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Kalmar has developed brand new combined camera and laser applications for the automation of HHLA Container Terminal Buchardkai (CTB) in Hamburg.

Focus in the first stages of work at CTB has been on fine-tuning the measuring algorithms needed to secure reliability of the camera and laser systems, which is fundamental to the project success. Commercially available hardware and software platforms have been used as a basis from which Kalmar has developed the new application technology.

HHLA has chosen Kalmar to supply an automatic stacking crane (ASC) system and related technology in phase one of the CTB conversion project. Kalmar will equip the first five yard stacking blocks with 15 ASCs, along with their automation and control systems, during 2007 and 2008.

According to Jorma Tirkkonen, President of Kalmar Intelligence and Automation, the doubling of handling capacity at CTB while the terminal is in full operation is a demanding challenge. The project is based on Kalmar automatic stacking crane technology, upon which control and monitoring systems will be built.

Container positioning system

Accurate container positioning is essential. The automated stacking cranes must keep the container stacks within certain limits, which can be problematic in heavy winds, at high transfer speeds and on uneven ground.

At CTB, container positioning will be implemented by a camera and laser system, which utilises reference points on the ground, explains Mr Tirkkonen. “The ASC spreader is equipped with four cameras showing the corners of the container, which assist it in automatically placing the container in the right position.

On the land side of the terminal, loading and unloading of road trucks will be remotely controlled with the assistance of cameras. Thus the camera will serve as the operator eyes.

The camera system is also used to speed up stacking in the automated mode.

Communication is vital

The most advanced communications technology is crucial for this project. Information is passed through different channels of an optical fibre, conveying both control system and video image information.

Information transfer must also be very reliable, explains Mr Tirkkonen. “Therefore, communication channels have been secured so that if something happens, say, the cable is broken, the system will not be vulnerable.

Block system reliability is also critical. As such, the blocks are equipped with three cranes each so that if one is out of order, the two other machines can undertake its work.

Kalmar will implement the automation as a distributed solution, with a dedicated computer, or server, for each block. Each server is run by the same software and neighbouring servers back each other up. The system is thus easily and flexibly expandable whenever necessary. Multiple computers will ensure high reliability.

Cooperation with IT system suppliers

Kalmar will also supply a traffic signal system for the ship-side transportation where manual straddle carriers are employed. The terminal operating system will be provided by another supplier, while Kalmar focuses on machine technology and related automation. However, the two suppliers will co-operate closely.

Communication with the upper level system is important. A typical automation system must be able to communicate with a number of other systems, says Mr Tirkkonen. According to Mr Tirkkonen, Kalmar trump card is the synergy between its competence in machine technology and in automation. “Kalmar is thoroughly acquainted with port conditions. The automation supplier must understand the full process, otherwise the solution can’t be successful for all users. This kind of embedded activity is a growing trend in the market.

At CTB, Kalmar has to fulfil certain performance requirements and operational guarantees. The commissioning of the renewed terminal can be efficiently supported by Kalmar remote interface service, so progress can be monitored from the engineering and support centre at the factory.

The CTB project has been running for four months now. Preliminary work is far advanced and the specifications for the different systems will be completed by the end of June. The main software blocks will be completed in July / August and integration testing will start in September / October. The first test phase will be a simulation, thus minimising the time needed for field testing. The first ASC block will be in place in early 2007.