Hands free - Container terminal with automated storage systems

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Thorsten Rolfs Thorsten Rolfs
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The growing size of container vessels has forced ports around the world to maximize the efficiency of their cargo handling operations. One of the terminals at the Port of Hamburg is being upgraded with automated container storage systems – with support from DNV GL.

At Hamburg’s Burchardkai Terminal the first block of cranes has already been mounted. “We’re currently preparing them for testing and in a few months we plan to finish four more automated storage blocks,” says Antonio Schmidt, Lifting Machinery Manager at the Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA). Once the automated yard storage blocks go into operation in the first half of 2017, they will improve container handling efficiency significantly, while further increasing the level of occupational safety in the port. The project brought together HHLA, DNV GL, the crane manufacturer Hans Künz, and the electronics supplier ABB. 

“Our collaboration with DNV GL has been very smooth and DNV GL has demonstrated a high level of professionalism in terms of project execution,” says Schmidt. His team is responsible for the acquisition of cargo handling equipment, such as quay cranes and yard cranes. For each of the four new yard storage blocks being set up at Burchardkai there will be three automated stacking cranes (ASCs). “In projects like this, we are in charge of organizing project execution and overseeing the manufacturing process. DNV GL is responsible for quality assurance. Their experts help us scrutinize areas such as steel construction, welding technology or mechanical engineering for potential deficiencies,” he adds. 

DNV GL has also inspected the cranes and checked the risk analysis for the overall system, detailing what each project partner needs to do to ensure compliance with the overall safety requirements of the European Machinery Directive. According to Thorsten Rolfs, Principal Engineer – Infrastructure, Marine Infrastructure & Cranes at DNV GL, crane automation creates significant challenges for the overall system: “Unmanned gantries require entirely different control systems than manually operated stacking cranes to ensure the efficiency of their automated processes and enable staff to intercept operations remotely in case of an incident. Automated yard storage systems require extensive safety procedures to ensure the same overall level of safety as for manually operated systems.”

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Same footprint, doubled capacity
In a conventional container yard, manned container loaders, so-called straddle carriers, simply unload the boxes by placing them in marked zones. This solution requires a relatively large amount of surface area because containers must be placed about one metre apart from each other so the straddle carriers can pick them up. In addition, straddle carriers are unable to stack more than three containers, which can weigh up to 36 tons. Block storage allows containers to be stacked faster, higher and more closely together. “Each storage block is 380 metres long, ten container rows wide and six boxes high, and can store just under 2,100 standard container units (TEU). Compared with the old yard arrangements we are able to accommodate twice as many containers in the same space,” says Schmidt.

The new technology also reduces CO2 and noise emissions as well as power consumption, adds HHLA spokesperson Karl Olaf Petters: “Unlike dieselpowered straddle carriers, the rail-mounted cranes are electrically operated. And with our new LED yard lights, which light up faster and are only switched on when needed, we save some two million kWh of energy – the power consumption of a village with 1,200 people.” 

Once the cranes for the first storage blocks have been fully commissioned this autumn, final tests will be carried out. “Before granting approval for the cranes, every element of the system undergoes a final inspection and we run error simulations to ensure the cranes respond properly, to make certain that any potential flaws have been identified and removed,” explains Rolfs. According to the DNV GL expert, the project has gone very smoothly. “Working on this project at HHLA has been a pleasure. Automation solutions are growing in number throughout the industry and are rapidly advancing in terms of complexity. Cooperation between HHLA and the other project partners has been excellent. We are progressing very well, and the first unit should be commissioned in the autumn,” he adds. 

“The expansion of our storage capacity will set an example for the industry,” says HHLA’s Karl Olaf Petters, “and prepare us for handling some of today’s biggest container vessels, which can carry up to 20,000 containers.”