Terminals of the Future.....

So far, we have explored the possible design and operational challenges that would come with vessels upwards of 50,000 TEU. The next challenge to be addressed is the terminal aspect of this theoretical scenario.


Current terminal infrastructure would be completely incapable of supporting such vessels. Here is what a typical terminal setup looks like today:


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This setup has worked fine for many years. Over that time, vessels have gotten bigger, terminals have invested in larger and larger cranes. Unfortunately, this trend is totally unsustainable if we scale up the vessels as McKinsey predicts.


Imagine you operate a large transhipment hub port and one of these vessels show up:


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How on earth are you going to operate it? For one, it is going to use a massive amount of your most valuable asset, the quay wall. Secondly, it would not be practical to scale up current gantry cranes to work the vessel because they simply wouldn't support their own weight and, because they would have to increase in width, you will lose productivity because you may need 2-3 bays between each crane.


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So what do you do? Work one side of the vessel and then turn it around? Try to get all cargo stowed for your port on one side of the vessel? Neither of these solutions are really practical so the obvious next step would be to look at terminal design.

I've already discussed the idea of offshore "floating" terminals that would solve the problem of draft but I still need to find a way to operate the vessel.

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Many years ago, Amsterdam designed and built a berth where the ship could be worked from both port and starboard sides. unfortunately, the designers didn't anticipate the growth of vessel size. As ships got bigger, they could no longer fit into the berth and eventually the terminal was closed down.


My solution to that would be to look into the idea of a terminal as a modular construction, rather than a fixed structure. As the terminal is already floating, it would be possible, in theory, to have a berth that can be increased and decreased in width, depending on the vessel size:


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Putting the technical challenges of that aside, now we have to solve the crane problem. Instead of just scaling up current gantry crane designs, my idea would be to have the cranes on a fixed beam that runs the entire length of the berth. It would also be setup on either side of the vessels.


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If we then design a system where the crane boom can retract, as opposed to lifting the boom up, not only do we solve the issue of having massively over-engineered gantry cranes but we can now work many more bays simultaneously and we can work from both sides of the vessel.


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I believe that there are always going to be technical challenges, however the future of vessel and terminals play out, but these can be overcome.


In the final article in this series, I am going to look into "Should we even be considering this?" There are many practical and commercial reasons for not going down that path.


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