Container terminals are responsible for 90% of world trade, according to the International Chamber of Shipping. Increased cargo throughput demand can put a strain on all the entities within a port; including terminals, vessel carriers, and surrounding communities, and thoughtful planning for cargo growth is essential. Moving a container from point A to point B may seem simple, but the true challenge is moving the container from A to B efficiently, which is a complex optimization problem.
Port and terminal operators increasingly are turning to simulation and emulation as decision-making tools to help in planning and testing terminal layouts, analyzing the impacts of different types of cargo or administrative policies, identifying congestion, and testing Terminal Operating System (TOS) configurations. The results lead to effective changes that improve efficiency and save money. But what are the differences between simulation and emulation, and how can they help you?
Simulation is a tool that takes advantage of computational power to run the events of a day, a week, or even a year in mere seconds and can execute any process from start to finish.
Imagine operating a terminal, only to realize years later that, by making small adjustments, quay crane productivity could have been increased or truck turn times could have been reduced—benefits and hidden costs that took years of operations to recognize. In contrast, if a simulation model were created for the terminal, it could be used to determine the optimal settings for the terminal early on and provide the opportunity to implement these benefits at an earlier stage.
Simulation introduced in the early planning stages of a new terminal is a key tool to help provide insight into the system and influence the layout plan before it is constructed. Simulation allows the designers to leverage the strength of the simulation model to help quantify and validate their layout with a greater margin of confidence.
Simulation models exist in a virtual environment; therefore, making changes to a model to find out the effect on operations has no impact to real-world operations. Another advantage of using simulation is the ability to test various what-if scenarios. There may be many reasons for testing scenarios that include, among others, determining the ability to absorb peak volume under varying conditions, evaluating efficiency, identifying system bottlenecks, and finding the impact of using a new process or equipment, such as dual trolley quay cranes. FlexTerm is preloaded with standard objects used in ports, terminals, and other areas and actively developed and maintained by Moffatt & Nichol.
Container terminal simulation has been successfully applied to port systems and terminals worldwide, including large ports such as those in Long Beach, Los Angeles, Tianjin, Singapore, Valparaiso and by operators such as APMT, PSA, Maher, and others.
When making decisions simulation can prove to be a very valuable tool.
What is Emulation? Emulation is a process that simulates the terminal but also connects it to a real time terminal operating system (TOS). It tricks the TOS into thinking it is communicating with the real terminal so the TOS responds as it would in production under its actual configuration.
Why is that important?
Emulation can be used to evaluate terminal performance, test the TOS software, and assess the whole system under conditions that would not be practical in the real world.
The TOS is responsible for making decisions in the terminal, whether it be decking (where to place containers), resource assignment, or conflict resolution. It has many layers, can be very complex, and takes years to develop.
It makes more sense to connect to a real TOS to enable it to make decisions in the virtual environment. The TOS decides how to operate the terminal based on the preconfigured layout and parameters. As a result, the emulation can investigate, study, and dial into the fine details and nuances of the TOS to optimize its settings in a safe environment without disrupting the real-world operation.
When a terminal is under development, emulation will provide a valuable virtual testing platform for the TOS and equipment control systems to identify potential issues before it goes live.
When a terminal is operational, it takes a large effort and highly skilled personnel to determine which TOS parameters work best. Typically, the settings are created and rarely modified, fearing disruptions to real-world operations. Emulation is a great tool to train and evaluate operating staff in a safe environment.
Further, emulation allows the discovery of optimum TOS settings for different operating conditions such as peak volume or low volume, without risk to the live system operations.
It is worth noting that connecting to a real TOS has limitations. Depending on the facility configuration and the TOS being used, it might not be possible to increase the run speed past 1.0 times real time. However, such limitations can be partially overcome by running multiple emulation scenarios simultaneously.
Recently, Moffatt & Nichol applied emulation to PSA’s Pasir Panjang Terminal at the Port of Singapore, currently the second largest port in the world with a throughput of more than 30 million TEUs per year. Another recent and significant emulation that Moffatt & Nichol performed was for the Maher Terminals facility at the Port of New York and New Jersey, a large gateway straddle carrier container terminal using NAVIS N4.
How can we help you?
Moffatt & Nichol have highly skilled simulation, emulation and port planning experts with experience helping with port clients worldwide to meet their goals. Every port presents unique challenges and opportunities. We can work with you to help meet your business objectives.