Shipping containers have significantly transformed the transportation of goods, leading to changes and improvements in the global supply chain. The next step in container handling technology is the adoption of automation. Currently, there are several automated container terminals in operation and many more in development worldwide.
Automated container handling is a fully automatic system for transporting full and empty containers for loading, unloading, stacking, parking, or maintenance. The system can be configured as a single loop or multiple interconnected loops to cover various levels of a container terminal.
Automated container handling is crucial for more efficient and productive port operations and for meeting the demands of larger ships, taller cranes, and bigger cell sizes. In addition, automation in the container handling process improves the quality of container handling by bringing down Incident Rate (IR) while enhancing productivity and process reliability, making a massive impact on the logistics and supply chain industry.
Automated container handling systems utilize advanced technologies, including automation, robotics, and control systems. These technologies improve efficiency, safety, and reliability in container handling. The critical equipment in automated container handling is Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR), automated cranes like Automated Stacking Cranes or Automated Straddle Carriers (ASCs), Conveyors, Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) or barcode systems, and data analysis software.
Sensor technology plays a significant role in automated container handling systems. Sensors collect data on the position, movement, and condition of containers and equipment in the terminal. This data is then used to control and optimize the movement of containers and equipment. It is also used to monitor and report on the system’s status. The most used sensors are position sensors like Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), Global Positioning System (GPS), load sensors, maintenance sensors, obstacle detection sensors, and temperature and humidity sensors.
There are different types of automated container handling systems. The major ones are AGV systems, ASC systems, Automated Rail-Mounted Gantry (ARMG) systems, Automated Container Terminal (ACT) systems, and Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS). All these systems are designed to enhance safety, efficiency, and reliability in container handling. The perfect system for a port can efficiently handle its trade volume and meet its terminal operation's specific needs.
There are several benefits of automated container handling. The significant ones are listed below.
• Increased efficiency and productivity: An automated container handling system can handle containers more quickly and accurately, significantly increasing its overall efficiency than a manually operated terminal.
• Improved safety and reduced risk of injury: Automated container handling systems lessen the need for manual labor, reducing the risk of human error and leading to a safer working environment.
• Improved inventory management and tracking: Automated container handling systems provide real-time monitoring, automated data collection and analysis, improved accuracy, automated yard management, and better visibility of inventory. All these results in improved inventory management and tracking.
• Increased operational flexibility: Automated container handling system is designed to handle every container type and size. In addition, it can be easily adapted to changing functional requirements.
Along with benefits, automated container handling has a few challenges and limitations. Some of them are listed below.
• The high initial cost of investment
• Dependence on technology and potential for system failures
• Limited flexibility in handling certain types of containers
The future of automated container handling is expected to be characterized by further advancements in sensor technology and increased automation and connectivity with a focus on sustainability and environmental impact. As a result, it has the potential for increased adoption in ports and terminals worldwide, bringing a more remarkable effect on the global logistics and supply chain industry.
Automated container handling is vital in improving efficiency, reducing costs, improving safety and inventory management, increasing flexibility, and promoting environmental sustainability in the logistics and supply chain.
Sensor technology is an essential part of automated container handling systems. The data collected by the sensors allow real-time monitoring and control of the system, enabling the system to adapt and optimize its operation.
Hokuyo produces and distributes intelligent sensor products for automated container handling and port automation applications. These high-quality sensors with cutting-edge smart sensing technology and compact designs would perfectly fit the factory, logistics, and process automation industries.
Contact the Hokuyo team today to learn more about how our sensors can help you automate your business.