Dress rehearsal

Planned to perfection: Using simulation software that it developed itself, HPC devises the ideal terminal design in advance – an enormous advantage for the operators.

A time-lapse bird’s eye view makes the activities at a container terminal seem harmoniously choreographed. Big liners dock at the quaysides and are quickly discharged by port cranes. Container after container makes its way through the terminal and leaves on a truck or rail wagon. The entire transport chain is governed by precise workflows and exact timing. Operating a container terminal professionally is one of the most demanding challenges in the world of logistics.

The expertise needed for this is provided by the HHLA subsidiary Hamburg Port Consulting (HPC) to clients all over the world. Since 1976, HPC has been advising private and public clients on how to plan, devise and implement terminal projects.

In addition to expansion and conversion projects, this includes the design of new terminals. The new Pasir Panjang container terminals in Singapore are a veritable mega-project. When it came to constructing the gigantic facility with a capacity of 20 million TEU, the Asian client took advantage of HPC’s expertise in ports. However, the company’s consulting skills do not end at the quay wall. It also has extensive expertise in hinterland terminals and helps to optimise the hinterland connections of ports worldwide. In the USA, the HHLA subsidiary is even the leading planner of rail terminals as well as a pioneer in the development of concepts for automating rail handling operations.

Terminal of the future

Every ambitious infrastructure project is implemented in small steps. This is already the case at the planning stage. The greater the number of factors included, the better the result. This is where the “HPCsim” simulation software comes into play. It simulates the entire container handling process at the port terminal in precise detail and three-dimensional format. Depending on the project, this makes it possible to precisely predict the capacity and performance of the facility. “We can more or less display the future of the terminal on a computer,” explains Dr. Nils Kemme, Head of Simulation at HPC. Kemme played a central part in developing the software. Here, too, the roots lie in the Group parent company. “When the new terminal in Altenwerder was planned at the start of the millennium, HHLA used computer simulations for the first time. Based on the programs used at the time, we developed and continuously enhanced our software.”

“HPCsim” has since become an indispensable tool for terminal planning. Up to 500 parameters are incorporated into the simulation calculations. Ship size, the performance and speed of container gantry cranes, the number and rate of trucks and yard cranes – all of these details are linked to each other in complex algorithms. “This enables us to display the future handling operations down to the second. Our calculations are extremely reliable,” says Kemme. “Potential bottlenecks in container handling can be identified in advance using the simulation and avoided by optimising the terminal design.” The precise predictions also make investment planning easier – after all, terminal expansions always involve large sums of money. “If our calculations show that a terminal can manage its planned handling operations with five instead of six container gantry cranes, our client will have saved € 10 million,” explains Kemme. 

In the last few years, HPC has been involved in approximately 1,400 projects in more than 100 countries – and the parent company in Hamburg benefits from this too: “The expertise obtained from these projects also helps HHLA indirectly and contributes to the development of its core business,” says Kemme.