Asia's First Fully-Automated Terminal Operational

Published May 25, 2017 8:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

Qingdao New Qianwan Container Terminal in China has become Asia’s first fully automated container terminal after servicing the 13,386 TEU Cosco France on May 11.

Locals refer to it as the “ghost port” after watching its machines and trucks operating day and night to unload the vessel without people in sight.

“It’s all controlled by artificial intelligence,” said technician Yang Jiemin. “Through laser scanning and positioning, the program is able to locate the four corners of each container. It then accurately grabs them and puts them onto the driverless trucks. That’s why it’s able to work in complete darkness. These smart autopilot trucks, driven by electricity, have their routes and tasks under digital control. They even know when it’s time to go for a recharge.

The days of high labor costs and bottlenecks at the port’s entrance are now a thing of the past, says general manager Zhang Liangang. “Labor costs have been reduced by 70 percent because of this automatic terminal, while efficiency increased by 30 percent, because we can work at night.” 

It used to take about 60 workers to unload a cargo ship, but the automatic port requires only nine. The automation has also changed it from a blue collar task into a white collar one. Workers used to operate the machines in sky-high cranes, but now much of the work has been left to a computer in the office.

The 5.2 million TEU terminal now has two fully-automated berths across 660 meters of quay with seven STS cranes operated by remote control, 38 automated stacking cranes and 38 battery-powered automated guided vehicles.

The terminal took three years to build. Cheng Xinnong, president of the Qingdao Port Group said the three-year time-span significantly reduces the risk for investment, which makes it feasible to replicate in other cities. At present, China is building a similar terminal in Shanghai, and more are expected as a result of  the China's 21st Century Maritime Silk Road plans.