This is an eventful year for new technology being introduced at container terminals with the opening of APM Terminals Maasvlakte II in Rotterdam, and introduction of leading-edge systems at the TraPac Terminal in Los Angeles and OOCL’s Long Beach Container Terminal.
How might terminals innovate even further in the future?
Grid Logistics, a company located inside Los Angeles’s Cleantech Incubator, presented its vision for how containerized cargo might be handled someday at this year’s Navis World conference.
David Alba, the company’s chief executive officer and a former manager at Hanjin’s TTI, said Grid envisions what he admits is a “pretty radical” system with three components: “SuperDock,” pipeline and feeder terminals.
“There are a couple of places in the world where we believe this system can be built, and we want to go to those places and start marketing the technology,” he said, adding the ideas could be customized for each location.
Possible sites for the technology include Singapore, where the government is planning a massive green field terminal in Tuas, as well as Los Angeles/Long Beach.
“Containers move very similar to the way technology works,” said Alba, who looks at containers “like binary tools—the empties are zeros and loads are ones… issues of process, storage and bandwidth.”
Much like a yet-to-be-implemented concept introduced by APM Terminals in 2009, called “FastNet,” Grid believes a key to speeding the loading and discharging of a containership is to get more cranes against the side of a ship.
The company’s proposed SuperDock would have one crane for every bay on a ship, and instead of containers being moved from the quay-side to a location inside a large terminal, Grid imagines building a huge racking system, something that looks like the container racks inside a ship, close to the berth. Another set of cranes would move containers from the storage racks onto trains.
In Los Angeles/Long Beach, Grid proposes such a facility could be built on a breakwater, where it would not interfere with existing terminals.
Alba estimates a cost of $7 billion for a two-mile-long pier that would be 600 feet wide and use 90 cranes to move containers on and off ships and another 30 to move containers on and off 24 rail tracks devoted to Class I railroads.
While the size of the proposed SuperDock is formidable, he contended the technology would be simpler than that at a WalMart distribution center or airline luggage system that needs to accommodate a wide range of packages or bags instead of just a few standard-sized containers.
The “pipeline” that Grid proposes is a 137-mile electrical rail-loop system that would use independent shuttle carriers to feed containers to seven destinations in the greater Los Angeles/Long Beach region where hundreds of warehouses and DCs are scattered.
“That way we could keep the storage of the containers inland and start to yield the land that we have at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach” that is currently used for container storage and deploy it for other purposes, Alba said.
“We literally want export containers to arrive the day of the ship is leaving and we would already have to requisite number empties the carrier needs,” he added.
The small rail carrier would be located in a 16-foot tunnel, which Alba figures would take seven tunnel boring machines three or four years to complete. The tunnels would run beneath 60 to 80 feet below the region’s freeways.
Total cost for the rail pipeline and seven terminals to transfer the containers between the railroad and trucks that would bring containers to their final destination would be about $11 billion.
He said the project could be financed with fees for moving the cargo all the way from the ship to local terminals, eliminating the need for dray moves to a location in the Inland Empire, which can amount to as much as $400 per box.
“We would be able to monetize and privately finance the infrastructure,” he said.
I must admit that when I heard Alba’s presentation, it seemed a bit farfetched.
Then again, that’s the way I felt the first time someone told me that containerships might carry 20,000 TEUs.
This column was published in the June 2015 issue of American Shipper.