How to design a container terminal

Port of Virginia.

A container terminal is a complex and expensive investment, although the job it will do is quite simple: bringing steel boxes (containers) in and moving them out again. It must be designed very carefully, starting with your business goals and working your way up from there.

This article takes you through the main things you need to consider when planning a new container terminal or a terminal expansion. It covers container handling equipment, quay structure, the role of technology and carbon emissions.


Business goals lead to equipment

Your business goals naturally guide all of your planning decisions. Daily operations drive the use and capacity of resources available at your quay and in your yard, and how you can draw maximum value from them in reaching your goals. So, let’s start by thinking about container handling equipment.Transport modes


Earlier, you may have read a story on Konecranes Discover called Design Your Own Port. It introduced three online tools that Konecranes has developed to help you take your terminal from initial concept to an efficient and fully productive port. Using your own business estimates, you can get a rough idea of what container handling equipment you should use. Once you know what you need, you can look into specific crane types in more detail. The ability to efficiently order and receive spare parts for each equipment type will help you to plan maintenance well ahead of time. 


Container terminals can be at a seaport or inland, at a dry port. A dry port will not have a quay, but since the basic job of any terminal is moving containerized cargo – in this case, unloading, storing, and reloading containers – off-quay container handling equipment for seaport and inland (intermodal) transfers will often be the same, depending on the size of the operation.


Container handling equipment is a good place to begin, but it’s not going to be properly efficient without a reliable infrastructure to support and coordinate it. 


Build your infrastructure

If you’re doing an upgrade to a brownfield container terminal, consider the existing infrastructure. The potential for upgrading container cranes is limited by the physical quay wall. A greenfield site allows more flexibility, as you are working from scratch.


When you choose your container handling equipment, you use the anticipated volume of container throughput as a base figure. Do you have the mains power outlets for electric cranes? How many ship berths do you need to bring in the volume you want? What is the maximum size of the container ships you can accommodate? Do you need more quayside depth for larger vessels? Is your quay strong enough to support every Ship-to-Shore (STS) or Mobile Harbor Crane you need? Where are the prime unloading areas? Do you move the containers to their next mode of transport immediately or do they go into storage first? How many truck lanes are required? 


This is not an exhaustive list - they are just some of the things to think about when planning a new terminal or upgrading your existing one. Some equipment options might not be feasible at your location. Every site is different, with its own unique requirements.


As you plan and develop your terminal, new technology can help you to build a solid, dependable and streamlined infrastructure specifically for your needs.


Benefit from technology

Container handling technology comprises container cranes, communications, and IT/software for terminal control. Early in the design phase, simulations and emulations can help you to plan your container flow by providing an easy comparison of alternatives, so you know what terminal layout and equipment will give you the best efficiency. Simulations can also be used to analyze your current processes, identify possible bottlenecks, and determine the right solution to improve your existing terminal operations. TBA, independently of Konecranes, can help terminals to make the best decisions by providing these powerful tools.


Cranes can be equipped with “smart features” that use sensors and GPS to improve productivity and contribute to safety in all aspects of use. Specialized software can automate repetitive actions like steering and positioning, and can improve load control by reducing sway and preventing collisions. 


An Equipment Control System (ECS) is the essential interface between the container handling equipment and the Terminal Operating System (TOS). At the center of the terminal processes, it controls each individual piece of equipment, and collects and distributes work orders. It works hand-in-hand with the (TOS), which oversees the processes of the entire terminal. 


Remote monitoring helps to collect and administer usage data from the container handling equipment, which can be used to improve maintenance and fleet management. Konecranes offers TRUCONNECT to keep track of manual, semi-automated or fully automated cranes. 


Using advanced technology: automation

Automation is a well-established trend in many industries, and it is developing fast in container handling as well. Starting an automation development program is a major decision that depends on many factors. As a supplier of container handling equipment and services, the Konecranes approach is the Path to Port Automation.


A prerequisite for any move towards automation is a powerful and reliable IT backbone supported by secure communications, allowing you to consolidate your customs, ship management, yard crane work, TOS, project management, and administration into a single operating system. 


Minimize your carbon footprint

Moving towards carbon neutrality is no longer a choice; it’s the right thing to do.  Regulations, market forces and new technologies are pushing the world of logistics towards minimizing and eventually eliminating carbon emissions. To ensure a long-lasting and healthy business, this must be taken into account when designing your container terminal.


At your container terminal, you can significantly reduce your carbon footprint with Ecolifting, the Konecranes way of systematically decreasing CO2 emissions in the manufacture and use of its container handling equipment. For example, you can now receive delivery of hybrid and electric Rubber-Tired Gantry (RTG) cranes in a carbon-neutral condition. Konecranes’ range of hybrid, mains-driven and battery-driven container handling products is steadily growing. 


A recent Konecranes webinar, Become a Carbon Neutral Port, goes into this topic in more detail. 


The last word

The world of logistics, with container handling playing a central role, is rapidly evolving. To be successful, a container terminal must plan for the future with its business goals fully supported by its container handling equipment and processes. It’s a difficult challenge but with the right approach to design, you can be confident in your productivity and long-term profitability. 


Think carefully about what you need, then come and speak with the experts at Konecranes.