As if by magic

HHLA Container Terminal Altenwerder is recognized worldwide as state-of-the-art. A novel terminal layout and many specially developed work processes have made container handling safer and more efficient.

Apart from the compact layout with its clear structure and short distances, Altenwerder’s hallmark is its highly sophisticated automation. A complex, continually upgraded IT system controls all the different elements, from the container gantry crane to storage management. The basis of CTA’s efficiency is optimized interplay.

Container handling is split into two stages. On the waterside, double trolley gantry cranes load and discharge from/to the vessel. The gantry crane’s main trolley is operated by a driver, instinctively offsetting a ship’s inevitable movement. Computers are unable to do this and moreover do not attain the productivity of experienced crane drivers. Nor can the responsibility for the safety of cargo handling at this ship-terminal interface be assigned to a computer.

Semi-automatic container gantry cranes with two trolleys

The container is lowered on to working portal higher up, where lashers remove/affix twist locks. In addition, a further check is made on the identity of the boxes. The second trolley, known as a “gantry trolley” then accepts the container automatically and lowers it on to an Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV).

These vehicles provide transport between the gantry cranes and container storage.  They find their way completely independently, without any instructions from humans. The AGV searches for the fastest route, with the aid of more than 19,000 transponders set into the ground. Signals from these are transmitted to specially developed software that calculates and controls the shortest route to the destination while allowing for other moving vehicles. Fully automated, AGV will find their way to the diesel filling or power charging stations.

The container yard consists of 26 storage blocks, each serviced by two rail-mounted gantry cranes (RMGs). The cranes are of different heights and can therefore work in parallel. This also enables containers to be fed to the RMGs during essential maintenance work. Boxes are stored to instructions from the software, and slots optimized during quiet phases to facilitate the fastest possible release. Landside release is effected remote-controlled by staff in the control center, using a joystick and a camera to lower a box on to a truck or chassis. Transport between the storage block and the rail terminal is by tractor plus the terminal’s own chassis.

CTA includes Europe's biggest container rail terminal for intermodal services, Kombi-Transeuropa Terminal Hamburg (KTH). Block-trains on nine parallel, 720-metre tracks are handled by three gantry cranes fitted with rotating trolleys. A successful freight traffic center (GVZ) that can also make use of the rail terminal has been constructed immediately alongside.

Sophisticated software optimizes interplay

This complex software also assists in combining rail and road traffic throughout the terminal with container handling and in optimizing their interplay. The system controls the various cranes and tractors, etc. via data radio. Shorter routes, fewer empty runs and timely handling of all contracts for the terminal are achieved. Optimal utilization of all resources saves costs, boosting the quality and productivity of terminal logistics as a whole.

The container storage consists of 26 blocks, each served by two rail-mounted gantry cranes (RMGs). These are of different height and can therefore operate in parallel.  In this way, containers can also be delivered even if one crane is out of action. Storage of the boxes is to IT instructions, with slots being optimized during slack periods to ensure that release is as fast as possible. Landside release is by staff in the control centre, using a joystick and camera to lower the container on to the truck or chassis. 300 of the terminal’s own chassis and 14 tractors are used for moves between the storage blocks and rail terminal.