Recognize That Factors Such as Port Organization, Specialization, Geographical Location, and Port Size Have a Greater Impact on Port Performance than Automation Alone.

International Study on the Current State of Container Terminal Automation in Ports.

Date Posted

Container Port Automation: Impact and Implications

Summary Information

Containerization has streamlined cargo handling, playing an important role in boosting global trade. The objective of this study was to understand the current state of automation in cargo ports around the world. By conducting interviews with relevant stakeholders and collecting operational data from port authorities, mainly from 2019 and 2020, the study evaluated the effects of automation on port performance, handling costs and safety, the extent to which automation projects achieved their objectives, as well as policy issues related to container terminal automation. 

Lessons Learned

  • Recognize that factors such as port organization, specialization, geographical location, and port size have a greater impact on port performance than automation alone. This study found that automated ports are typically not more productive than conventional ones, with aspects like port size playing a more decisive role in port efficiency than automation.
  • Evaluate local labor costs, market conditions, and the stability of cargo flows when considering container terminal automation, as its benefits can be situational. While automation reduces labor expenses, it increases capital costs due to pricier equipment. The suitability of container terminal automation also depends on specific market conditions and the stability of cargo flows. While terminals with consistent throughput (e.g., gateway terminals) can benefit from high automation levels, those with variable cargo flows, such as transshipment terminals, may benefit from more flexibility with low levels of automation.
  • Emphasize more on flexible labor arrangements. Flexible labor arrangements, such as labor pools, allow a port to better respond to the fluctuations in container flows. Automated terminals are not yet equipped to handle these variances. 
  • Clearly identify the benefits and costs related to port automation projects. Access to evaluation costs and benefits of port automation project proposals and assumptions used should be granted for terminal operators, trade unions and governments. Evaluations of port automation projects should be made public for wider access to information.
  • Include social costs of automation into the benefit and cost analysis. Project assessments need to include factors such as job and tax base losses. Governments should consider things such as this because of the impacts outside the port.

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