sale.”

 

Count on us

Maxim Maximov, Analytics and Consulting Department head of Russian-based SOLVO, emphasises reliability: “If one out of five STS cranes at the terminal stops working, this is a problem. However, if a TOS unexpectedly goes offline, this is a catastrophe. Thus, a TOS must be robust by design and dependable in its day-to-day operations.”

Julian Wright, marketing manager of UK-based Central Systems, which markets Autostore, emphasises the ability to run associated container terminal management system functions like EDI, DGPS positioning, activity charging, vessel planning, intermodal rail planning, networked multi-terminal management, resource planning, gatehouse security and vehicle booking all under a single umbrella TOS.

With those features in mind, where are the trends in the market heading?

Andy Barrons of Navis says one of the main developments is automation — in equipment, processes and the optimisation of the scheduling, sequencing and exception handling of equipment moves.

“Until recently, automated container handling was the province of the pioneering few with deep pockets to fund big in-house development and implementation teams. However, the combination of IT maturity and market forces driving the demand for greater efficiencies in the global supply chain are creating new demands for terminal operational productivity,” he says.

 

Game-changer

Equipment such as automated stacking cranes, horizontal transport vehicles and automated guided vehicles (AGVs and AutoShuttles) are in development and once deployed will eliminate the need for manual operations, further reducing operating costs.

This is a trend Navis is following closely. In the last six months it has been selected for several automated terminal projects including London Gateway, Rotterdam World Gateway, APMT Maasvlakte II, Long Beach Container Terminal and DPW Brisbane.

Mr Barrons says Navis is working on projects involving the integration of the TOS with third-party hardware solutions that are used at the gate, in the yard and at the quay, plus various forms of hardware including Real-time Locating Systems, Radio Frequency Identification, Global Positioning Systems, and Optical Character Recognition.

Navis is also embedding the latest technology in the Navis N4 platform that will simplify the inner workings of the operating system to lower the cost of maintenance, provide terminal IT operations with greater visibility and enable the TOS to be easily configurable for modifications.

Further, cloud technology is being used to improve the efficiency of training, testing and implementation and test potential delivery of the TOS.

 

Open arms

At Tideworks, Michael Schwank says the company is also working with third-party technology suppliers in areas such as OCR, DGPS and RFID. Its software applications have also been integrated with ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and financial packages.

“In Tideworks’ early years, we established ourselves as the TOS provider who was willing to customise its software to meet virtually any requirement. We took a very pragmatic approach to this, ensuring any new TOS functionality was developed in the mainline of our code base and thereby available to all customers (new or existing) if they needed or wanted to use it.

“Now, our TOS products have matured to the point that – for most operations – our software will meet 90% of their needs ‘out of the box’ without the need for customisation.”

However, Central Systems’ Mr Wright says every terminal has different operational needs, some subtle, some significant, that require integration.

“For instance, DGPS for real-time, super-accurate location and positioning control of all the containers in the stack. The beauty of a software-based system is that if the client requires a specific piece of functionality within the TOS, you simply build, test and integrate the code, for instance as a new module.’

He stresses it is important to have total integration with the corporate IT systems of the terminal operator.

 

Data demand

“Aside from operational moves and tasks, the other key element within the TOS is management information, presenting it and sharing it around the organisation. When integrating into ERP or similar systems (using an integration software layer), Autostore pulls operational data through for report generation at the TOS layer or live data through into ERP business management.”

SOLVO’s Mr Maximov says adaptability and integration are high on the agenda for customers.

“Flexibility was an integral feature of our system’s design because this makes the customisation process quick and hassle-free. You don’t have to be a programmer to use the system since the system provides users with easy-to-use tools to manage logistical processes at the terminal.

“Recently, the requests that we have received for additional functions mainly revolved around integration (adding a new OCR-system, enabling modified EDI-messages from a new shipping line etc) or taking into account the regional idiosyncrasies of a particular terminal (specialised requirements of Russian railways, regional customs etc).

“It must be stressed that since no terminal is the same, TOS adaptability is key -- it must be versatile if you want to integrate it with all different types of systems when necessary.”

 

Bells and whistles

Looking ahead, the major players are developing new functionality. Mr Schwank says Tideworks is putting final touches on the “Stow Assist” feature within Spinnaker, its graphical planning system. This will allow terminal operators to effectively stow out an entire vessel in seconds and with a few clicks of the mouse.

“Additionally, we will soon be releasing the latest version of our Terminal View three-dimensional visualisation tool within our Traffic Control application. As far as terminal operation visibility tools are concerned, we believe that the latest version of Terminal View will shatter the mould.”

Mr Maximov says SOLVO is now striving to deepen integration between its two systems, TOS for container terminals and TOS for cargo terminals. “We are also focusing on further optimising logistical processes within the system while several SOLVO TOS modules have already taken up such innovative technologies as genetic algorithms. In the near future, we are planning a shift towards a neural network.”

Central Systems’ Julian Wright says recent step changes in graphics capabilities are driving a new generation of photo-realistic terminal representations where TOS users can view terminal operations from a variety of perspectives – for instance the crane cab.

“Secure web-enablement is driving access-from-anywhere capabilities, which is great for improving customer service and real-time cargo location status all the way through the supply chain.”

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