Ahead of the rising automation that takes place within the shipping industry, Finnish port equipment manufacturer Kalmar stresses that “a zero accident port is definitely a mission possible”, suggesting that machines detect their surroundings and notice things that human eyes and ears might not, thus helping humans to prevent accidents.
As explained, automation de-couples humans and machines. Machines are never tired nor do they act recklessly. All processes are precisely defined. Nobody will suddenly run from around the corner and cause an accident.
“Automation enables both machines and humans to concentrate on what they are good at. The human mind is superior in terms of planning, innovation and perception,” says Frank Kho, Vice President of Market Intelligence, Strategy and Development at Kalmar.
Frank Kho is confident that, even in a fully automated terminal of the future, there will be more people around than “just that man and his dog.” Although large terminal areas can already function completely unmanned, they still can never be entirely staffless, as human intervention is crucial.
Humans will work side-by-side with intelligent robots and other automated equipment. But machines cannot be programmed for unexpected events. There might have been a bad storm at sea that has caused the cargo to shift or some containers to leak. There is always something that requires specialised handling and lifting equipment and often also special storage facilities.
Kho notes that terminals can become staffless only if the shipping industry can standardise everything and terminals can be turned into production lines.
“That will never happen. This is something that engineers can forget when they develop technological solutions. The real world can’t be completely standardised,” reminds Kho.
Kho notes that today, terminals still rely heavily on humans interacting with each other via walkie-talkies. The majority of processes are unwritten and undefined, with experienced staff knowing everything by heart. But with automation, each and every move must be planned, prepared and programmed. This is not in the DNA of traditional terminal management.
Every step towards automation improves safety. And improved safety in turn reduces number of lost working hours, equipment damage costs and insurance premiums.
Concluding, Mr Kho says that safety benefits of automation are undisputed. To embrace the change, staff must be involved early to understand why the change is needed.Early planning, training and continuous open communication with employees, trade unions and other stakeholders is vital. And one must not forget the managers and owners. Automation will require a whole new set of skills and change of mind-set in everyone working at a terminal.
In the end, the result can be zero accidents.