China accelerates construction of intelligent ports

By Han Xin, Du Yifei, People’s Daily

As one steps into the fully automated container terminal at Rizhao Port in east China’s Shandong province, a remarkable sight unfolds – remote-controlled quay cranes precisely grabbing and releasing containers, automated rail-mounted cranes and unmanned container trucks working in coordination… Human operators are scarcely visible at the terminal, yet operations run smoothly and efficiently.

As the first side-loading and parallel-layout fully automated container terminal in the world, the terminal employs China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System and 5G technology, and has launched six domestically developed and industry-first innovative technologies, including a scheduling system for autonomous container trucks.

The pioneering facility has made remarkable progress since it was put into use on Oct. 9, 2021 – its single-crane operational efficiency improved by 50 percent and overall costs lowered by 70 percent. Besides, the single-crane handling capacity has reached 58 container units per hour.

In the past, operators had to climb up and down equipment that is 20 meters high and work for long hours beside them, said a staff member of the terminal. “Now, we can operate rail-mounted cranes with remote control systems. With improved working environment and decreased workload, there has been a significant rise in productivity,” the staff member added.

Rizhao Port, a prominent coastal container hub for domestic trade, plays a vital role as a global transshipment base for energy and bulk raw materials. Thanks to its efforts to promote intelligent and eco-friendly development, Rizhao Port has continuously propelled its growth to new heights.

In 2023, the container throughput of Rizhao Port witnessed an increase of 7.9 percent from a year ago, and that of its fully automated container terminal experienced a remarkable 15 percent year-on-year growth in the first four months of this year.

The progress made by Rizhao Port is a miniature of China’s endeavors to expedite the development of intelligent ports.

As an important part of optimizing transportation infrastructure, the construction of intelligent ports plays a crucial role in the digital transformation of traditional infrastructure.

Recently, China’s Ministry of Transport issued a guideline on accelerating the construction of intelligent ports and waterways. According to the document, by 2027, China will have comprehensively lifted digitalization levels of port and waterway infrastructure, while significantly strengthened intelligent production, operations, management, as well as external services related to ports and waterways nationwide. Besides, the country will have built a batch of world-class intelligent ports and waterways by that time.

China has built 18 automated container terminals so far and is currently constructing or renovating 27 more. Both numbers rank among the top in the world.

Moreover, China has comprehensively mastered the key technologies in the design, construction, equipment manufacturing, system integration, and operational management of automated terminals.

The next-generation intelligent transportation equipment, such as 5G-enabled automated guided vehicles and autonomous container trucks, have been deployed and put into operation.

At Shanghai Port, remote control has been fully implemented for cargo handling, and intelligent transportation equipment such as automated guided vehicles have been widely applied.

At Huanghua Port in north China’s Hebei province, reclaimers and rotary car dumpers are remotely controlled, and gantry bucket unloaders are gradually going through automation.

At Dalian Port, multiple indoor and outdoor environmental monitoring points have been set up to collect data on water quality, energy consumption, air quality, meteorology, and other environmental factors related to terminals, effectively promoting the green development of the port.

“The construction of intelligent ports is not only a field for pioneering smart transportation, but also an important part of the development of new transportation infrastructure,” said an official with the Water Transport Bureau of the Ministry of Transport.

The official said the construction of intelligent ports calls for systematic efforts, and China will build a batch of demonstration intelligent ports, strengthen pilot application of intelligent transportation, and accelerate digital transformation of the shipping sector.


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