How Container Ports Work: Logistics of Intermodal Transport

How Container Ports Work: Logistics of Intermodal Transport


If you’re like me, you’ve seen wharfs
and ports and been fascinated by the huge ships, cranes, trucks and most of all by the
containers stacked like building blocks. But what are the processes of container ports
like this? How are containers unloaded, where do they
go, and what happens next? We’re going to find out if containerisation
is as orderly as it seems, or if there is some chaos in these neatly stacked rows – and
what opportunity and challenges automation has brought to the shipping industry. Containerisation has changed the world. Previously ships would hold multiple smaller
loads all jumbled together into a cargo hold – now the sorting of cargo into containers
is done before the cargo is loaded. This allows ships to have a greater efficiency
when loading and unloading cargo. But is has also brought new challenges for
organisation, as gigantic ships dock in large ports and need to unload hundreds or thousands
of containers at a time. Container terminals are hubs of intermodal
transport. That means that the containers are switching
modes of transport, from a ship, which travels on the sea, to either road or rail. Containers can also be moved by air – but
this is not usually the focus of container ports. Switching modes of transport is not quite
as simple as loading a cargo container from a ship onto a truck – multiple steps and
organisational challenges are involved before the container rolls out of the freight yard. First – the container must be unloaded from
the ship. This is achieved with huge gantry cranes that
are able to lift the several tonnes of container and its cargo. Cranes can be hinged to allow for passage
of large ships beneath, or can be fixed, to reduce airspace being taken up. Freight terminal cranes are either semi-automated,
or fully-operated by a human, and some ports have a mix of both. Cranes connect to containers by their corner
fittings – which, like most other parts of a container are standardised throughout
the world, by the International Organisation for Standardisation. Another international standard is the unique
identifier number which helps to keep track of each container. The containers are typically loaded onto Terminal
Tractors. These funny-looking trucks are meant for short-distance
haulage, in order to get the container from beside the ship, into the storage yard where
the containers wait to be picked up by a truck or a train. In order to move containers around a storage
yard, and onto trucks and trains, there are several options for machinery – 2 of the
most interesting are reach stackers and rubber-tyre gantries. Rubber-tyre gantries have wheels, and are
cranes that are able to fully straddle containers. Larger versions may run on tracks, rather
than tyres, and can straddle multiple rows of containers. Reach-stackers have a long arm that can easily
be used to stack containers several rows deep, or to negotiate them onto semi-trailers and
rail cars. Every step of the process described so far
has the capacity to be fully- or semi-automated. And in fact, at some of the terminals at the
Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands – they all are, at least partially. At this port, a crane operator remotely operates
the gantry crane via computer software that unloads containers from a ship. The container onto a fully automated terminal
truck which drives it to the storage area to be unloaded by an automated stacker crane. This is one area where logical planning augmented
by computers can provide a huge benefit. Knowing exactly what date and time a container
needs to be picked up, a computer can plan the most efficient way to stack containers. This ensures the container isn’t buried
too deep in the stacks when its time comes to leave the yard, reducing the number of
operations required to access the required container. There are still some storage yards around
the world that used a paper-based tracking system. For some of these yards, this means that containers
are simply stacked according to when they are brought in to the storage yard – so
that when the time comes to take them out again, they might be at the bottom of a stack
of containers. Like many other industries, computerised automation
provides some unique benefits over human-operation, such as accuracy of repetitive tasks and logical
planning of efficient processes – until something goes wrong and many hours are spent
trying to troubleshoot and fix the issue. For now at least, humans maintain the advantage
of adaptability over fully-automated machines. Automating a container port is very expensive,
but ports implementing this technology hope to gain benefits such as increased productivity,
and increased safety. Of course, even at ports where automation
exists, humans are still employed to oversee and maintain the machines and rectify problems
as they arise. As automation continues, concerns about job-losses
are always on the forefront of debate. There is also the real cost to society with
a smaller income tax revenue stream to fund things like roads and rail – the very things
the transport industry relies on. Ideas have been put forward for a robot tax
to help subsidise this loss. However these problems are dealt with in the
future, it is clear for now that the inevitable march of the machines will continue. Perhaps the solution lies balanced somewhere
in the middle. With human operators and overseers able to
quickly adapt to unforeseen problems, but with machines performing dangerous tasks for
us, and with organisational systems augmented by computerised calculations. Thanks for watching this video about how a
shipping container port works. Be sure to subscribe to the channel for more
videos, leave me a thumb, and let me know what you thought of the video in the comments. Thanks for watching.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. When I first started watching you, your videos were still very rough, but I kept watching because they were interesting. This is starting to really pay off, your videos are really improving fast, I can't wait to see where this is going.

    The one thing that still slightly bothers me is the lack of intonation (though this has also improved over time.)
    Keep it up, one day it will pay off!

  2. Hi TTK, I'm loving your channel, I'm enjoying all of your videos and I think every video you've made so far is super interesting. I have nothing negative to say about anything you've created so far, Your voice is clear and precise, your information and content is an educational glimpse into relatively untouched territory, which is not only unique in itself but also, I suspect unique to you and the path you're creating for your future. Keep up the great work and keep believing in yourself because I'd hazard a guess that whatever lay ahead for you, will be bright. Looking forward to whatever the next curtain you pull back will reveal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *