Richard Micheli, Product Line Manager, OCR, ABB Ports
Located in Brazil’s southernmost seaport, Rio Grande Container Terminal has repeatedly demonstrated a forward looking approach to technology since opening its gates in 1997. Known as Tecon Rio Grande, the operation has earned a reputation as a high-productivity facility connected by water, road and rail, with a capacity of 1.42 million TEU.
The first terminal in Brazil to invest in both a state-of-the-art operations management system (from Navis, in 1999) and a B2B portal for the port community stakeholders (in 2000), Tecon Rio Grande was also an early mover in deploying gate automation using advanced Optical Character Recognition for gatehouse operations (from ABB, in 2013).
Tecon Rio Grande Operations Director, Giovanni Phonlor, described the facility as “the most automated terminal in the country”, adding that its willingness to innovate is wholly consistent with the ethos of parent company Wilson Sons – Brazil’s largest integrated port and maritime logistics operator. Wilson Sons sponsors the Cubo Itaú innovation hub and is an investor in notable start-ups, including DockTech (a developer of seabed scanner for ports) Argonáutica (a dynamic draft tool for ship berthing/loading) and AlDrivers (adapting conventional vehicles to autonomous operations).
In early 2024, Tecon Rio Grande will sustain its ‘first to market’ reputation, after choosing ABB ahead of five competitors to become an early adopter of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for quay crane operations and to become the first in the country to integrate QuayPro digitalised container stowage confirmation into its operations.
Phonlor stressed that return on investment has been the key driver for innovation throughout Tecon Rio Grande’s 26-year history. “We operate in a tough market here and we don’t have the luxury of the container numbers that the biggest container terminals work with to secure straightforward scale economies: we need to capture every available efficiency gain that new technology can bring us,” he said.
Accuracy in data capture and exchange has proved an especially fertile area for ROI. For example, the initial impetus to introduce OCR at the gatehouse in 2013 came from mandatory customs requirements, Phonlor explained, but Tecon Rio Grande took the opportunity to invest in ABB’s state-of-the-art OCR to secure efficiency gains as well as compliance. By 2014, it had put in place a gate automation solution that featured biometric recognition for drivers, automatic weighing, and automated slot allocation via ticket printing.
“Our starting point was that each truck entering the port took roughly three minutes to deal with on a manual basis,” said Phonlor. “Using OCR and the other gate automation technologies, the entire process can be accomplished in 15-20 seconds, on average.”
Further upgrades to operations have included implementation of NAVIS N4 terminal software (2017) and an update to gatehouse hardware and software from ABB (2022). The latter consolidated a relationship which has led on to the upcoming adoption of Crane OCR and QuayPro, which both ABB and Tecon Rio Grande expect will bring a step change for productivity.
“We are a long-established user of ABB gate automation technology, and the system has proved highly accurate and very intuitive, with ABB also providing best in class support services in my opinion,” said Phonlor. “In considering Crane OCR, we surveyed what was available in the market and concluded that ABB had the solution that best meets our needs.”
KPIs and QuayPro
Installed across five ship-to-shore cranes, ABB Crane OCR automates data capture as containers are exchanged at the quay crane. Using ABB’s advanced AI imaging technology, the system captures container numbers, ISO codes, door orientation, bolt seal presence and hazardous material labels, as well as recording images for damage inspection purposes. The solution includes ABB MatchMaker™ which identifies the terminal trucks and enables automated handoff between cranes and terminal vehicles.
Crane OCR minimises the risk for human error in the handling operation. “Multiply the potential for keying errors, misunderstandings, inattention or even fatigue by thousands of containers a day, and the time and accuracy saved can add up to a significant efficiency gain,” said Phonlor. Web-based exception management software (XClerk) also means terminal staff can correct or adjust transactions in real time from a safe remote location.
However, ‘game-changing’ efficiency wins will come about as a result of ABB’s QuayPro module, Phonlor added, which extends the reach of the gains available to accurate data over the quayside and into the hold of the vessel itself. Where Crane OCR captures container data automatically, the QuayPro module automatically confirms that the load is being stowed in the right bay on the ship, with ‘CabView’ modules providing visual and audio job instructions to crane drivers.
Real-time stowage planning
In addition, QuayPro can also adapt on-the-fly to events which change the loading sequence. Instead of requiring human intervention - and a chain of inquiries and instructions - QuayPro uses business logic to assess the impact of the change on the stowage plan and automatically generates the new loading instruction for safe stowage. In the same way, for discharge, the combination of QuayPro and Crane OCR confirms the accuracy of the inbound stow positions as reported to the terminal via BAPLIE EDI and highlights any deviations from the bay plan in near real-time so that yard equipment logistics can adjust.
The first solution of its kind to go live in the industry, ABB’s QuayPro application made its market debut in 2022 at the Exolgan Container Terminal, at the Port of Buenos Aires.
“Together, ABB Crane OCR and QuayPro will allow us to streamline the stowage process automatically, and we expect this to be a productivity differentiator,” said Phonlor. The ability to adapt to changing loading and discharge needs on-the-fly, will also have the effect of reducing terminal vehicle dwell time and related emissions, he observed.
Over the coming months, ABB will project manage installation, software implementation and commissioning of a new handling solution which both the supplier and Tecon Rio Grande view as more than an extension of Crane OCR. Phonlor expects that, drawing on Tecon Rio Grande’s own breadth of expertise in IT, the combination of QuayPro and Crane OCR will seamlessly change the way container terminals operate.
“We can see that Crane OCR is going to have an immediate effect on crane operations at the quayside that will echo what we achieved with Gate OCR, but QuayPro’s ability to adjust on-the-fly is a next level development,” he said. “We also look forward to using this dynamic software to analyse our operations in new ways and to applying logic swaps with our TOS (terminal operations software) that will help us improve vessel planning.”
Originally published in Port Technology journal, Edition 130, April 2023