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Loading and Unloading goes high-tech

Loading and Unloading goes high-tech

In the last few years maritime trade and commerce has increased manifold. To keep pace with increasing cargo loading and unloading the port material handling equipment has integrated the latest technologies – IoT, telematics, wireless communication and artificial intelligence. This article traces the latest development in port material handling technology.

Cargo movement down through the ages

The earliest cargo transportation was through land but this then only lucrative mode of transportation for transporting cargoes frequently came under attack from bandits, looters and thieves. The merchant community started looking for alternate mode of transportation and started using ‘water’ for transporting cargo from one place to another. Thus, started the waterway or waterborne transport, synonymous now as maritime transport or maritime commerce. Indian maritime history can be traced to 3rd millennium BCE when inhabitants of the Indus Valley initiated maritime trading contact with Mesopotamia. After the annexation of Egypt by the Roman Empire trade between India and the Greco-Roman world increased. Spices became the main import from India, bypassing silk and other commodities. In due course of time India’s spices became craze in Europe and every power in Europe wanted to lay its hand on the lucrative spice trade. It was the Arab traders and merchants who did business in spices. The direct sea route to India was unknown to the European. In quest of finding the direct sea route to India Vasco da Gama, a portuguese explorer, sailed from Lisbon, Portugal, in year 1497 and reach India in year 1498 at Calicut on the Malabar Coast via the Atlantic Ocean. Vasco da Gama successfully convinced the Zamorin (King) of Calicut to trade spices with his country. Thus, started the first known and recorded modern maritime commerce and trade in India through sea route with the Europeans. The cargoes were transferred manually from ships to the habour but with the cargoes getting increasingly larger and heavier, machines started to replace manual labour. Today the whole process of material handling in ports and harbour is totally mechanized with automation and digitalization taking over the operations. According to the Ministry of Shipping, around 95 percent of India’s trading by volume and 70 percent by value is done through maritime transport. It is serviced by 13 major ports (12 Government-owned and one private) and 187 notified minor and intermediate ports. Major ports in India collectively have a capacity of 1452 million tonnes at the end of 2017-18. As per latest data by the Indian Ports Association, India’s 12 major ports recorded 2.90 percent growth in cargo handling at 699.04 million tonnes. Solid cargo contributes the largest share of all traffic handled at major ports followed by liquid cargo and containers. The solid cargo includes iron ore and pellets, coking coal, fertilizers, while petroleum, oil and lubricant are the liquid cargo traffic handled at major ports. A report by the India Brand Equity Foundation shows net profit at major ports had more than trebled from Rs. 1150 crore in FY13 to Rs. 3413 crore in FY18. Operating margins of the major ports in the same period rose from 23 percent to 44 percent. To cater to this huge traffic of solid, liquid and container cargoes material handling equipment plays a very important role. Meterial handling equipment (MHE) at ports and rail yards generally includes yard tractors, cranes, forklifts, container handlers (eg, top picks and side picks), and bulk handling equipment, such as tractors, loaders, dozers, excavators, and backhoes. Among these MHE types, yard tractors, container handlers, and forklifts are the most common types of equipment at ports and rail yards. According to a market research report published by MarketsandMarkets™, the Port Equipment Market is estimated at USD 29.2 billion in 2018 and is projected to reach USD 36.6 billion by 2025, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 3.30 percent from 2018 to 2025. The report predicts factors such as the increasing seaborne trade across the globe and the growing number of container shipments in Asia Pacific and the Middle East to fuel the growth of the port equipment market.

Port MHE technology – Leaping Ahead

India in recent years has taken various initiatives for the growth of ports and shipping sector. To promote port-led direct and indirect development and to provide infrastructure to transport goods to and from ports quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively the government has introduced the Sagarmala project. This Project intends to achieve the broad objectives of enhancing the capacity of major and non-major ports and modernizing them to make them efficient, thereby enabling them to become drivers of port-led economic development, optimizing the use of existing and future transport assets and developing new lines/linkages for transport (including roads, rail, inland waterways and coastal routes), setting up of logistics hubs, and establishment of industries and manufacturing centres to be served by ports in EXIM and domestic trade. In addition to strengthening port and evacuation infrastructure, it also aims at simplifying procedures used at ports for cargo movement and promotes usage of electronic channels for information exchange leading to quick, efficient, hassle-free and seamless cargo movement. The government has planned to establish six megaports under the Sagarmala project.  The government initiatives for the port sector have given an impetus to the material equipment players catering to port sectors in India. “We have engaged with quite a few customers in the Port sector for our solutions in bulk material handling equipment and systems. There has been a steady growth of our business in the Port sector and our equipment and systems are very well accepted for their design, operational efficiency, high availability and our aftermarket support. We are now the only Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) in the market to provide solutions across the full value chain for ports,” says Venugopal Rajendra Basker, Head – Mining Sales, Subcontinental India, FLSmidth. FLSmidth offering to the port sector includes mechanization of bulk handling facilities which include grab type ship unloaders, screw type ship unloaders, ship loaders, belt conveyors, pipe conveyors, stackers, reclaimers, stacker-cum-reclaimers, silos, pneumatic transportation and train/truck loading systems.

