Having delivered truck turn time savings of 67.7 minutes on average at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 18 (T-18), SSA Marine is looking to widen the scope of its ‘free flow’ model.
Aiming to deliver a more efficient way of distributing inbound cargo from ships to trucks, the model involves a first come, first served approach when trucks arrive to pick up a container.
Participating motor carriers can aggregate containers from beneficial cargo owners (BCOs). Inbound containers are taken from the vessel and are collected into one area.
Once a critical mass is reached, the motor carrier is notified, and drivers are dispatched to the terminal where containers are loaded onto trucks.
According to terminal data, the implementation of “free flow” and supporting automated technologies can increase throughput and reduce truck idle times and emissions up to 60%.
At T-18, average free flow turn time is approximately 20 minutes, whereas average turn time leveraging traditional RTG methods is between 45 to 60 minutes (both calculated from pedestal to out gate measurements).
Sal Ferrigno, vice president at SSA Marine, told CM: “Free flow is by far the quickest way to deliver any container. If you visualise a big pile of containers, the first container accessible goes to the first truck and so on.
“There is no special requirement for the cargo owner – we don’t require special vessel stowage. All we require is a list of around 30-50 containers. We’ll then come up with a pile of containers for a trucker or a cargo owner. When their truckers come in and we’ll give each trucker the first container available.”
The conventional process involved containers being delivered by a rubber-tyred gantry (RTG) crane or automated guided vehicle (AGV) into a designated area, and then a truck coming to pick up containers in a specific area.
Truck drivers were given a two hour window for an appointment due to issues like traffic and delays in prior tasks, although the process could only work efficiently if the driver showed up on time when the RTG or AGV delivered the box.
In many cases, container stacks would have to be rearranged to find the exact container, thus devoting precious time and manpower to unproductive tasks.
Ferrigno added: “There are so many variables that it’s nearly impossible to have someone show up at a specific time, which throws off everything that we could do to make that container accessible.”
SSA Marine is keen to accelerate the usage of free flow but this is somewhat hindered because many customers which need a specific container at a specific time are unable to give more than a day’s advanced notice.
Another challenge is finding companies that are willing to collaborate and work together. Increasing the number of available containers in the free flow pool can boost efficiency but it requires BCOs and trucking companies to be willing to share resources.
“That’s been a very hard task as cargo owners have contracts with different trucking companies. They want their own trucker to pick up their container because they trust that trucking company,” noted Ferrigno.
“But for us to really move ahead and do more and more free flow, we need to find a way to get these companies to collaborate.”
Additionally, the operator has made several other investments to improve truck flows including a pre-arrival system where trucking companies input all necessary information, enabling them to be automatically gated in without a wait time.
There is also an automated out gate with optical character recognition (OCR) cameras that verify the container and enable rapid exits from the terminal.