A NEW report from international ratings’ agency Moody’s says automated terminals have 40% to 70% lower labour requirements, but credit risks remain with concerns over capital investment and productivity.

The report found automated terminals support efficient land use and the ability to expand vertically without degrading productivity. They also provide consistent, reliable performance, and are not restricted by the time of day.

Automated operations also allow for lower on-site carbon emissions as electricity replaces diesel power for vehicles and cranes.

However, the report also found automation to be expensive and potentially disruptive and can “restrict financial flexibility”.

“There are also risks that automation will not deliver the benefits that terminals expect,” the report stated.

Automation offers the potential for more reliable, predictable performance, especially for terminals handling megaships that entail larger and more concentrated cargo exchanges per call.

However, vessel productivity as measured in crane moves per hour is “often not superior to what can be achieved at conventional terminals”, which remains one of the primary challenges to the business case for automation, the report said.

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 “While automation may require operators to accept a lower, but ultimately satisfactory, level of crane productivity – on the order of 25 to 30 crane moves per hour, compared with 30 to 40 crane moves per hour for conventional operations – this is balanced, in part, by a more consistent level of performance over time,” the report said.

The productivity of automated terminals is better sustained with density, the report found.

“In conventional terminals, productivity tends to decrease as density increases. This is because more of the hourly activity in the container yard is devoted to sorting or rehandling containers…” the report stated.

“Automated terminals typically do not experience the same degradation in productivity as density increases. The primary reason for this is the post-stacking optimisation that takes place to re-arrange/pre-arrange the containers in such a way so that in subsequent loading operations containers can be retrieved as efficiently as possible.”

The report concluded automation presents opportunities for port authorities or terminal operators that wish to maintain competitive costs, ensure reliable and consistent productivity as vessel sizes increase, maximise land use efficiency and mitigate environmental impacts.

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