The main types of container port terminal automation in terms of their current level of diffusion include:
- Automated decision making (yard management). Account for the earliest implementations of automation since they improve terminal managerial aspects and the performance of existing assets without automating them. This can involve berth planning where vessels are more effectively assigned and scheduled to use docking and transloading capacity. Stowage and yard planning are also of common use so that the loading and unloading sequence between the ship and the container yard is improved. This includes the stacking and distribution of containers in the storage yard (e.g. piles for imports and exports and even for a specific ship). Another concern inland predictability, where a terminal is further able to anticipate the volumes generated by importers and exporters in the terminal’s hinterland. It becomes possible to assess better the demand for the usage of the terminal’s assets. The management of human resources, such as work shifts, has also been the subject of automation. By 2015, about 40% of the world’s container terminals were using a form of automated decision making.
- Automated gates. Container terminal gates involved several transactions and were thus among the earliest terminal assets to be automated. Automated gate systems are able to identify drivers (registered and issued an identification card), process bill of lading information (and any other documents) electronically, scan and identify containers using optical character recognition or RFID, and direct drivers to a designed spot for loading or unloading a container. Appointment systems are also used to improve waiting times at terminals.
- Automated tracking and tracing. Focuses on a higher level of integration of the components of terminal operation such a ships, cranes, containers and yard equipment by accurately pinpointing their location within the terminal. Although global positioning systems can be used, the placement of reference nodes across the terminal provides a higher level of positioning accuracy. This technology enables more effective use of terminal equipment and faster storage and retrieval of containers.
- Automated yard cranes. Since the stacking of containers in a yard is an asset-intensive activity requiring the frequent movement of cranes, there is a high incentive to automate the process. Automated yard cranes (automated stacking cranes; ASC) are able to store and retrieve containers along a stacking area automatically.
- Automated horizontal transport. Involves the use of automated guided vehicles (AGV such as automated straddle carriers) to move containers within the terminal. The most common use involves the transfer of containers from pier-side crane operation to yard storage. This is a complex operation due to the high number of container moves, particularly in high throughput terminals.
- Automated quay cranes. Cranes are usually the most capital intensive superstructure in a port terminal. The growing size of ships has placed pressures to improve ship to shore productivity, and automated quay cranes are starting to be introduced. They reduce cycle time, are able to handle up to 4 containers at once, and therefore increase the number of movements per hour.