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DP World keeps crane driving cool

DP World’s new Terminal 3 facility in Jebel Ali, Dubai, is nearly ready, with final procedural checks all that remain before one of the most highly automated container terminals ever developed begins operations.


In an industry driven by economies of scale, T3’s 19 remotely operated ship to shore (STS) cranes will be among the largest and fastest-operating in the business. They will feature lifting heights of 50 meters and a reach that covers 24 container rows, about 70 meters - enough to handle the largest ships in operation.

The remote STS operation at the DP World’s T3 terminal has demonstrated that the operator’s views in the control room from crane-mounted cameras are better and more comprehensive than those from the cabin. The possibility for human error has been taken out of the equation through automation: The cranes operate fully automated once their spreaders reach a predetermined height above the shipboard stack profile. 

But Terminal 3’s automated and remote controlled STS cranes will not only allow for DP World to more efficiently and safely handle an increasing flow of containers. They’ll also make work a lot more comfortable for crane operators.

The comfort zone

Removed from Dubai’s searing heat and high humidity, and in the comfort of air conditioned offices, nineteen workstations featuring split-screens and joystick controls are allocated one STS crane each. These will be among the first remotely controlled STS cranes to be operational in the world, and also the very first automated STS cranes to be deployed in the Middle East. 

The automation package from ABB includes vehicle alignment, electronic load control, skew control, a laser-based ship profile and automatic container landing. For precision positioning or container picking onboard, human hands are still needed, but T3 is the latest in a growing band of industry pioneers to feature safer and ultimately more efficient box handling on the waterside that is largely personnel-free.

T3 Remote Control Operators Supervisor Sam Asirvatham has six years of first-hand experience as a ship to shore container crane operator, and is well-placed to explain the advantages of remote STS operations. 

“Operating a crane takes its toll on the operator,” he says. “It puts the body under strain, especially as cabin travel speeds increase in line with crane dimensions. Even so, the crane operator needs to be safe and maximise efficiency throughout the shift, high up and in a confined space, whatever the light, heat and humidity conditions outside.”

Productive environment

Any traditional crane driver would doubtless back himself against an automated crane, but Mr Asirvatham adds that the cornerstone of container handling efficiency is predictability, rather than haste. “Far greater consistency in concentration can be achieved if the operator focuses on the final part of the move in a relaxed and comfortable environment,” he says. “Safe and smooth operations will be an enabler - a platform on which to build productivity.”   

According to Mr Asirvatham, with this new way of operating the cranes and the terminal, staffing opportunities can be broadened, to include more local applicants and women. 

Despite these manifest gains, Mr Asirvatham acknowledges initial reservations among crane drivers over remote STS crane operations when plans were first unveiled.  “DP World has a great deal of experience in automated container handling, but when the idea was first presented to us we were sceptical. STS cranes are not the same as yard cranes; vessels are of different sizes, and have different stowage plans.”

However, the early doubts have proved unfounded. “ABB covered every point we raised,” says Mr Asirvatham. “What we have seen from them has been all about efficiency and taking a proactive approach to the requirements of terminal operations. Now we know it can be done.”

Crane operators at DP World’s new terminal are among the first in the world to operate STS cranes remotely from the comfort of the control room

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