EU-funded researchers are pioneering innovative new robotic container management technology in order to achieve impressive cost and space efficiencies, and to help European ports remain internationally competitive.
The EU-funded RCMS project is currently evaluating the implementation of a new robotic container management system (RCMS) at a number of European ports with limited room to expand, and where land is very expensive. The overall objective is to achieve cost savings and operational efficiencies along the container shipping supply chain through unrivalled storage density and direct access to each container at the same time.
Sustainable benefits of automation
“RCMS is a robotic parking system that is able to efficiently manage and handle more containers per square-metre than traditional handling systems used in port and inland terminals,” explains project coordinator Alexio Picco from Circle, Italy. “The new system also provides optimal and adaptable responses to the needs of shipping companies and port terminal operators, as well as to truck and railway companies.”
By taking into account the needs of the entire shipping supply chain, RCMS set out to reduce handling times between, say, the offloading of containers from an incoming ship and putting these on trucks and trains for final delivery. This means fewer containers stacking up in port, less traffic congestion in and around ports and a reduction in energy use and emissions.
“Port services can make more efficient use of existing infrastructure through adopting RCMS,” says Picco. “This means that the need to invest in expensive and environmentally risky land reclamation operations in order to create more storage space is reduced. The whole logistic supply chain stands to benefit.”
Europe: first port of call
This project comes at a time when Europe’s container terminals face immense challenges. The largest serve thousands of ships and store millions of containers, while global competition – especially from Asia – requires these facilities to operate at peak efficiency and to be flexible enough to accommodate different sized ships.
“Advances are continually being made in terms of increased automation,” says Picco.
“However, many terminals are finding their ability to maintain growth and quality of service increasingly limited.”
In order to demonstrate that RCMS can enhance European competitiveness, the project is currently carrying out a detailed RCMS simulation at two shipping terminals – Gdansk in Poland and Koper in Slovenia – while new software tools designed to achieve operational efficiencies are being tested at other terminals participating in the project. The simulations involve constructing specially-designed RCMS storage facilities at the two ports.
Early results of these simulations have enabled the project team to begin assessing and comparing RCMS performance with other state-of-the-art container handling technologies in terms of efficiency, reliability, capacity, noise, and air pollution. A first high-level assessment compared the effectiveness of RCMS against two established container handling systems: a fully manually operated RTG (Rubber Tyred Gantry) crane system and a fully automated RMG (Rail Mounted Gantry) crane system.
RCMS received good ratings for the degree of innovation, labour costs, safety, storage density, productivity and service level, as well as noise and exhaust emissions. The assessment did note that investment costs could be higher for RCMS than for the other two systems, due largely to construction costs. “However, we already have indications that, if applied in a proper environment, RCMS can lead to a more effective logistic chain and to a positive cost-benefit ratio,” says Picco.
The RCMS project is due for completion in 2017. In addition to concluding the operational simulations, the project intends to carry out a detailed financial and cost-benefit analysis at the two ports, and develop a more generic simulation model that can be used at different port locations. “A number of exploitation visits have already been planned,” adds Picco.
Source: EU Research & Innovation