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Rotterdam seeking new type of AGV for CER

Rotterdam Port Authority (HbR) has posted a request for proposals for the autonomous vehicles it wants to see deployed on the Container Exchange Route (CER) on the two Maasvlaktes

Rotterdam Port Authority (HbR) has issued a market exploration request for the autonomous vehicles it wants to see deployed on the Container Exchange Route (CER) on the two Maasvlaktes. Potential suppliers addressed include companies not currently associated with AGVs in container terminals, but already making progress with autonomous trucks, such as Volvo, Mercedes and Scania, HbR’s CEO, Allard Castelein, told WorldCargo News.


"We’re seeking an innovative type of AGV," said Castelein. "Double-stack capabilities would be welcomed and considered. We would like workable designs by mid-2020. We want to find out whether the solution that we have in mind is actually feasible. We would not launch a tender procedure for something that nobody can or will deliver as yet, but if Columbus’s Egg does emerge, we plan to issue the official tender by mid-2020."


He acknowledged that the AGVs envisaged would ideally have a higher travel speed than the speed of AGVs at container terminals, but declined to put a number on it.


Castelein’s comments vary with the earlier CER iteration, where there was talk of autonomous trucks and chassis, as still depicted in official CER impressions. However, it is important to recognise that HbR wants to avoid a "rash" investment in what may be a "novelty" in 2021 - when the CER is slated to open as early as Q1 - only to be overtaken by more efficient autonomous machines later.


Fostering its claim to be the world’s most intelligent port IT-wise, HbR clearly wants to set the trend with a "next level" AGV for the CER. The 14-km long track will be the world’s first self-contained container transport corridor with no public roadway access or egress.

Here again is the map of the CER. (Photo from HbR)

“If the end model we seek is not feasible when the CER opens," continued Castelein, "then we will commence with an interim transport solution that will most likely feature tractor-pulled units.


"And even when autonomous transportation is introduced on the CER, we don’t expect the vehicles to be compatible with the various terminals’ operating systems from the start. So, again, we are not trying to force things.”


Representatives of some of the terminals involved have asked questions about how the CER vehicles will interface with the point of access on the marine terminals. The landside terminal areas lack automated vehicle guidance infrastructure as they are designed for access by container haulage trucks.


If the CER vehicles cannot access the landside transfer blocks autonomously and safely, then manual intervention will be required. This pushes the terminals to introduce more straddle carriers or reach stackers, equipment that currently is used only for exception or emergency handling, and they would need equipment operators for all hours that the CER is in use.

Interfacing the CER AGVs with the landside end of the ASCs is a conundrum. (Photo from RWG)

Some terminal representatives have pointed to the scale economy of 10 TEU multi-trailer sets (MTS). These are still used by ECT for container transfers between its three automated Delta Peninsula terminals (DDE, DDN and DDW) and Rail Terminal West, which it also operates, not far from the Delta Peninsula. The MTS are also understood to call at some nearby EC depots.


There is probably space for long MTS trains to manoeuvre in the backlands of all the terminals connected to the CER, but they would require more straddle carriers or reach stackers, as they cannot be reversed into the ASCs’ landside transfer blocks.


One operator intimated that HbR’s market exploration may include an option for an AGV with a cabin for manned "last yard" transport between the start/end point of the CER roadway and the ASC/road truck interchange area. Would this involve a flexible driver pool shuttling between marine terminals as required?


Another highly experienced figure in the Maasvlakte container terminal scene suggested that HbR will most likely have to seek a design-build-operate (DBO) contract based upon an integral hardware-software proposition for the final, permanent transport system sought. This is partly because the solution will likely have many teething problems to begin with, but also because HbR is not set up to engage in commercial freight handling operations.


He made the point that the market for closed loop autonomous transport units "is not big…we should not expect to see many such CERs in the world, and so far at least Rotterdam’s is the only one. Do big truck suppliers such as Volvo, Mercedes or Scania see any merit here?”


Source: WorldCargo News

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