A tale of continual improvement

A tale of continual improvement

With freight monitoring, smart stowage planning, IT-backed screening of hazardous cargo, and immediate discharge in port, Hapag-Lloyd is demonstrating just how much potential lies in still closer coordination, with the aid of digitalization, between terminals in the Port of Hamburg and shipping companies.

Digitalizing supervision of cargo handling processes is one obvious option. Smooth interaction between those involved is in the interests of all. For a simple reason, logbooks were still kept on paper until the end of 2021 despite their vulnerability to error: The processes involved are so complex that despite the availability of the technology for a long time, some time elapsed before these had been harmonized and digitalized between approximately five to six partners.

After the system had already been tested on the ‘Frankfurt Express’ and four additional ships since the end of 2020, from August 2022 it was gradually introduced in the entire fleet. With the aid of ‘CargoMate’, cargo handling steps on board were digitalized. ‘This enabled us to monitor in real time loading and discharge activities by all others involved and calculate when the ship would be ready,” explains Dr. Ralf Belusa, Managing Director Digital Business & Transformation for Hapag-Lloyd. “We are therefore no longer dependent on data from the terminal, which can on occasion arrive after some delay.” Additional advantages are a reduction in port lay times, an improvement in the reliability of schedules, and optimization of both shipboard handling processes and planning for the crew.

The IT system consists of a mobile hand-held device for input of terminal activity in real time and a webbased dashboard for analyzing and checking data. These are synchronized with a web-server and immediately visible on the web dashboard. This is used by stowage planners at head office, but also at the local port office, or PTO – Plant and Terminal Operations. The browser-based dashboard visualises the data gathered by the mobile device and is also accessible to computers connected to the internet, such as those of the Captain, First Officer, and shore departments responsible for port operations.

A tale of continual improvement

Storage planning with AI backing

Digitalization has also constantly become a stronger feature of stowage planning. “Otherwise, it would no longer be possible nowadays to take into account the numerous different parameters within an appropriate time frame,” reports Belusa. “And otherwise, a separate individual would need to take responsibility for each and every factor, for example weight, load and discharge ports, container type, special cargo in cluding hazardous material, ballast planning, stability, empty containers, vacant spaces and special customer requirements.” A stowage plan, moreover, is not static but requires continuous adjustment, for instance when a container is not delivered punctually, or port rotation is changed, for example because a call is cancelled on account of a bottleneck or a strike.

Hapag-Lloyd has relied since 2019 on ‘Sonata’ stowage plan optimization software programmed by Solverminds, providing essential support for the Indian software company in developing the basic functionalities. “The tool uses AI and machine learning, to make one or several proposals in real time to our stowage planners on how the containers should be distributed on the vessel,” explains Belusa. This is meanwhile installed on almost half of Hapag-Lloyd’s current 253 containerships, also allowing for simulation on several vessels.

At the heart of the software are optimization algorithms that considerably reduce planning time for mega- vessels with a capacity of over 20,000 TEU – standard containers – and calling at several ports. Instead of the 16 hours previously, this takes no more than 40 minutes, while a plan for a single port can be produced in less than quarter of an hour. The tool not only relieves the stowage planner of a mass of routine work, leaving him more time for any demanding issues that arise, but it also leads to more rapid clearance of ships and hence to reduced costs. “Yet it’s not fully automatic: That will be in 30 to 50 years at the earliest,” admits Belusa.

JIT Just-in-time optimization initiative

The aim of optimizing ship calls in port is also served by JIT, the Just-in-Time optimization initiative. Hapag- Lloyd is one of the first shipping companies to be involved in this, since the beginning of 2022. JIT sets out to improve and standardize communication among service providers – for example, between the shipping company, terminal, pilots, port authorities, tugboats and line runners.

“Our goal is ‘Berthing on Arrival’, or immediate unloading without waiting time in the port, so that the berth will be free on the vessel’s arrival,” explains Belusa. “By knowing the berth situation in good time, we can adjust a vessel’s speed accordingly.” Beforehand, JIT expects to see full communication between the shipping company and the terminal 48 hours before the planned arrival – or a still more intensive dialogue 24 hours in advance. With every change in schedule, namely, the time-frame for the arrival needs to be coordinated again with the terminal.

Such communication is to be operated in future through a digital platform run by Portchain und used jointly by the shipping company and the terminal. New communication standards developed by the DCSA – Digital Container Shipping Association – are to be used. Hapag-Lloyd has been actively involved in developing these, and their predecessors have been used in several ports, amongst them Tangier in Morocco, and Hamburg.

“In combination with Cargomate, we are linked with JIT by more and more data threads” says a very satisfied Belusa. In addition, this involves development of a certain own momentum for all those forming part of the data chain, for example when data on the latest feasible delivery of a container proves transparent and valid. Belusa is also convinced that a link with a slot booking procedure will be a good next step: “We shall then be linking our own system with the ship’s management and the optimization system for the terminals. That way, we can optimize more holistically and in a more integrated manner. That is also important, since more and more managed services exist that influence each other

Screening hazardous cargo

Estimates put the proportion of hazardous cargo on board at about seven percent. According to CINS – or the Cargo Incident Notification System, with 15 members in addition to Hapag-Lloyd, around 0.059 percent of all containers are inaccurately or inadequately declared. This can occur deliberately, when synonyms or trade names are given, or on account of faulty processes. This is not just a problem on board the ships, but also during handling in ports. Hazardous cargo, for example, must be notified at latest by twelve hours prior to the call at a port, and later at the terminal, put into separate interim storage.

One means of further minimizing this risk is precise screening of cargo in order to in identify even more hazardous material. Hapag- Lloyd relies here on Haz-Check Detects from non-profit-making Exis Technologies. A database analyses, determines and updates terms and keywords for hazardous cargo, and among other things is maintained by the participants themselves. The database is automated via an interface, with the software then displaying any words in the description of the goods that are associated with hazardous material. All potential matches are then manually checked, and if necessary corrected, by the shipping companies.