Thursday, September 6, 2018

Drones Become Ever More Useful in the Container Environment and Wider Logistics Trade

Eyes in the Skies Monitor Safety and Security
Shipping News Feature
CHILE – In the dozens of articles we have published regarding the use of drones in the logistics sector we have seen them deployed as inventory and security scanners in environments such as railway freight yards, deliverers of emergency medical supplies to remote communities and inspectors of marine cargo tanks. Now at APM Terminals' inland services facilities in San Antonio and Santiago in Chile, where safety supervisors previously monitored activities on the ground, the latest technology is enabling their work to be done more effectively and safely, with the container handling group amongst the first to use drones in a shipping environment.

In their drive for security and to drive operational efficiency the APM drones can be clearly seen in the air above the company’s facilities, moving about their various tasks. Hector Espinoza, Director for Latin America at APM Terminals' subsidiary Container Operators, commented:

“Our safety supervisors are the ones tasked with keeping the people and activities at our facilities safe, but by doing their jobs next to container stacks, trucks and other machinery, they were exposed to the highest risks. I knew the mining industry was having success with drones for safety, so we started testing it out."

Work began in 2016 to implement the use of drone technology in the day-to-day operations at the facilities, having been used periodically to film the site's operations, monitor traffic flows and container stack efficiency as well as for observing unsafe behaviour, such as truck drivers leaving their cabins. Now operations can be documented and analysed from above, a viewpoint that was previously unavailable.

Three drones are being operated, one in Santiago and two in the company's larger facility in San Antonio. Safety supervisors are able to focus on workshops and areas with less machine traffic. Other risks, such as high container stacks, are also monitored. All visitors to the terminal are required to agree to the facility's safety policies, which outline the rules in force as well as the presence of the drone. Earlier versions of the drone were only equipped with a camera but now each unit has sensors for night-time flying as well as a speaker to communicate directly with people on the ground.

The drones are guided by geofencing - a route map for flying. The pilot has a live-stream view, so he can make phone calls to the necessary people or even fly in and use the speakers to inform a truck driver that they need to get back into their truck. Espinoza added:

“Since the arrival of the drones, visibility of terminal operations has improved considerably and 'hot spots', such as traffic flow, container stack efficiency and unsafe behaviour can be identified instantly. Blind-spots between high-density container stacks now are totally visible from a bird's eye view."

The management team in Chile has plans to systematically review all critical tasks using the drone. This low-cost initiative to reinforce the company's commitment to safe operations is expected to quickly catch on at other APM Terminals' locations, and indeed visitors to many cargo handling sites around the globe can look forward to seeing the ‘eyes in the sky’ monitoring a variety of procedures as they go about their business.