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Pictures of the Future



Mr. Sebastian Webel
Mr. Sebastian Webel


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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation

Livable and Sustainable Cities

Container Terminals that Run like Clockwork

Amazing logistical feats: Specialists at Siemens have developed a wide range of technologies to help make port activities more efficient and sustainable.

The volume of goods being transported by sea is growing rapidly. To remain competitive, ports must handle cargoes with increasing speed and efficiency. That means that everything from crane operations to the movements of thousands of trucks must run like clockwork, while minimizing emissions. Siemens is helping to meet these goals.

It only takes a glance at a container terminal to see how complex modern harbors have become. Container gantry cranes soaring 60 meters raise one steel box after another from ships’ holds. Dozens of forklifts scurry about, lights flashing, lifting containers and stacking them neatly. Trucks rumble up, load containers and head for the highways.

The wide range of port solutions offered by Siemens will help to ensure that these growing volumes of freight can continue to be transshipped swiftly and safely.

This seemingly never-ending flow of goods can be managed only thanks to state-of-the-art logistics systems. Yet even the most advanced systems are constantly confronted with new challenges. Cargo ships are growing: in the mid-1990s, for instance, they carried around 7,000 containers each; now the largest can accommodate up to 20,000. When such a ship arrives at a terminal, the cargo must be handled in a hurry. This requires that container gantry cranes work quickly, and the logistics behind the terminal – the “hinterland connection” – must also function smoothly. Nothing must be allowed to disrupt the process. A traffic jam caused by trucks on an access road can be enough to bring an entire harbor’s logistics to a stop.

How to "Keep on Truck in”

With these challenges in mind, logistics specialists at Siemens have developed a wide range of technologies to help make port activities more efficient and sustainable. In terms of traffic management, for example, Siemens and partner entities have installed a catenary system along the access roads to the ports at Los Angeles and Long Beach. Known as an “eHighway,” the system allows electric and hybrid test trucks to travel such routes without producing emissions. The routes are expected to significantly improve air quality along such routes, which currently carry around 35,000 trucks every day.

Port of Duisburg: With 21 docks and 16 kilometers of quay facilities, it is the world’s largest river port.

Another example can be found at the port of Duisburg in Germany. With 21 docks and 16 kilometers of quay facilities, it is the world’s largest river port. More than 120 million metric tons of goods are transshipped there every year, and this figure is rising. But there is a flip side to this growth – the associated increase in traffic volumes. As a result, in 2008, port operator “duisport” contracted Siemens to optimize the movements of cargo vehicles in and around the port. The result is a comprehensive “Integrated Truck Guidance” system (ITG), which directs heavy vehicles within a range of about 20 kilometers from the highways and main roads to the port as quickly as possible. Cameras record the license plates of approaching trucks long before they reach the terminals, and the information is then anonymized and forwarded to the facility’s control room. Each truck is then automatically allocated a free slot in case the slot originally assigned cannot be used. This information is relayed directly to the driver’s smartphone. LED displays keep the drivers informed of travel times. If no slots are free, the trucks can be directed to a buffer parking area. Up-to-date traffic information is incorporated in the navigation system to guide the trucks to the port as quickly as possible. “The ITG is currently installed at Logport, a small area of the port. Following a successful trial operating period, the system will be extended to cover the entire harbor,” says Dr. Padideh Moini Gützkow, ITG project manager at Siemens Mobility Consulting in Berlin.

Within the scope of a pilot project, Siemens developed an intelligent flow control system that makes the current traffic situation and the flow of freight traffic transparent to all involved.

Container Gantry Cranes in the Fast Lane

But there’s more to the economic efficiency of major shipping terminals than moving goods in and out. That efficiency also depends on how quickly ships can be loaded and unloaded, which boils down to the speed of container gantry cranes.

“Over the next few years, a remote control system will be applied to gantry cranes,” predicts Carsten Köhler, head of sales for Siemens Process Industries and Drives in Hanover. “The rapid accelerations in the crane cabins expose operators to huge physical stresses. With Siemens’ remote control concept, however, operators will be able to control container gantry cranes quickly and safely from a separate control room using a joystick and monitor.”

Known as Simocrane, the remote control technology can shorten transshipment times while minimizing energy demand. It manages crane drives to ensure that containers do not swing or turn on cables. Cameras also record the environment around each container. The system evaluates the images and acts automatically, avoiding collisions and placing containers onto trailer units with accuracy down to the nearest centimeter. This process significantly shortens the time needed to clear a cargo.  The technology also makes ports more efficient thanks to its integrated energy recovery system: when a load is lowered from a great height, the potential energy involved is converted into electric power. This can be fed into the power network or be re-used directly by other drives in the container gantry crane. “The Simocrane a platform is based on our crane operators’ extensive experience. This has enabled us to develop a platform that is unique in terms of all the functions it offers,” summarizes Köhler.

Plug-in Ships

Power is also important in other areas of port logistics, such as providing electricity for ships. Most cargo ships currently run diesel generators to provide them with electricity while in port, resulting in emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides in particular,  which can cause respiratory diseases. As a consequence, in many harbor cities, ships are major contributors to air pollution. One way to minimize this is to use a “shore connection system,” such as Siemens’ Siharbor. This involves connecting ships quite literally to an onshore socket, enabling the diesel generators to be switched off. When a ship arrives at the quay wall, a port worker connects its power cable and a data cable to the Siharbor system. The data cable is used to monitor the electricity connection conveniently from the bridge. A frequency converter module adapts the grid frequency from 50 Hz to the standard on-board frequency of 60 Hz. These Siemens land connection systems are in use at the port of Lübeck, for example, and in Hamburg, where Europe’s first land connection system for cruise ships operates autonomously and can be run fully automatically from the ship if required, which means no additional specialized personnel are needed onshore.

Germany’s first land power supply for merchant shipping has gone into operation in the Northern German port Lübeck.

One-Stop Secure Power Supply

Siemens provides harbors with a lot more than just a plug-in power supply for docking ships.  It’s Totally Integrated Power (TIP) concept provides them with a secure and reliable power supply for entire port infrastructures – from products, systems and solutions for all voltage ranges and ingenious software solutions, to innovative energy concepts such as storage technologies that allow the incorporation of renewables or micro-grid solutions, and on to customer support throughout the entire life cycle of these solutions.

One of the most recent facilities to adopt Siemens’ TIP concept is the new port of Nacala-a-Velha in Mozambique, which uses it to structure its electricity supply more reliably.

Just as in Mozambique, many regions worldwide require new port infrastructures to deal with the huge increase in freight volumes. Apart from a decline in transport volumes during the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, the worldwide volume of goods being transported by ship has grown constantly since the mid1980s – from about 3.3 billion metric tons in 1985 to about 9.6 billion in 2013. The wide range of port solutions offered by Siemens will help to ensure that these growing volumes of freight can continue to be transshipped swiftly and safely.

Tim Schröder
Picture credits: from top: 2.picture Getty Images