Security, efficiency represent continuing needs

By Peter A. Buxbaum

With seaport security and efficiency problems far from solved, a continuing stream of technology products continue to be introduced to the maritime terminal environment.

WhereNet Corp., a veteran provider of wireless tracking and asset management solutions, introduced its Marine Terminal Solution (MTS) earlier this year. The system is currently being implemented by SSA Containers at four of its locations and very recently went live in Long Beach. SSA is part of the world’s largest privately held container terminal operator and cargo handling company.

WhereNet, which has extensive experience helping automotive and logistics companies reduce inventory, lower operating costs, and improve operations, has adapted its radio frequency real-time locating system (RTLS) to the marine terminal environment. RTLS combines sensor data with business intelligence and other computing capabilities to provide the status of facility assets and automate marine terminal workflow. The automation of manual data collection processes enables terminals to optimize operations, cut costs, increase throughput, improve security, and offer better customer service.

“WhereNet’s RTLS system is the underlying technology for MTS,” explained John Rosen, the company’s director of product marketing. “These are the same devices we’ve used in the automotive industry for years but we’ve attached those devices to container handling equipment.”

Tagging container handling equipment enables the “virtual” tagging of boxes as they are offloaded and placed in the container yard. “It’s not feasible to tag all containers,” Rosen explained. “By tagging the equipment that moves the containers, we are able to track the movement of containers without having to tag each time piece of equipment.”

The WhereNet system reports the location of each container placed by the handling equipment in an “XYZ” configuration, which includes the yard coordinates as well as the height in the stack in which the container is placed. Knowing the location of each container can cut the time to move the box of terminal from several days to one day or less, according to Rosen.

The system also has security implications. “WhereNet deploys a wireless infrastructure,” Rosen said. “We are now looking at leveraging that infrastructure to assist in securing ports. The eventual implementation of electronic seals on containers will require radio frequency communications.” SSA Containers has been installing WhereNet for the last year and a half, together with a separate optical character recognition system that captures container identification data into the company’s database. The system is being implemented at four facilities, tow in Southern California and two in Seattle.

The system very recently went live at SSA’s Long Beach facility. “We wanted to increase efficiency while reducing costs,” said Ed DeNike, president of SSA Containers. “The old way of using marine clerks to record data with pencil and paper just wasn’t working.”

The old way of doing business had a marine clerk standing under the crane as containers were offloaded and recording the spot where it was placed in the yard. “That worked pretty well when we were discharging hundreds of containers off a ship,” said DeNike. “Now that we have thousands on a ship, it’s not working. There are too many mistakes and there are too many containers we’re not able to locate.” Historically, terminal operators employing manual methods could have problems locating 15% of their boxes, according to DeNike.

That could mean a three or four day delay getting the container off terminal and that, in turn, could cause irritation to steamship lines and importers. While the WhereNet system is too new to have produced results, DeNike said he expects to reduce mislaid containers to one or two percent, increase production by 10%, and reduce clerical help by 50%.

While the WhereNet system provides “virtual” visibility to marine terminal operations, V