Algorithms ease operations in a large terminal
Operating an intermodal full-service terminal in one of the world’s largest integrated chemical-industry complexes is quite a challenge. Managers in Ludwigshafen are banking on the advantages offered by artificial intelligence to overcome the present limits to their capacity.
20 years ago the firm Kombi-Terminal Ludwigshafen (KTL) started operations in the Kombiverkehrsterminal intermodal facility (KVT), inaugurating what could be called a superlative goods-handling centre. The terminal’s current capacity allows it to load or unload 60 trains a day and 500,000 units a year loaded with chemicals or hazardous goods from every class. The KVT joint venture was founded in 1999 by the chemicals firm BASF, the Swiss intermodal specialists Bertschi and Hupac, and Germany’s Hoyer and Kombiverkehr. It offers 13 transhipment railtracks (564–620 m each), 13 staging tracks (600–700 m each), and seven rail cranes with a capacity to lift 40 t each.
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Converting work orders into move jobs used to be carried out manually as was assigning them to the most suitable resource (crane, terminal truck, reach-stacker). Today it is increasingly effected by a built-in optimiser. Optimisation modules from the software firm Inform enable control-room staff to make complex and time-critical decisions in real time, thus contributing substantially to the removal of human error from the equation governing the assignment formula, and allowing control-room operators to focus on handling exceptional loads and on customer services. These tasks are carried out in a compound covering 305,000 m2, the size of 42 football pitches, in case that makes it easier to visualise.
In practice this means that every truck driver gets an optimised sequence of pick-up / drop-off points in the terminal, and every reach-stacker, terminal truck or crane operator receives optimised instructions in real time on what and where to move next.
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