ing and distribution space. Among the functions that can take place there is the
transloading of international freight from
ocean containers into larger, more cost-efficient domestic trailers.
CenterPoint Intermodal can work in
conjunction with port complexes beyond
the U.S. West Coast, such as Mexico’s developing Port of Lazaro Cardenas. With an
annual capacity target of 700,000 TEUs in its
first phase of construction and 2 million
TEUs in future, the port offers deep water
and direct access to the U.S. Midwest via the
Kansas City Southern. A second Mexican
port under development at Punta Colonet,
south of San Diego, Calif., would also boast
a direct inland connection by rail.
Currently there are around half a dozen
major inland ports in operation around the
U.S., and Vickerman expects many more
to bloom. All promise to give shippers a
means of accessing the heartland without
encountering congestion or delays on the
West Coast. The use of domestic equipment will allow ocean carriers to retrieve
their international boxes faster, for return
to Asia. What’s more, the existence of
inland ports can sharply lower the dwell
time of containers on the docks, while
making possible the “just-in-time” transfer
of cargo between inland locations and the
waterfront. The trend will have a significant impact on container flows across
North America, Vickerman says, “if gateway ports and rails can fully coordinate
their operations and information.”
The Carrier’s Role
A successful effort to speed up the system
must involve all of the parties that touch the
boxes. Ocean carriers are very much part of
the mix. APL relies on careful pattern stow-
ing of containers on its ships according to
port rotation and type of inland connection,
says Nathaniel Seeds, vice president of
operations for the Americas. Stowage
instructions are conveyed to terminal oper-
ators at the overseas origin port, using a
series of priority codes. First off the ship are
boxes moving under the OceanGuaranteed
less-than-containerload service of APL and
its intermodal partner, Con-way Freight.
Also slated for immediate removal are con-
tainers destined to become part of double-
stack unit trains, the first of which typically
departs within eight hours of the vessel’s
arrival. “That tight, seamless intermodal
connection is only possible through this
code system,” says Seeds.
APL relies mostly on the temporary
stacking of containers in the terminal yard,
instead of placing each offloaded box
onto a truck chassis at dockside. Not only
does the stacked configuration make for
better utilization of terminal space, it
speeds up vessel operations, says Seeds.
The arrival of truckers can be closely coordinated with the retrieval of containers
from the stacks. Seeds says marine terminals swing back and forth between
stacked and wheeled operations depending on the level of activity, with the latter
option favored by many West Coast ports
today because of the downturn in trade
volumes. But many of the world’s highest-volume ports, such as Shanghai, Hong
Kong, Singapore and Rotterdam, rely on a
stacking strategy at all times.
Also popular during times of reduced
international activity is the mixing of
domestic and marine boxes in the port area.
The Port of Tacoma has seen big increases
in domestic operations at the South Intermodal Yard, operated by the Union Pacific
Railroad. “Domestic service is just going
through the roof,” says Mannelly.
Technology providers are working on a
variety of new systems to expedite container flow at ports and intermodal terminals. Much depends on the “pain points” of
each facility, tied to land, labor and geographic considerations, says Mike Schwank,
president of Tideworks Technology Inc. in
Seattle. Truck lanes can be automated so
that a driver needn’t interact with a human
at the gate in order to clear paperwork. OCR
and radio frequency identification help
handlers to track each container without
having to re-enter the information manually. Web access allows dispatchers, truckers and freight brokers, among others, to
view the status of a container and spot any
glitches in the process.
One terminal in Southern California, the
Port of Long Beach’s Pier A, can do 3,330
gate moves a day with just five people handling the transactions, Schwank says. For
the future, he sees increased reliance on
artificial intelligence and 3D visualization
tools, to further reduce the need for staff
and administrative processes.
Anne Landstrom, senior consultant with
TranSystems in Kansas City, Mo., says the
focus now is on synchronizing rail and vessel linkages. A new container terminal at
Prince Rupert, B.C., depends on the fastest
possible transfer of boxes between modes,
given that nearly all of the volumes moving
through that facility have an origin or destination far from the relatively isolated port.
In the coming years, she says, “
Automation is going to be the way that you’re going
to get better productivity out of the same
amount of acreage.”
From the shipper’s standpoint, visibility
is the key. Exception-reporting systems can
pinpoint any container that isn’t moving
according to plan, based on a number of
pre-set milestones, says Joe O’Brien, managing director for North America with Hong
Kong-based CargoSmart Ltd. Through
exception management, shippers and carriers can monitor transshipment activity, pinpointing any box that has been sitting too
long at a transfer point, he says. The newest
systems, he says, incorporate milestones
that range from the selection of an empty
container to its final delivery.
John Motley, chief executive officer of
LOG-NET in Red Bank, N.J., says it’s important to monitor all of the potential problems
that could arise, whether with a carrier, broker or drayage provider. Status information
must flow from the factory in Asia to the carrier, broker and destination facility, in order
to ensure the smooth flow of containers.
Shippers also must be able to assess the
most effective gateways for their freight.
LOG-NET’s technology includes settings
that create a “port delay” rating, showing
where impediments crop up most frequently. The metric allows clients to route
around problem facilities, whether due to
congestion, labor strife or any other factor.
That level of visibility provides yet another
challenge for established loadports that are
worried about losing business to more efficient newcomers, whether on the coast or
at inland locations.
To access this article online, visit The Digital
Edition at www.SupplyChainBrain.com.
Port of Houston,
Port of Oakland,
Port of Tacoma,
Vickerman & Associates,