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China leads world's automated container terminals amid smart technology boom


The automated port terminal at Qingdao Port, Shandong Province, China, September 7, 2022. /CFP
The automated port terminal at Qingdao Port, Shandong Province, China, September 7, 2022. /CFP

The automated port terminal at Qingdao Port, Shandong Province, China, September 7, 2022. /CFP

China is leading the world in the number of automated terminals, according to the Ministry of Transport, demonstrating its maritime prowess.

According to the latest data, China currently has 18 automated container terminals in operation with an additional 27 under construction or being upgraded. Notably, the country has acquired the key technical expertise from designing, constructing to integrating and managing advanced automated terminal systems.

An emblem of China's leadership in this realm is the Qingdao Port in Shandong Province. Qingdao Port is the world's first to have an air-track intelligent transporting system that's capable of handling 1.5 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) each year.

Since December, it became fully operational as China's first automated terminal, which is entirely domestically designed and constructed with over 28,000 components and core equipments sourced from within the country.

The terminal employs a homegrown intelligent control system. According to Chen Qiang, deputy manager of the Information Technology Department at Qingdao Port, the operation of the automated terminal is very similar to a smartphone.

"In traditional systems, data refresh speed is in seconds, leading to noticeable transmission delays and reducing efficiency. However, our new control system maintains data refresh rates within milliseconds, significantly enhancing equipment dispatch efficiency by four times," Chen said.

Xiamen Yuanhai container terminal is one of the first fourth-generation automated terminals in the world. It operates on a fully automated system that blends cutting-edge information technology with port operations.

The terminal benefits from a 5G network and combines a slew of futuristic technologies like edge computing, high-precision positioning, artificial intelligence, and computer vision to achieve autonomous driving, remote control, intelligent tallying, and intelligent security.

The operational efficiency achieved by these advances is substantial. At present, manual adjustments in actual operations account for less than five percent. Thanks to the technology, it cuts down the time of the stowage plan for a 1,000 TEUs ship from an average one hour by humans to merely five minutes.

The terminal also provides an app for the customers to make reservations and self-service container transactions, reducing time and manpower costs.

In 2023, China's ports handled over 257 million TEU containers, 4.9 percent higher than a year earlier.

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