HIT gains efficiency boost through Terminal 9 automation

A milestone was achieved at Hongkong International Terminals’ Container Terminal 9 North when its newly completed remote controlled operations were unveiled on 30 January.

The launch of its remote-controlled rubber-tyred gantry cranes and automated container stacking system marks CT9 North as the first container terminal in Hong Kong where all yard cranes are operated remotely and the stacking of containers is fully automated at yard.

The remote-controlled operations project is an important step in maintaining the competitiveness of Hong Kong port and boosting efficiency by an estimated 20%. By its very nature as an automated operation, occupational safety and the working environment of crane operators have also been greatly enhanced.

The completion of the project was the first time in the world for a container terminal to transit RTGCs to a remote-controlled and automated stacking system while maintaining full operations.

HIT pioneered a remote operation system of rail-mounted gantry cranes at its terminal back in 2012. In late 2013, HIT started to configure 29 RTGCs, which had been manually operated by crane operators from crane cabins, into remote-controlled cranes. Simultaneously, it introduced an automated container stacking system. Both major developments took place at CT9 North.

At the launching ceremony, Ms Angela Lee, deputy secretary for Transport and Housing, said: “The port has long been a cornerstone of Hong Kong’s economic growth.  As a leading hub port in the region, the success of Hong Kong Port can be largely attributed to the efficient and professional management and services of the terminal operators, who have made continuous investments to capitalize on emerging technologies and to upgrade the port facilities.  HIT’s brand-new remote operation system not only raises the terminal’s operational efficiency, but it also strengthens the competitiveness of the port.”

HIT’s managing director, Mr Gerry Yim said the remote crane operations could bring four benefits, namely:

Improved working environment for crane operators

Increased industrial safety

Higher operational efficiency and productivity

Cleaner terminal environment by reducing carbon emissions

Mr Yim remarked that HIT’s adoption of advanced technology enables the operation of cranes – to load and unload containers from trucks – to now take place indoors, in an office setting, instead of in crane cabins. The working environment of crane operators has thus been significantly improved. HIT will also offer training opportunities and organize promotion activities to attract new talent into the industry to ease the labour shortage.

With the introduction of remote-controlled cranes and an automated container stacking system, each crane is now equipped with 58 monitoring cameras and sensors to ensure full precision and enhance industrial safety in its operation. The new remote operation system is integrated with a database at the terminal to work out where and how the containers can best be grounded or stacked. Cranes under the new system are 20% more efficient and productive than manual ones.

Mr Yim added: “Hong Kong’s container terminal industry has faced many challenges over the past few years, including global recessions, labour shortage and the decrease in container throughput. However, he added that the transition to remote operations could enhance the overall operational efficiency and competitiveness of terminals in Hong Kong, which will maintain the city’s status as a major transshipment port.”

HIT is expected to get a return on its investment in automation within six to seven years. Meanwhile Terminal 8 is expected to follow the transition to automated operations within two years. Hutchison Ports’ facilities in the UK, where work is already underway, and China will also adopt automation.




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