Chinese ports turn to automation to make up for lost labour

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by Emily Atkins

China’s Qingdao Port has increased its unloading rate by 16 percent this year with automation.

The port is a subsidiary of Shandong Port Group and the second-largest foreign trade port in east China’s Shandong Province. ,

The port has handled ultra-large container ships more than 300 times. Ultra-large container ships are usually 400 metres long and have a capacity of over 20,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU). The port has also handled 200-metre-long container ships more than 3,900 times, a seven-percent increase year on year.

Handling that much freight under the impact of COVID-19 is challenging, particularly with reduced labour availability.

Qingdao Port is the world’s first to have an air-track intelligent transporting system capable of handling 1.5 million TEUs annually. The system set a new world record in June for managing as many as 67.76 TEUs in an hour, with an average of 60.18 TEUs per hour, a 14.2-percent jump from its previous record.

China now leads the world in the number of automated terminals, both built and under construction, according to the Ministry of Transport. All the major ports in Shanghai and Tianjin are equipped with automated bridge cranes or tracks.

For large corporate ports, such as the Shandong Port Science and Technology Group, in-house cooperation is the key to upgrading existing facilities into a fully automated waterfront container terminal, which helps reduce the overall costs by 70 percent compared with newly built terminals, according to the Chinese news agency Xinhua.

“Now we have traditional terminals, semi-automatic terminals and fully automatic terminals,” said Wang Yusheng, deputy general manager of the group. “The loading and unloading of a ship can be done in three different kinds of terminals, which maximizes the integration of terminal resources.