100% Scanning – Have all the Options been considered?

Port of Oakland - VertiTainer's  crane mounted scanner solution employs advanced passive scanning technology and sophisticated identification algorithms to detect and identify gamma and neutron sources in shipping containers as they are loaded or discharged from a container ship.

Port of Oakland – VertiTainer’s crane mounted scanner solution employs advanced passive scanning technology and sophisticated identification algorithms to detect and identify gamma and neutron sources in shipping containers as they are loaded or discharged from a container ship.

While the question of mandatory weighing of containers features high on the International Maritime Organisations’ (IMO) list of priorities, a recent post “Container Weighing – industry solution on the horizon“, reminded me of a solution which has been around for some time now, but for various reasons would appear to have been overlooked by authorities – or so it would appear. Readers and followers of this blog may well already have viewed the feature on VeriTainer’s gantry crane mounted radiation detection and identification system, called the VeriSpreader® – refer to the New generation NII technology page of this Blog.

The spreader is a device used for lifting containers and unitized cargo. The spreader used for containers has a locking mechanism at each corner that attaches the four corners of the container. A spreader can be used on a container crane, a straddle carrier and with any other machinery to lift containers. (Wikipedia)

The recent maritime disaster involving the breaking-in-half, and eventual sinking of the MOL Comfort gave rise to the question of overloaded container boxes. While government and international security-minded organisations have pursued methods to address breaches in the supply chain, it would seem that little ‘innovation’ has been applied to the problem – specifically in regard to minimizing the time and cost of routing containers via purpose-built inspection facilities.

At least three known radiation incidents have hit the headlines in recent times – namely Port of Genoa (2010), Port Elizabeth, New Jersey (Feb, 2013), and the most recent in the Port of Voltri (July, 2013). Each of these incidents warranted an emergency response from authorities with a consequential impact on Port Operations.  Unfortunately, advanced risk management systems and other security safeguards did not alert suspicion, allowing these ‘threats’ into the heart of the port, not to mention the radiation threat to port workers?

It could be argued that since the inception of government-led supply chain security, 2002 onwards, many of the world’s supply chains have built in ‘possible inspection’ into their export lead times. A trip to a purpose-built inspection facility will normally require diverting transport from its predestined journey to a land border crossing or seaport. Moreover, lack of predictability often causes delays with possible loss of business where ‘security’ measures delay the movement of cargo.

Several Customs and Border authorities have instituted ‘export-led’ compliance programmes which seek to create better regulatory awareness and expectation for shippers. While not without merit, these still impose an inherent cost to trade where in some instances, shipper’s are compelled to institute ISO-type security standards which for some require dedicated and skilled experts to entrench and maintain these throughout the organisation. So, while the development of increasing levels of compliance amongst supply chain operators will occur over time, what of government ‘Non-Intrusive’ inspection capability?

Port Technology International‘s Feb 2013 article – Future X-Ray Inspection Equipment to be based on Industry Standards – opined that “future developments in cargo screening are likely to follow a common innovation trajectory that is fostered by market needs and new technology, while being strengthened by existing intellectual property and evolving industry standards. Innovation is often perceived as a circular path beginning with customer needs that are identified by a technology developer. The developer then creates application technology in the form of products to meet those needs”.

Land and rail-based cargo screening technology has improved immensely over the last 10 years with improved safety (shielding), throughput (speed) and portability. Engineers have likewise realized the need to ‘fuse’ imaging and radiation threat detection technologies, all offering a more cost-effective package to the end-user. These are by and large the Customs and Border authorities worldwide who protect our territorial waters and ports. Yet, the approach remains ‘modality driven’ which has ensured a period of predictability for designers and manufacturers, not to mention their revenue streams. Given the container weighing – port radiation threats discussed earlier, perhaps it is time now for transport and enforcement authorities to consider technologies as developed by VeriTainer and Lasstec and define a specification for “100%” needs – could this be uniform? Not unlike Lasstec’s container-weighing solution that allows the weighing of containers during the loading cycle so not to disrupt the work flow, Veritainer’s VeriRAD solution uses a gantry crane ‘spreader’ to house its unique solution with specific emphasis to mitigate the threat of a ‘dirty bomb’.

 

Container Weighing – industry solution on the horizon

Click Picture for full report at porttechnology.org [Port Technology International – Container weighing device]

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is expected to make the weighing of sea containers mandatory. The purpose is to make the entire container supply chain safer. This regulation is expected to be issued through the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS Convention) as a result of a number of accidents involving container losses and container stack collapses. The existing SOLAS regulation already obliges shippers to declare the correct container weights, but this is not always done. The new regulation is likely to require specifically that the container is actually weighed or calculated by reference to the contents, packing and securing materials and the tare weight of the container itself. Importantly, however, the regulation is anticipated to forbid the loading of containers unless the verified gross mass is available to the terminal and the ship’s master.

Practically speaking this means that the shipping lines may require terminals to verify container weights prior to being loaded onto their ships. There will, however, be a cost to it which the shipping lines are likely to pass on to their shippers. But besides added safety, there is another important aspect: optimising ship stowage which should reduce fuel consumption for the shipping lines. A ship is more stable at sea and consumes less fuel when the center of gravity is low and if the cargo is optimally distributed. Therefore, it is in the interest of the shipping lines to know the exact weights. Arguably, there are multiple aspects which determine fuel consumption of a ship, and some may be more important than stowage, but this is nevertheless a factor.

Determining container weights and related costs

First of all, to weigh a container and to use the load information to update the stowage plan, containers need to be weighed preferably at the completion of packing. Clearly, weighing export containers needs to be done sufficiently in advance for the stowage plan to be optimised. If the actual weight is not determined at the completion of packing, the port is in a prime position to provide this service or, indeed, to verify the documented weight. For containers that arrive at the port by road, rail or river an obvious ‘check point’ is during the inward process. Weighing with the quay side crane is too late, since the container position on the ship is determined well before loading.

Weights of transshipped containers should be verified at the original port of loading, but there will always be situations where this has not been physically possible. In that event, it can be said with certainty that every container, whether exported or transshipped, will pass through the stacking yard. It is therefore argued that equipping the stacking cranes with weighing systems best caters for all circumstances. Operators in those countries that require imported containers to be weighed may consider weighing with quay side cranes as well.

What does it cost to weigh a container? Let’s base the calculation on the capacity of a quay side crane which can typically load 100,000 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) per year. Let’s also assume there are three rubber-tyred gantry cranes (RTG) or rail-mounted gantry cranes (RMGs) required per quay side crane. Let’s further assume a weighing system costs US$20,000 per stacking crane and it is amortised over three years. The cost per year to weigh 100,000 TEU is therefore US$0,20 per TEU. In addition to the capital expenditure for the weighing equipment, the terminal will incur some integration costs plus ongoing maintenance and administration costs, so let’s double this amount to US$0,40 per TEU. Weighing by the stacking cranes during the handling of the containers is also more economical than weighing with weigh bridges which very often involve manual intervention, when trucks are carrying two 20 foot containers which need to be individually weighed. Weighing in the stacking yard is therefore the fastest, most economical and non-disruptive way to the operation. Some terminals have calculated that they could offer their weighing services for US$1 per TEU and earn a profit with it. Continue reading →