Thursday, June 7, 2012
PMA: West Coast shipping industry considers terminal automation "critical long-term solution"
New marine terminal automated technologies are essential for handling larger containerships and competing with the widened Panama Canal in the coming years at container ports along the U.S. West Coast, according to the annual report of the association that represents shipping companies that operate there.
"Automation will become increasingly important to maintain the competitiveness of West Coast ports," said the chief executive of the Pacific Maritime Association, Jim McKenna in the PMA's 2011 annual report.
"Larger vessels, projected increases in cargo volume and the realities of a wider Panama Canal mandate it," he said.
According to the PMA report, automated technology implementation, which has become a central bone of contention in the on-again, off-again contracts talks between the East-Gulf Coast shipping industry and the International Longshore Union, has been a cooperative discussion so far with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
"The union has recognized the right of terminal operators to automate cargo-handling equipment," the PMA report says.
In return, the PMA says it has" provided assurances that maintenance and repair work on automated cargo-handling equipment be handled by the ILWU," and that the employer group would be "committed to training the ILWU workforce in the maintenance and repair of future and forthcoming automated equipment as an offset to the loss of some traditional longshore jobs."
The PMA pointed to automated technologies in existence at cargo-handling facilities in Europe, Asia and Australia that would be "applied to meet the unique demands and physical layout of West Coast terminals."
Technology examples referenced by the PMA include: automated shoreside cranes with a 24-container reach fitted with optical character recognition; automated guided vehicles that shuttle containers between the ship and storage yard; and a storage yard that features electric semi-automatic container-stacking cranes with remote control loading of boxes to on-dock rails or truck chassis.
"In the end, it will be about increased productivity and faster turnaround time to accommodate larger vessels carrying up to 13,000 TEUs," McKenna said.
The concept of a much more automated container operation took some shape publically two years ago when Cargo Business News reported on a plan by Seattle-based terminal operator SSA Marine to build an approximately $300 million zero-emission terminal that would debut in Southern California.
At CBN's Northwest Intermodal Conference in Portland, Ore. in May of 2010, SSA Marine President Ed DeNike said the labor contract with the ILWU that was negotiated in 2002 "allowed for complete automation at the marine terminals."
At the time, DeNike said SSA had been working with Shanghai-based ZPMC to develop the automated terminal that would include electrified cranes that would offer approximately double the handling-capacity of the average trans-tainer with no cabs, crane drivers, diesel engines, or tires.
The rest of the container terminal's functionality would be similarly electrified with crane drivers positioned in a control tower in front of computer monitors controlling the activity below, DeNike said.
At the same conference, Bill Payne, then-chief operating officer of the Japanese shipping line NYK said SSA "embraced the union early on. Something has to be done to densify the acreage. I applaud the effort and boldness for stepping up."
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