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Transport & Logistics

Agile Decision Making in Terminal Operations

12 Aug 2016, by Informa Insights

In partnership with the ARA and Lloyds List Australia, AusIntermodal 2016 will be held in Brisbane for the first time on September 8 and 9. We look forward to two days of discussion on intermodal freight transportation followed by a site tour around Queensland’s largest port – Port of Brisbane Pty Ltd. The program will highlight some of the critical issues facing industry such as supply chain efficiency and automation, investing in freight on rail, border security, the development of inland ports and the chain of responsibility.

One of the themes set to be examined at the event is terminal planning and operations. Our Gold Sponsor INFORM will give a presentation on ‘Agile Decision Making in Terminal Operations’ on the afternoon of the 8th. In the lead up to the conference we caught up with them to discuss the topic, terminal operations in Australia and overseas, and how software is increasing productivity for operators.


This year INFORM will give a presentation examining ‘Agile Decision Making in Terminal Operations’ – how important is agile decision making and why does this matter for port operators?

Q-666-PBP-ROW-1470The automation debate is in fast forward mode–worldwide.  The data wave that comes along with this technology can be used to optimize decision-making processes in terminal operations. Buzzwords like big data, business intelligence and analytics promise to channel data streams into knowledge, transparency and insights. But the optimization of processes often requires more than just channeling a flood of data. For those who work under pressure, quick action is needed. There is no time to analyze huge amounts of data. Given the sheer number of possible alternatives, quick and wise decisions are required.

Quick and wise, but how? This is where Agile Optimization comes in. It can be used to speed-up and optimize decision-making processes in terminal operations. Powered by algorithms, the software is able to calculate crane routing options, handshake possibilities in the transshipment area, pooling possibilities, etc. – all within the fraction of a second. The best results are immediately translated into optimized job order sequences for each handling resource – adapted to their grade of automation (manual, semi or full).

What changes have you seen in terminal planning and operations in the last 12-18 months?

For many years, the automation and productivity debate revolved around efficient water side processes, smarter yard stacking and perhaps quicker truck/gate turnaround times. But recently the focus has shifted to rail yard operations and the possible gains associated with it. High performing hinterland systems are mission critical in order to manage peak demands and customer expectations.

Should Australia be looking internationally to learn from terminal operations and intermodal practices overseas?

Sydney Ports Corporation - DP World - Port Botany © Brendan Read : mobile 0407 899 189
Sydney Ports Corporation – DP World – Port Botany © Brendan Read

Around the world, a wide range of terminal operators use optimization software to render their processes more productive, agile and reliable. GCT Canada, for example, recently announced that they will be using our software to optimize the intermodal rail operations at their Deltaport terminal in Port of Vancouver. To accommodate both the anticipated container growth in North America and the introduction of mega ships into the transpacific tradelane, GCT Canada is expanding and improving its rail operation at GCT Deltaport. The intermodal yard reconfiguration project will increase the existing intermodal capacity by over 50 percent to 1.9 million TEUs annually. Our software will optimize container handover between yard, rail, and RMG moves. At the port of Los Angeles, TraPac, LLC will be using the same software to optimize all rail crane moves. The software is part of TraPac’s terminal expansion and automation project which includes a new intermodal rail yard featuring eight tracks each with a length of 762 m.

In your opinion, what are some of the major issues currently facing intermodal in Australia?

We have seen the intermodal industry in Australia over the last 12 month been consolidated and dominated by a large joint venture and merger and acquisition activities and planned intermodal capacity increases involving

  • rail links from ports to intermodal terminals
  • a high level of intermodal CAPEX infrastructure investments planned for 2016-2019
  • a low level of automation and optimisation compared to leading practices from Europe and North America

    Sydney Ports Corporation- Patricks terminal 2008 © Brendan Read : mobile 0407 899 189
    Sydney Ports Corporation- Patricks terminal 2008 © Brendan Read :

The key intermodal business transactions in 2016 have all involved large international pension funds financing the acquisition of Asciano’s Pacific National Rail intermodal business and the Moorebank Intermodal Company where the JV ownership recently turned 100% to Qube after Aurizon’s 33% divestment.

The economic downturn in mining investment over the last 4 years has put further pressure on intermodal traffic volumes east / west from Sydney and Melbourne towards Western Australia. Whilst the construction / housing boom on the East Coast of Australia has offset some of the slower mining investment there is still in our opinion spare capacity in existing intermodal terminals and there is currently a low level of equipment and resource optimisation in place for most of the Australian intermodal terminals.

We see the strategic drivers for intermodal companies during 2016-2019 being effective asset and resource utilisation using agile and intelligent optimisation solutions that can drive Return on Investment (ROI) for these pre-committed large capital infrastructure outlays. 

Key performance indicators for intermodal terminals will be higher efficiency for port / intermodal train links and reduction in unit cost for intermodal crane / truck / stacker movements,  train loading/stacking and warehousing and storage to offset the large intermodal infrastructure investments planned for 2016-2019.

How is software optimization serving to increase productivity?

Sydney Ports Corporation- Patricks terminal 2008 © Brendan Read : mobile 0407 899 189
Sydney Ports Corporation- Patricks terminal 2008 © Brendan Read :

Agile Optimization Software benefits from the enormous advances in computer hardware over the past two decades. But gains in processor speed pale in comparison to the progress made by algorithms: hardware power has increased by the factor 1,200, while algorithms have improved by a factor of 55,000 in the same period. The joint forces result into a staggering factor of 66 million, or in other words: a planning model using linear programming that would have taken two years to solve in the 1990s, could be solved in just one second today.

The software can be used as an add-on to an existing Terminal Operating System (TOS), following a best-of-breed strategy for selecting the solution that is most suited for a particular task. A stronghold of agile optimization software is the control and synchronization of time-critical processes in real-time, e.g. optimized storing and stacking of containers in order to minimize rehandlers and retrieval times or the optimized sequence of rail crane moves.

Is there anything in particular you are looking forward to at AusIntermodal 2016?

It will be very exciting for us to meet Australia’s intermodal community. INFORM have a couple of systems installed across the continent, and from our experience it is always a great pleasure to do business down under. AusIntermodal will again provide an excellent platform to strengthen our relationship with existing partners and clients. But we’re also very happy to present the benefits of agile optimization software to other terminal operators and stakeholders in the logistics industry.


AusIntermodal 2016 will take place at the Pullman King George Square in Brisbane on the 8th and 9th September. INFORM are Gold Sponsor for the conference and we thank them for their ongoing support. If you are interested in learning more about the conference, having a look at the full agenda or registering for the event, please visit the website.


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