Stopping the bumps and bangs
Alex Hughes finds out why anti-collision technology is a must for all terminals and not just for the obvious safety benefits
Industry professionals are virtually unanimous in the belief that it is no longer possible to safely operate a modern port terminal without using collision prevention technology.
The size of business doesn't really determine or limit the use of these technologies, says Neil Sandhu, SICK's UK product manager for imaging, measurement, ranging and systems. If a terminal is using a crane, then some kind of anti-collision technology is needed. Indeed, in his opinion, any freight handling or logistics environment that handles containers or is involved in container storage, using cranes and loaders (either indoors or outdoors), needs to use or integrate these technologies into its systems.
“With growing levels of automation in ports and container terminals all over the world, port operators require an increasingly high level and range of sensing technologies to prevent collisions, support automated processes and reduce operating risk,” says Mr Sandhu. “The key concerns for operators are around selecting the best technology, or combination of technologies, to suit their applications and achieve maximum efficiency and productivity.”
It's a view shared by Alix Gardner, spokesperson of Zonesafe's sales team, who points out that operations are moving ever-more quickly, and terminals are handling increased quantities of cargo, with more vehicle movements and with numerous hidden hazards around the port estate.
And it is container terminals, she stresses, that are at the forefront regarding tracking vehicle movements around operational areas.
Higher handling rates
Oleksandra Korolova of Lehnert Regelungstechnik's sales and marketing department has her own take. She points out that as ports modernise to accept bigger ships and unload them as quickly as possible, the higher numbers of containers involved implies potentially more collisions.
“Nowadays, ports aim to operate fast and precisely, because competition is intense and ports that cannot provide the necessary quality of operation become uncompetitive and lose clients,” she says. “Performance remains a more important index for ports than security.”
Meanwhile, Lars Ambrosy, chief executive of LASE Industrielle Lasertechnik, observes that where equipment is manually driven there is always the risk that the operators will make mistakes, simply by not recognising people or objects that are in the way.
However, he adds that it is a similar situation for automatic operation, where a control system moves the equipment. In these cases it is sensors that have to prove that the intended motion won't result in a collision.
“Terminals and terminal operators who have had accidents in the past are certainly more sensitive to this topic and have addressed the problem by introducing these technologies. Nevertheless, it is not the overall size of the business that determines the use of anti-collision technology,” Mr Ambrosy says.
The main areas where terminals are keen to use technology to prevent collisions tend to be around vehicle transit zones and where vehicles access warehouses and can be hidden from sight, adds Mr Gardner.
Mr Sandhu chips in, pointing out that the various technologies involved encompass identification, detection, measurement and collision prevention of goods, cranes, crane booms, containers and essential port equipment.
On the quayside, for example, LiDAR sensors can ensure collision avoidance between a ship-to-shore crane's boom and the superstructure of a vessel, such as a ship's radar mast. It can also prevent collisions between cranes.
In the freight handling yard, goods may be handled by any vehicle from a fork-lift truck to a manned gantry crane, or unmanned automated stacking cranes. Indeed, with large container volumes and more automation, increased levels of collision prevention are required.
Collision avoidance technology is also needed for both manned and unmanned vehicles and can be used to support the operation of straddle carriers, automated guided vehicles, container trucks and terminal tractors.
Sensors provide collision avoidance solutions in intermodal terminals and container hubs, too, he adds. These provide warnings as part of the automated container loading and unloading operations for onward transportation by road or rail. As an example of this, a long-range laser distance sensor can be positioned on a spreader to detect container stacks beneath it. The sensor performs highly accurate continuous non-contact measurements and thereby prevents collisions.
Ms Korolova believes that the main areas where terminals are keen to use technology to prevent collisions tend to be linked with crane automation (semi- or full), terminal automation, and the ‘internet of cranes’. Pilot projects, she observes, have been launched across the globe which aim to ensure collision avoidance between all transport units (cranes, straddle carriers, trucks and so on). The ultimate goal is, however, more to improve performance than to make operations ‘extra’ safe.
She is not convinced that all, so-called, anti-collision devices offered to ports perform the job asked of them. They simply aren't sophisticated enough, she says.
As an example, she quotes some technology that offers an emergency stop, if a collision is about to take place.
“They call this 'collision prevention'. However, the pendulum (sway) of the load is out of control and collisions are still therefore a probable occurrence. Our anti-sway systems are more sophisticated, because they offer controlled collision prevention (reduced speed and stop with no sway of the load) and not a merely emergency stop,” she says.
LASE also sees both quay and yard equipment as benefiting from the use of anti-collision technology. Operators are particularly keen to use this to prevent gantry collisions with workers or objects. In fact, on ship-to-shore cranes, a lot of investment has been made in avoiding boom collision.
Another area that gives cause for concern is potential collisions with the load against container stacks in either the yard or on the vessel, and this involves quay cranes and both rubber-tyred and rail-mounted gantry cranes.
Finally, horizontal transport vehicles – straddle carriers, reachstackers, empty container handlers and other lifting equipment – also need protecting against potential collisions, says Mr Ambrosy.
In terms of return on investment, Mr Sandhu notes that “Operators are looking for 100% reliability and uninterrupted operation, so that container ports and logistics hubs are optimally efficient and productive. Sensing systems that make it easier for operators to avoid unnecessary stoppage or downtime are also justifications in terms achieving returns on investment.
Indeed, accidents involving quayside cranes can prove a significant risk, since any damage to a vessel during the loading or unloading process could mean waiting for a repair, or a delay in the vessel putting to sea, which could prove ultimately costly for the port operator.
