Maritime & Transport / Rail

Adelaide box terminal weighs options to lift its future game

The South Australia Transport Infrastructure Summit held on 18th -19th September in Adelaide offered insights into plans for infrastructure development across SA. As part of the program General Manager of Flinders Ports Stewart Lammin shared the planning process in accommodating container trade growth at the Port of Adelaide. Below is an article which appeared in Lloyd’s List Australia 3rd October summarising Mr Lammin’s presentation.

Story by Cameron Boggs

FLINDERS Port’s Adelaide Container Terminal will complete its acquisition of two new post-panamax cranes within two weeks, general manager Stewart Lammin has said. After purchase of the cranes has been signed off, there will be an 18-month lead time in getting the units into place.

 Mr Lammin had earlier announced the company was looking into getting new cranes in April this year. “To give us a little bit more headroom for the straddle operation, we are just about to hardstand another four hectares of land, which will give us around 2700 ground slots for the terminal behind berth eight,” Mr Lammin told delegates to the 

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Stewart Lammin

South Australia Transport Infrastructure Summit 2013.

 Flinders Ports is also said to be looking into relocating its existing depot operation onto the vacant land in its northern corner, plus developing alternative gate access. Mr Lammin said Flinders Ports is looking into where it can move administration and maintenance facilities that are currently situated in the middle of its yard operation, within the terminal footprint, to offer more yard space for operations.

 “The yard is probably the most complex area within the terminal. To run an efficient terminal overall, you have to have an efficient yard operation.

 “And if we go down the track of automatic stacking cranes, we have to start decommissioning some of the straddle ground slots adjacent to berth six, in preparation for [them],” Mr Lammin said.

 From a density perspective, auto-stacking cranes (ASC) trump straddle carriers and rubber-tyre gantries. They offer the smallest footprint compared to other modes, can stack containers five high, operate on smaller road-ways, offer a longer stack configuration, and are fully automated.

 The straddle carrier option, currently used at the Flinders Port’s Adelaide Container Terminal, is the pick of choice for terminals around the world with a smaller throughput than 500,000 teu.  They are flexible and manoeuvrable, but less reliable as a lot more moving parts means more downtime, especially as equipment ages.

 Also there needs to be a bigger terminal footprint to be able to house or stack the containers. Terminals still need internal road-ways when operating a rubber-tyred gantry, but the port can block-stack five high as opposed to a straddle carrier’s three high.

 The downside to this option is that it is still very labour intensive and must be manned during operational periods.

 “The real benefit of ASCs s full automation, especially within the stack.” “You can run four ASCs with one operator, so it’s not labour intensive. Also, the cranes move within the stack exceptionally fast so your interchange is very quick.”

 If Flinders Adelaide Container Terminal remains as a straddle-option operation, the only viable way to drive more volume would be to lengthen the straddle rows, which are currently set 250 metres back from the wharf apron. The terminals straddle rows could be set back to 350 metres and as a longer-term option to drive capacity they can go to a 450 metre mark.

 However, the largest capacity configuration features considerable downsides.

 Capacity

In addition to capital and operating cost issues, the option would entail doubling the straddle fleet and the labour component.

 “For example, if we build such a berth to a 450 metre mark, to actually cycle one container you are looking at close to a 2km round trip. It would be a highly-inefficient operation.

 “If we continue on with the straddle operation we know that around 2016 to 2017 we will have to bring that straddle row back 100 metres [to 350 metres], which will give us just above 900,000 teu.

 “This will take us to about 2030 where we will go back to the 450 metre mark, which will give us just shy of 1.2m teu.

 “But then you cap out, there is really not much more you can do within your yard operation that can increase your capacity through the terminals,” he said.

 Mr Lammin said by 2050 the terminal will need to see capacity for around 2.5m teu, in accordance with assumed growth figures. The current volumes, full and empty, going through Flinders Port’s Adelaide Container Terminal is just shy of 350,000 teu.  This is why the terminal is setting its sights on phasing in auto-stacking cranes to complement its existing operation.

 With the addition of just four ASCs, Flinders foresees it can reach a capacity of 1m teu around the 2016 mark.

“Obviously over the next 30years there is going to be considerable changes, but at least we know from a theoretical perspective, we can meet that 2050 growth curve if we go down the ASC operation route.

 “Compound growth over the last 20 years has been about 9% and we see demand growth with which we are planning are about 5% going forward.

 “Just to put it in some context, we are the smallest capital city container port in Australia.

 “We know that increasing cranage at the terminal will give us some headroom until around just shy of 900,000 teu by 2016. As those new [post-panamax] cranes will defer pushing berth five back to the 450 metre mark option, which really starts to come into play around 2030 when we start to struggle with meeting those growth forecasts,” he said.

 As it stands now the configuration of the terminal features an on-dock empty container depot which needs to be moved because it’s sitting in what will become prime stacking area for the yard-to-ship interface.

 Luckily, Flinders owns around 30 hectares of land on the opposite side, so it can simply flip that container park over to free up space for the ASCs or even extend the straddle runs.

 Another easy fix raised at the summit, was gate capacity. As demand increases, so should the terminal extend its operating hours and the number of truck queuing/servicing lanes. “If you look across the state, most terminals or the incumbent terminals (Patrick and DP World) run a true 24/7 receiving and delivery operation, which are driven by peak demand.

 “We’re lucky that we’re one of the few states that have road train routes into the terminal. I think just under 1-2% used to come in by road trains.

 “But I think that figure is now close to 10%, and so we have put in additional lanes to handle those road trains.

There is a third [lane] as an option if you get congestion with the road trains in the terminal,” he said.

 Yet an issue that requires a little more finesse is the allocation of labour across the multiple interfaces managed at the terminal. “If you look at a typical terminal across the country, terminals mainly have to deal with two to three interfaces. Everyone obviously has to deal with rail and road, some have on-dock rail.

 “But Adelaide actually has seven interfaces. Including the typical terminal, there is the empty [container] park, Qube have two facilities, and the IMX bulk operation uses the rail and quay line. “And they are all competing for labour, plant and machinery,” he said.

 Warehouses

Flinders has looked at introducing a conceptual solution to this issue in what it calls an ‘interchange-grid’, which is quite simply a hard-stand pad where boxes can be staged ready for transition. In effect, this will separate the container terminal from the ancillary businesses.

 “As those ancillary businesses are predominantly export orientated, they obviously don’t want containers sitting in their warehouses or yard. “All they will have to do is deliver them to this interchange-grid and the terminal will then use its labour and equipment as it has downtime.

 “Idle labour and equipment will then pick those boxes up and put them within the terminal for the ship. This makes it a much more efficient to run both labour and machinery,” he said.

 Flinders Ports has evolved and grown over the last 12 years.  Moving from a single business operation Flinders Port Holdings now incorporates Flinders Ports, Flinders Logistics, and the Flinders Adelaide Container Terminal which the group acquired from DP World in July 2012.

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