Terminal Operating Systems: Driving the Future of Optimization with TOS

By Andy Barrons
Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Terminal operations is a business that faces its fair share of challenges. Economic uncertainty, coupled with the demand to accommodate mega container ships, achieve faster turnaround times and accomplish far more with smaller budgets is weighing on the industry as a whole. Many terminals are also forced to rely on aging or rapidly declining equipment that requires frequent maintenance, as well as more energy expenditures to move cargo on to the next destination. Infrastructure-wise, some terminal operators today are also using outdated reporting measures, such as homegrown spreadsheets, wall charts, or in some cases, clipboards, pens and paper to record data that must be collected and processed at critical points in the gate, yard and quay.
To help alleviate much of this burden, terminals around the world have turned to advanced information technology systems for reprieve. Whether long-time users, or first-time adopters, terminal operating systems (TOS) in particular offer a variety of benefits to help global facilities achieve levels of optimization like never before.

The Evolution of TOS
To be clear, the TOS is not a new concept. In fact, the marine terminal industry has been using various forms of these expert information systems to coordinate the movement of containers at the terminal for more than 20 years. Some of the earliest TOS technologies were used solely for ship and yard planning, with the first systems designed in the late 1980s by Navis for APL.
However, as container throughput, yard and vessel sizes as well as the number of shipping routes increased, such technology systems were expanded to help terminal operators optimize other critical components of their businesses, including gate planning, equipment control and ground stowage strategies. The ability to automate processes and/or equipment operations that proved time and time again to be people- and time-intensive as well as ineffective for the business quickly grew in demand.
While TOS technology has been used in the market for some time now, the reality is that the marine terminal industry as a whole has been slow to adopt the latest innovations, and in some cases, have been even slower to use them to their full advantage. For some, newer innovations hold the key to increases in productivity, efficiency and optimization overall.

Present State of TOS Optimization
Because of the inevitable future that faces the marine shipping industry, terminals that are best positioned for success are those that have made the decision to optimize using a combination of equipment and process automation solutions with the TOS. With these technologies in place, there are clear, tangible results for the business. In some instances, terminals are able to achieve productivity improvements in upwards of 20%.
Additionally, terminal operators are able to make better and faster business decisions using data collected from carriers, shippers and even the equipment itself. If that wasn’t enough, TOS technologies are helping terminals capitalize on growing influences in the industry, such as environmental sustainability, mobile and security.

Environmental Sustainability
Environmental sustainability is one area that is seeing marked improvements with the optimization of terminals. According to the Center for Climate and energy Solutions, the global marine shipping industry is responsible for 1.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. And while the number seems small, it is predicted that emissions from shipping fleets alone will double by 2050 under current operating conditions. Certainly, global regulations vary greatly; however, it remains only a matter of time before greater enforcement and penalties for non-compliance create new problems for terminal owners.
In response, some forward-thinking terminals, such as the Port of Long Beach in California, have embraced environmental sustainability as a smart business investment. For example, remote monitoring technologies can be used in concert with TOS to improve the environmental and energy performance of terminal equipment, requiring less energy and fewer moves for cranes to transport and store containers. Real-time tracking also enables operators to get a better handle on fuel consumption, oil usage and running temperature. Marked improvements in truck idle times have also been achieved through terminal optimization, helping to significantly reduce harmful air emissions and even noise in and around port communities.

Moving from clipboards to tablet computers is a fundamental shift for terminals, but one that offers a variety of benefits that can optimize operations. In fact, we are seeing more and more terminal operators rely on mobile devices in their daily operations for real-time data entry, collection and analysis. Additionally, mobile devices have made it easier for operators to manage various pieces of the business from nearly anywhere, greatly reducing the need to physically work on information systems stationed at specific locations in the terminal.
Port of Virginia’s Richmond Marine Terminal, for example, recently announced that it had replaced a legacy home grown system with an advanced TOS solution, Navis SPARCS N4.  As part of the transition, the terminal sought to optimize operations, and at the same time, use mobile devices as a way to drive efficiency for its business. Today, Richmond Marine Terminal operators are performing real-time data entry using Apple iPads linked to SPARCS N4 TOS at both the barge and gates, driving significant improvements in productivity, cost-savings and improved customer service. This is a significant achievement, particularly when we think about the timeline of mobile devices (such as the iPad) in the enterprise. Just a few short years ago, this would’ve never been possible.

With port security being a growing concern for the U.S., as well as other nations globally, the marine shipping industry continues to face its challenges—chief among them, the sheer inability to inspect cargo with 100% certainty and the significant investments in time and money that accompany it. A security incident at an even moderately trafficked port could cause devastating, widespread disruptions in the global supply chain. As those risks continue to increase and evolve, it is critical that the marine shipping industry put in place measures to help protect against such an event. And while the security gap will not be closed overnight, improving intelligence and optimization at ports and terminals through the use of technology can help reduce vulnerabilities overall.
The good news is that terminals here in the U.S. have made strides in the right direction. Some have adopted security screening devices to help inspect cargo. Others will require all trucks to use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to enable security officials to spot potential security risks. Additionally, TOS and process automation technologies combined help terminal operators reduce errors that result from manually entered data as well as identify critical data trends in the cargo for red flags, such as points of origin.

Future TOS Optimization Usage
While the true future of terminal operations remains to be seen, many experts and practitioners alike have offered opinions about what the port of the future could look like.
Olli Isotalo, Cargotec’s President of Kalmar, recently gave his view of how the industry might look by 2060. In his presentation, Isatolo described a future where terminals may be fully automated with only a small crew, containers lighter and collapsible and cargo is transported by small aircraft versus the traditional means we use today. And while conference attendees voiced different opinions about what they believed is possible, the consensus agreed that the future of terminal operations will be one focused on optimization and increased automation through the use of technology.
In the near-term, the most likely technology shift involves optimizing the entire terminal, versus a siloed focus on yard or gate operations. The industry will start seeing more and more instances of automation spread well beyond container management to areas like equipment management and maintenance, energy management, labor scheduling and even security. 
Additionally, more terminals will choose to optimize their businesses using a single, standardized platform like Navis SPARCS N4 to give customers, shipping lines and other important stakeholders transparency into their operations, no matter where in the world they are. Given the complex network that comprises the global shipping community, the ability for terminals to interact with key players in real-time using advanced TOS solutions will deliver better quality, reliability and scalability for their operations. 
As the future of terminal success relies on the ability to streamline and optimize operations and manage logistics information, TOS technology will be an essential component in helping terminals gain a competitive advantage as well as overcome and thrive in the face of challenges ahead.

(As published in the 2Q edition of Maritime Professional - www.maritimeprofessional.com)

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