Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Robot Port Cranes in Container Terminals Would See Stevedore Job Cuts

Consultations Continue as Auckland Discusses Options
Shipping News Feature
NEW ZEALAND – Following a proposal last year to partially automate its container terminal operations, the Ports of Auckland (POAL) has now moved on to the second round of consultation with staff and unions, seeking feedback on its plan to use robotic straddle carriers in the loading and unloading of trucks and moving containers around the terminal, in response to continued freight growth at the country's largest container port.

Should the project proceed, around 50 stevedoring roles would go, though a manual operation would be retained between the terminal and the cranes. Since the proposal was announced in August 2015, staff and unions have been consulted and a scoping study has been carried out. The consultation and study have provided more detail on how the proposal could work, particularly with regard to safety. POAL has now shared that detail with staff and unions, and is seeking feedback.

This second round of consultation is expected to take five weeks, after which a decision on whether or not to proceed will be made. The project would take around three years to implement, over which time port management says it would be able to manage the reduction in roles through normal staff turnover and retirement.

The Ports of Auckland operate 12.5m high ‘1-over-2’ straddle carriers which stack containers up to three high. Automated ‘1-over-3’ straddle carriers are 15-15.5 metres high and can stack containers up to four high. Increasing container stack height by one should result in a 30% increase in container terminal capacity negating the need for new reclamation of land.

Automated straddles could deliver significant savings over manned straddles, according to POAL. As well as saving in labour costs, automated straddles could deliver 10% lower fuel use and lower carbon emissions, less maintenance and repair, and less terminal lighting, reducing electricity costs and light pollution.

POAL has probably studied rival operations such as the Australian Port of Brisbane where Patrick, not always a favourite employer with the dockers unions, started installing robotic technology following a period of industrial strife twenty years ago and now has 27 such straddle carriers employed on the quayside, all guided by millimetre wave radar whose beacons enable each machine to triangulate its position precisely.

Unsurprisingly opponents such as the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) National Secretary Paddy Crumlin, are no fans of the modernisation, claiming the robots work no faster than the traditional stevedores. What is a fact however is that injury rates run at less than a twentieth than before the modernisation, something the Port of Brisbane claims saves around A$1 million a year in workers compensation claims.

Following the success of the equipment at the Fisherman Island Brisbane terminal Patrick, these days an Asciano subsidiary, last year ordered in 45 Kalmar AutoStrads for its Port Botany operation in Sydney, making it the world’s second fully automated terminal.