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Pros, cons of ports automation

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Stakeholders have called for the automation of port processes, reports OLUWAKEMI DAUDA.

The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Mr. Hassan Bello, is upbeat about ports’ automation. He believes the targets set by the Council and other agencies to automate their services at the ports are achievable by the first quarter of next year.

To him, the allegations that some officials of government agencies and service providers were working against automation because of the bribes they collect, hence, their preference for 100 per cent physical examination of goods does not hold water.

Bello told The Nation that the Council had surveyed automated areas, adding that what the Council would do was to ensure that other areas that had not been automated were covered.

 Port automation

Port automation can be defined as the use of integrated technology to develop intelligent solutions for efficient control of traffic and trade flows at the port, thereby increasing capacity, efficiency and generate more revenue to boost the economy.

Findings revealed that advancement in technology has introduced better methods of controlling ports and terminals. The gradual shift towards implementing automation in all the process flows and operations conducted at ports has led to significant changes in trade.

“Automation is sure to make progress. NSC’s Regulation Department has already given us a report on areas that are already automated and the deficit. So many things are done online. NSC has carried out a survey on levels of automation and clearing processes for containerised goods and RORO cargo,” Bello said.

The result of the survey, Bello said, has shown some agencies have achieved over 50 per cent, while others recorded 30 per cent and below.

The NSC chief added that with some having recorded over 50 per cent in automation, the Council would look at areas where there is low digitalisation and talk to them to key into the project for  ease of doing business at the ports.

The NSC scribe expressed optimism that with the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) meeting, total automation was possible.

He said the port community system was aimed at solving problems affecting ports’ operattions

The Vice-President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Dr. Kayode Farinto, said the NSC was championing a process that would deploy technology-based software to create operational flows that will help the ports function smoothly and reduce corruption.

Farinto said most ports across the world have technology integrated to some extent, if not for complete management. He said there was a gradual increase in the number of government agencies and service providers keying into the initiative .

“The degree of automation of our ports may differ from port to port, depending on the capacity of the port, its location, the amount of cargo it handles, and its economic value. With the growth of Lagos ports, the scope of its automation must increase geometrically to boost efficiency and eliminate clogs to an unprecedented level,” Farinto said.

Overview of automation

The evolution of port automation is seen across different avenues. These include material unloading and cargo handling equipment, digitisation of ship records, inventory management, building the necessary infrastructure, assisting ship docking and maintenance, and more.

Investigation has shown that there are three principal areas of port automation – the gates, the Ship-to-Shore cranes, and the stacks.

Automation at port gates

Port gates are for recording every entity entering or leaving the port. For ships, it also include additional security checks, verification, customs, immigration, and quarantine. These are crucial tasks, necessary to protect the integrity of the port and require implementation of stringent security measures.

“As the volume of container traffic at the port increases, these processes consume a lot of time, on account of manual limitations. Automating basic processes, such as entry/exit logs, verification, and docking payments can be done with technology. This makes the entire process flow smoother and well-organised,” said an importer, Mr. Felix Agbato.

Ship-to-shore cranes

Logistics management with IoT comes into action during the ship to shore delivery of cargo. Manned and unmanned cranes for unloading arer essential in ports. Across the country, findings showed there is no fully automated terminal, when it comes to container transportation.

A maritime analyst and don, Dr. Maruf Animashaun, said, in other climes, “automated cranes are used to deliver containers from ships to port by unmanned horizontal transportation or unmanned yard cranes. These are later classified by the type of cargo and stacked accordingly in the inventory. The containers handling systems are stable, predictable, and efficient. As the cranes are controlled by a computer, the planning and execution process is smooth, with expected outcomes in the least possible time.”

Stacks and inventory

Once the cargo has been offloaded on the port, cargo handlers and stacking cranes are used to stack containers as per the category specified. The inventory is often managed by the date of departure inland. As the container is to be dispatched for further transportation, the terminal operators need other equipment to bring them to the designated station and prepare them for the road ahead.

Technology, Animasahun said, has wrought changes in the way ports function. Automated systems, advanced navigation software, remotely-operated cranes, and huge robotic cargo handlers have enhanced port efficiency. But there is the proverbial other side of the coin.

A clearing agent, Mr. Kayode Ogunsanu, said as the use of technology increases, labour suffers. In addition, cyber-attacks are a consistent threat.

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