Real-time yard planning supports car terminal in managing growth

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All vehicle movement and handling is automated with INFORM at the world’s biggest car terminal ICO Zeebrugge.

The world’s largest car terminal, International Car Operators (ICO), processes 1.7 million vehicles per year at the Belgium port town of Zeebrugge. If combined with ICO’s  Antwerp terminal the total number would reach 2.15 million vehicles processed per. ICO chose INFORM for IT support to help manage and optimize these large terminals. “The implementation project provided us with intelligent work planning and yard management software, which enables us to connect in an easier and more flexible manner with customers”, says Alain Guillemyn, Manager Purchase & IT at the company. The INFORM TOS software allows ICO to plan the incoming and outgoing vehicle flows, the location of the vehicles and the type and number of handling activities per car. “Processing these high volumes without IT-support would be impossible.”

The need for investment at ICO car terminal has been a result of a exponential and quick growth. Managing vehicle movements and optimizing the yard management fueled the need for an implementation of the INFORM solution. Since 2012, ICO has seen 40% growth which has resulted in the terminal managing between 60,000 and 70,000 cars on an average day. On a yearly basis, ICO Zeebrugge processes  1.7 million vehicles while the Antwerp terminal adds another 450,000 cars. ICO has 4 warehouses on-site with a total of 24,000 square meters of floor space. These warehouses are being used for vehicle processing and added value activities.
These Value Added Services (VAS) include washing, modification, repair of damages that have incurred during transport, and the timely staging of sold vehicles.  Manually managing these huge volumes would be next to impossible, especially compunded by the fact that every vehicle has it’s own unique reqirements on its path to the end customer.

3,000 different data types
ICO’s investment in the INFORM planning and yard management software allows the processing of vehicle flows to run smooth and efficient. According to Alain Guillemyn, the use of the software is far from being a luxury: “It’s simply impossible for our employees to handle the amount and the complexity of our data manually. So, optimizing this data without IT support is impossible as well. We are dealing with over 3,000 different data types, mainly EDI formats. We convert these into ICO formats and send them back and forth to the INFORM-terminal solution. The system is processing the data and work orders are automatically being created for the movement of the vehicles and the start of the Value Added Services.”
The terminal exchanges between 50 and 60 million EDI messages per year with its partners. A web portal has been developed in additon to the standard interfaces. “The portal allows us to achieve better results than expected, partly as it provides us more visibility and transparency towards activities performed for customers.” The ICO TOS system is dealing with a total of 395 optimizing rules, which have one goal: to drive as few kilometers as possible and assist in assembling the vehicles according to customer preferences (such as assembling per country, per trucking company, etc.). ICO is processing vehicles for a total of 50 manufacturers. Every handling, location and sale is registered, both planned and unplanned. The benefit of all this is that ICO can take a closer look at this historic data at any time.  

Aviation and container technology
The main challenge that ICO faces on a daily basis is assigning a smart location to a vehicle. Another challenge is sending the RoRo-ships, which can contain over 5,000 vehicles, to the designated dock. The goal ICO has set itself is to store the vehicles as efficient as possible at the desired location. The INFORM software is a big help for ICO in dealing with these challenges. The cars can be positioned in such a way that distances covered are small. During the night the software is calculating per vehicle the preferred location and takes in consideration which activities need to be performed. The technology that INFORM uses has proven itself in both the aviation and the container sector. Schiphol Airport is a user as is the container terminal at the Port of Hamburg. Processing additional volumes and the ability of integrating several new customers each with different specs and business processes are just two examples of the improved efficiency. “The accuracy of all activities performed on our terminals has improved more than we initially expected before the rollout of the IT-solution.”    

Optimizing labour activities
The use of the real-time optimizing solution also contributes to improving labor activities at the terminal. “We really do want to drive as few kilometers as possible with the vehicles, as this is a very important requirement from our customers. The system shows where we should position the cars. It does this while taking the next steps in consideration that we need to perform.” The ICO site is, as can be expected in a warehousing environment, full of marks which show directions. The INFORM solution is assigning locations based on manufacturer’s and importer’s preferences. According to Guillemyn, the yard management system chooses the optimal rule or the process step that provides the lowest cost. As this might seem complex, any visitor will directly understand that it’s impossible to manually process and handle the huge volumes of vehicles. 

Another way in which the software supports ICO is in integrating new customers as efficiently as possible. The system defines the process flow of these new partners, resulting in a quick adoption of activities for the new partners.

Speeding up and slowing down vehicle flows
ICO is forecasting on average ten days ahead. “The Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) can and often will change. We create a rough planning five days before the arrival of any shipment, in addition we create a detailed planning which the system is recalculating every night.” Vehicles arrive by boat, by rail and by trailer. The INFORM software provides ICO the detailed planning. The advantages of the software are huge. ICO can speed up or slow down vehicle flows and does that based on data that is provided by several different sources and which arrives in most cases via EDI. Investments in barcode scanning and RFID (in the future) combined with positioning services via GPS signals will allow ICO to manage the terminals even more accurately. All the actual and future data being gathered will be transferred into the INFORM system, which will take care of the essential data mapping.

Future challenges
New challenges are already appearing. Guillemyn mentiones the further improvement of the resource planning is one of ICO’s main goals. The car terminal operator is testing which work load is needed to forecast the loading and unloading of ships based on historic data. “In addition to this we are exploring how we can integrate RFID for both the identification and localization of the vehicles. Automating this will improve our operational efficiency even further and allowing us to act faster without human intervention.”


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