Port To Porty Dock To Dock
On any given day, the Georgia Port Authority (GPA) tracks up to 30,000 containers within its massive, 853- acre Garden City-based facility. GPA handles containers from up to six vessels, as well as hundreds of railway cars and trucks each day. Whether shipping farm tractors to Australia or receiving fresh produce from South America, this facility is an integral link in each of its customers' supply chains. Accuracy and response time are crucial to GPA's customer service.
To effectively meet demands while improving operating efficiencies and container turnaround time, GPA implemented a wireless data communications system from Teklogix, with application software from Americas Systems Inc. (ASI).
A Complex Business Environment "Before we had this system, all tracking was totally manual and very labor intensive," said Steve Black, GPA's Container Field Office administrative manager. "The Container Field Office gave orders to the truck drivers handling the containers. After receiving the order, they would handle the freight and then update their paperwork. When the order was finished, the driver would return the paperwork to the office for manual data entry into the computer system," said Mr. Black. "This process was very slow and subject to human error. As a result, our turnaround time for getting containers out the gate was high; plus, we couldn't provide our customers with freight status until after the computer was updated. We realized that if we wanted to stay competitive, it was time for a change." GPA soon realized that a wireless data communications system was the answer to its problem, but it was unsure how to implement the system.
"This was a new technology for us, we could not rely on internal expertise to guide us through the choices made when implementing RF technology," said Tom Armstrong, GPA's manager of Support Services and Operations division. "The GPA hired ASI as a consultant to evaluate our facility and determine the technology that would best meet our needs," he added.
Real-time Container Turnaround Working with New Jersey-based ASI, GPA implemented a wireless data communications system that provides direct access to its IBM ES9000 mainframe computer system. All yard personnel are equipped with Teklogix wireless terminals, allowing the GPA to track all terminal activity in real-time without paper. Every container movement is tracked and verified against computer records in sub-second time, dramatically reducing container turnaround All Georgia Port Authority personnel are equipped with Teklogix wireless terminals. time.
Now when a container arrives at the facility by truck, it is interchanged and immediately assigned a berth and a row by the location system via a Teklogix wireless terminal.
After the driver parks the container at its location, an inventory clerk inspects the container and reconfirms its location using the wireless t e r m i n a l . I n v e n t o r y clerks also use the terminals to help the stevedore prepare each order for ocean carriers. All container orders being loaded onto a vessel are sent to GPA personnel via the wireless data communications system. Whether a container is being premounted, demounted, transferred or being taken through governmental inspections, all the orders are tracked in realtime. Similarly, when a container is passed from an ocean carrier, its movement and location are accurately tracked. When the container is moved from one slot to another, the yard operators update the location using their wireless terminal.
"Productivity has gone through the roof," said Mr. Black. "Our drivers and lift operators don't waste time trying to find the right containers anymore. Night-shift drivers are also more productive. Before the wireless data communications system, when orders were printed at night, the locations were not updated and the drivers wasted a lot of time locating the containers." Full Coverage with Rugged Technology As the first port on the South Atlantic coast of the U.S. to implement RF technology, GPA's facility posed challenges that Teklogix's wireless data communications system easily met.
"This facility is a mile-and-a-half long and three-quarters-of-a-mile wide," said Wally Barelka, ASI's senior consultant. "We needed a system that could provide complete coverage for the facility.
"Plus, the GPA is one of the few port authorities in the U.S. that stacks containers five high, and we had to make sure we had full cov- The Georgia Port Authority's 853-acre facility can reportedly handle up to six vessels and hundreds of railway cars and trucks each day. erage in the stacks themselves. That's why we chose narrow band radio technology for this system. It guarantees the GPA the coverage they need without using a large amount of base stations." Ready for Future Growth Although the GPA currently has a single mainframe host connected to the network, it also needed a system that could grow with its needs.
"The facility's level of transactions will increase using this new system and the wireless data communications system backbone has to support this increase," said Mark Grubbs, ASI's vice president of Technology Services.
Reportedly, future modifications will make it possible for stevedores and steamship companies to utilize GPA's wireless data communications system for their own warehousing, equipment maintenance and break bulk cargo operations.
"Other companies have expressed interest in using the wireless data communications system's backbone to connect their computer to the GPA's network, leveraging the benefits of this system even further," said Mr. Grubbs. Turning Cost into Profit By eliminating the paper chase, GPA has improved port efficiencies, increased productivity and reduced labor costs.
"Being able to update our customers with real-time information as their containers move throughout our yard has had a dramatic impact to our level of customer service," said Mr. Armstrong. "From point to point, we now know exactly where their freight is at all times.
"With economic conditions impacting revenue and expenses, most of your port authorities and terminal operators are trying to find ways to keep their costs under control," added Mr. Armstrong. "Our wireless data communications system has helped the GPA create new economies that we are now passing along to our customers. Using a wireless data communication system, we have a definite competitive advantage over ports that aren't using this technology."