This January 2023, Genís Majoral and Sergi Saurí presented at the 102nd TRB Annual Meeting in Washington, a research entitled “Lessons from Reality on Automated Container Terminals: What Can Be Expected from Future Technological Developments.” The paper will be shortly published at the Transportation Research Record Journal so stay tuned for its release.

The research focused on an analysis of productivity at container terminals and the performance of automated versus manned operations. This is a topic that has received some attention, but when approaching different stakeholders of the sector there was no clear opinion on whether automated terminals are more productive than manned ones.

This topic is gaining relevance because the number of automated terminals, despite representing only 5% of the terminals worldwide, is progressively increasing and is expected to do so in the future at a faster rate.

The study analyzed through literature review, interviews with stakeholders, a benchmark of productivity rates and the use of the World Bank’s Container Port Performance Index a characterization of the topic and found out that there is currently no evidence to say that automated container terminals are more productive than manned ones.

When analyzing the barriers that prevent that, it is clear that the technology is not ready for a harsh and unpredictable environment like a port. Proof is that the first automated terminal was built in Rotterdam in 1993 and since then the same problems still take place. It is therefore deemed that not only a matter of optimization but a radical change of paradigm in the technological capacity is needed to overcome the current barriers that automated terminals face.

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