Sensing the demand, and the huge opportunity the ports and shipping sector is going to offer in the coming years, the material handling industry is rapidly moving towards, automation, internet of things (IoT) and cloud computing. “When we lay our focus specifically on the Ports and Shipping Vertical, now is an interesting time for companies to integrate technological elements in their products or services, marking a shift from OEM’s to technology providers,” says Tushar Mehendale, Managing Director, ElectroMech Material Handling Systems India.  On the technology and automation front, FLSmidth has intoduced BulkExpert™, a state-of-the-art technology which uses 3D laser scanner and GPS technology for 3D stockyard mapping and unmanned operations of stockyard equipment like stacker/reclaimers and train loaders. This helps in digitizing the stockyard to track different types and quality of bulk materials and improves the overall supply chain of the port facilities. The consistency of this automated operation, which is unmanned, increases the stacking and reclaiming rate. This means reduced waiting time for the hatches for unloading and thereby considerable savings in demurrages. FLSmidth also offers other digital solutions like Condition Monitoring Systems, Downtime Analysis Systems for bulk material handling equipment/systems. This digital solutions help in decreasing the downtime, efficient maintenance planning and improving the productivity of the port operations.

Cranes holds substantial share in port equipment market owing to their increasing application for container handling. Various types of port cranes are installed in ports, shipyards, harbors and bulk handling operations for safe and efficient container handling. Port cranes are known for their strong lifting abilities and versatile movement for transporting heavy loads. High performance cranes possessing lower self-weight and center of gravity are prominently enhancing the operational productivity with reduced downtime. “The Ports and Shipping Sector drives a demand for material handling equipment with heavy lifting or bulk handling abilities that are capable of withstanding high load capacities apart from confronting several manufacturing challenges. Our wide array of crane solutions encompass diverse applications in this sector like repair and maintenance of navy vessels, mine counter, handling of heavy loads in submarine manufacturing units to name a few. We strictly adhere to the most technologically advanced safety norms rendering explosion-protected cranes for all hazardous applications. Our Gantry/Goliath Cranes are equipped with specialized handling tools to operate in traverse length as well as with tandem condition to function in the loading and the unloading of containers from ships,” says Tushar Mehendale. On the IoT, Telematics, Wireless Communication front ElectroMech Material Handling Systems India offers include ‘Emote’ a remote monitoring of cranes from different locations as a part of its material handling solutions. “Our forklifts and lift trucks feature inbuilt telemetry software that has wireless monitoring, to indicate key performance parameters like utilisation, impacts, fault codes, maintenance or breakdown schedules and so on. All these technological advancements thus optimise operator efficiency and enhance the productivity levels” adds Tushar Mehendale.

Imports and initiatives to drive demand

In 2018 India imported US$507.6 billion worth of goods from around the globe; up by 10.5 percent since 2014 and up by 14.3 percent from 2017 to 2018. India is the second largest consumer of oil and gas. In FY18, India imported crude oil worth $87.3 billion and petrochemicals valued at $27.3 billion. In the coming years import of oil and gas is going to increase manifold. India coal requirement is increasing day by day. India’s ambitious target of “Power for All” by 2022 will keep the coal demand increasing. In FY18 India imported $23 billion worth of coal – both coking coal and thermal coal. In the same period India’s import of steel, metals and minerals increased exponentially on back of robust demand. These are not the only products India import. Apart from these products, India imports machinery, electronics and telecom, gold and diamonds, and many more products. To cater to these expanding imports, the port material handling industry will have to innovate and bring its products at par with international standards.

India has already announced its intention to add six new mega ports to its existing 13 major ports. To reduce dependency on roads and railways and to save on fuel the government plans to shift a significant portion of inland cargo movement from road and rail to waterways. As part of the Jal Marg Vikas Project (Inland Waterway Project) the government plans to set up multi-modal terminals at strategic places along the routes to transfer cargoes between ships and land-based modes of transport.  These two government projects – addition of new mega ports and multi-modal terminals – offer immense scope to bring innovations and new products in Port Material Handling Equipment.

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