Avoiding the costs associated with damage to equipment either belonging to the operator itself, or to their customer, is therefore paramount.
According to Ms Gardner, the ROI argument is very simple: “You measure ROI when buying collision prevention technology in the reduction of near misses and in the number of accidents that are avoided. There are also benefits, such as better hazard awareness by the workforce. Terminals also generate more data regarding accident hot spots, while that data can also be used to better safety-train staff, who are more aware of the hazard alert location; the times when these happen; and who they tend to happen to. In these instances, we are talking about pedestrians, walkways, access points, transit areas and assets.”
At Lehnert, Ms Korolova says that the company's anti-sway equipment should be considered a prerequisite for the automation of cranes and ports, since it provides levels of security that allow continuous high performance, resulting in higher turnover and hence more clients for terminals and ports. As a result, according to terminal operator feedback received by Lehnert, ROI is achieved within the first three months.
“Those terminals that operate without any anti-collision will be outperformed by the more modern, more productive and safer terminals. In our opinion, it is high time for each and every terminal to scrutinise their development strategies and find a place for semi-automation solutions based on anti-sway and anti-collision technology,” she says.
And there is more.
The company's LENNIX systems offer a semi-automation solution with a number of features that reduce costs and improve performance. Ms Korolova points out, for example, that a soft landing – which she claims should also be seen as anti-collision – guarantees 15% less spreader wear and tear. Thus, if a terminal spends €100,000 monthly on spreader maintenance, it will save €15,000 per month simply due to this feature.
“And that is without the expenses for cable exchange and the downtime that costs a terminal operator a lot more,” she adds.
Furthermore, with anti-skew systems in place, productivity goes up by 4%.
“Any collision prevented means that money will be saved; just one accident avoided pays for the system.”
Mr Ambrosy is in broad agreement with the others, although stresses that, in a box terminal environment, anti-collision equipment avoids damage to the containers themselves and also to their contents, while the technology also considerably reduces the attrition rates on HGVs.
Any incident in the terminal potentially could involve port unions suspending operations, too, which would mean a loss of productivity.
CONNECTING UP THE INTERNET OF CRANES
Industry professionals have contrasting views regarding the future direction of anti-collision technology.
Lehnert Regelungstechnik's Oleksandra Korolova sees everything moving in the direction of interconnectivity, what she calls the "internet of cranes". All transport units have to move quickly and safely in a terminal to improve performance and reduce costs, which is why anti-collision for all participants of container handling is the future.
In terms of sophistication, Zonesafe’s Alix Gardner says anti-collision technology is definitely improving, albeit for different purposes. She cites GPS to track vehicle movements, laser to measure distances, and RFID to detect hidden hazards in all environmental conditions as just some examples.
LASE Industrielle Lasertechnik’s Lars Ambrosy agrees, suggesting various factors demonstrate this. A lot of work, he says, is being undertaken in comprehensively testing new solutions. But testing doesn't identify any potential shortcomings; these can only be found following operational experience.
“Collision prevention systems are highly complex products. Therefore it is important to make commissioning, operation and maintenance relatively easy to undertake,” he says.
Going forward, he suggests, the trend will be a shift from 2-dimensional (2D) to 3-dimensional (3D) measurement solutions. 3D solutions offer much larger benefits, since they can cover more operational cases that might potentially result in collisions. As an example, he cites a load collision prevention system for an RTG. If this is just equipped with 2D-laser scanners, only the bay in which the equipment works can be monitored. However, by using 3D-laser scanners, the adjacent bays can also be covered by the systems and the remaining accident ratio (which is approximately 25%) can be avoided.
COUNTERING RISK OF COMPLACENCY
Some in the ports industry are concerned that there could be a danger that anti-collision technology can allow dock workers to become complacent about health and safety, thinking ‘it can't happen to me’.
However, for SICK’s Neil Sandhu, so far, this hasn't been flagged up as a major issue.
“Despite high levels of automation, we are very much aware from our own visits to site that very strict health and safety training and procedures exist to protect personnel. These systems and procedures are complementary to the collision avoidance technologies,” he says.
However, Zonesafe’s Alix Gardner believes that some dock workers may indeed become complacent about health and safety with collision prevention systems in place, if these are not properly controlled and the users are not properly trained.
“In our opinion, this is why a tag-based system is more effective as both the drivers and pedestrians are issued with an identifiable tag,” she says.
Lehnert Regelungstechnik's Oleksandra Korolova has her own particular take on this issue, pointing out that some crane drivers, for example, do have problems accepting new solutions that provide more security and better performance, because such technologies ultimately jeopardise their jobs.
Meanwhile, LASE Industrielle Lasertechnik’s Lars Ambrosy observes that: “Certainly, [dock workers] learn to interact with these assistance systems, but usually they're aware of the risks of handling the equipment and how to do it in a safe manner.”
In respect of whether insurance companies are now mandating the use of anti-collision technology, Mr Gardner says, “Some may look upon it as a means to reduce risk and this could therefore have an effect on premiums.”
Mr Ambrosy broadly agrees, saying that, while insurance companies can't be said to mandate the use of anti-collision technology, they certainly recommend it, and that in itself might have an impact on the insurance premium.
Yet it's not a viewed shared by Ms Korolova.
“My personal impression is that insurers see [anti-collision] solutions as competitors. Insurance companies try to emphasise that insurance is mandatory whatever terminals try to implement in order to improve the safety level of crane operations. Insurance is somewhat endangered by such sophisticated anti-collision solutions, because they are much more cost-effective than insurance fees and ensure continuous collision-free operations,” she says.
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