Port Case Study

Ports often have histories that stretch back to the earliest recorded times, many port workers can claim family links going back over tens of generations - as a result introducing any change to daily working practices has to be handled very carefully.

This project introduced a step-change in what was technicaly possible with real-time scheduling. Despite the initial concerns of unions and worker, the results helped to secure the port's future and the continued employment of 1000s of its employees, it also significantly improved the company's profitability.

Scheduling Container Movements

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When first called we had little experience of port operations. The brief was to rescue an IT project where the aim had been to build a resource optimisation system for the port. It didn't take long to discover that a tug (the local term for a terminal tractor) was not something that worked on water.

As we were not port specialists we had much to learn about this business, however a good team spirit was quickly established (especially after the lottery syndicate was created) and soon the aire of failure within the old team had been replaced by a will to win.

At the outset the site was already the largest container port in the country, but to maintain that position it needed to increase the number of containers handled by the existing resources.

After an initial assessment of the port's operations it was found that the limiting factor was not the performance capability of the quay cranes, but instead, inefficiencies in using the tugs serving those cranes. It was known that there were a number of ways in which the tugs could be made more efficient e.g. reducing the number of 'empty legs' by locating containers to be picked up close to the places where containers were being deposited, however manually planning these activities within a highly dynamic environment was just too complex to contemplate.

The size, complexity and the real-time nature of this scheduling problem made it a deceptively challenging task, and it was this deception that was at the heart of the problems for the programme's management prior to our arrival.

ICIFM's approach was to restructure the team, revisit the project's assumptions, radically overhaul the design, and then drive forward progress within a robust, structured framework which provided improved visibility and control.

Now, following the implementation of the Tug Scheduling System (TSS) the port is able to schedule its quay cranes and tugs more efficiently, allowing it to handle significantly increased throughput without any extra equipment or resources. The system also helps to monitor and control terminal operations more effectively by providing accurate and up-to-date information to vessel controllers and managers.

TSS is a world-first in port scheduling; it has allowed the port to achieve significantly increased throughput without investing in additional expensive handling equipment. Moreover, TSS also increases the safety of port employees by ensuring rules are not broken, and has effectively eradicated "lost container" problems.

The final system was commissioned 7 months after our arrival. It was designed, developed and implemented using industry best practice, and represented a significant step forward in the area of real-time complex scheduling.

The port, of course, is more interested in its operational performance. According to the IT Director, "the Tug Scheduling System has significantly improved efficiency by maximising the use of existing resources. This has avoided additional investment in expensive machinery".

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ICIFM - Port Case Study