Navis Furthers TOS Innovation with Launch of N4 3.1
As published in the November issue of World Cargo News, by Paul Avery.
Navis has released version 3.1 of its flagship N4 TOS, the first major release since version 2.6 was unveiled in April 2014. Automation is a major focus for version 3.1, building on version 3.0, which is used at three new AGV terminals: MVII and Rotterdam World Gateway in Rotterdam, and LBCT in Long Beach. At the time Navis was developing N4 3.0, Director of Product Marketing, Sumitha Sampath said leading terminal operators were engaged in an “innovation arms race”, bringing automation to multiple different yard layouts and introducing new equipment including lift AGVs and remote controlled quay cranes systems. That innovation, added Sampath, has not slowed down. Several terminals want to use double cantilever cranes, while others are looking at automated and remote controlled RTGs and different automated straddle carrier systems.
N4 3.1 provides for any existing terminal concept, including ASCs, AGVs, C-ARMGs (cantilever ASCs), as well as automated shuttles and straddles. As automation moves forward, said Dr. Oscar Pernia, Senior Director Product Strategy, Navis is increasingly able to leverage aspects of one project at another terminal within the N4 architecture. The schedulers and many aspects of the business logic behind Cantilever RMGs, for example, can also be applied to automated RTGs.
Each terminal, however, requires distinct optimization functionality. Navis’s automation framework decouples the business logic from the optimization functionality, which is provided outside the core TOS modules using extensions in Groovy code. In this way, Navis can meet the needs of different terminals, while maintaining a single TOS application.
Quay crane challenge
There is a lot of interest in remote control quay cranes at the moment, and Navis believes they will be a “game changer” for the industry. Decoupling humans from cranes will enable a real focus on process optimization, added Dr. Pernia.
For N4 3.1, Navis has extended the N4 crane automation system API to take in more information from the crane’s automation system, including its technical status and location. Crane position updates are now integrated with N4 automation workflows, so quay crane-initiated container position changes can be notified using the crane automation system API.
Navis has also developed a new web-based, “touch-aware” Crane Team User Interface (CTUI) to support the people working around both manned and unmanned cranes. In an automated context the CTUI can provide different levels of information required by personnel in different positions to complete a move. This, said Pernia, helps drive faster decision making that is consistent with the highly sequenced automated environment.
Dr. Pernia said the industry is going through a learning curve with quay crane automation, and, while there are technology and integration challenges, one of the biggest issues is managing the communication between planning and execution personnel correctly. Bringing automation to this environment is difficult. Vessel operations are still very unpredictable; containers are not always in the slot indicated on the bay plan, OCR reads are not always completed and boxes may not be able to proceed directly to the yard, for several reasons. With a manned crane operation, these issues are typically dealt with dynamically; people make decisions quickly to change a container or slot number, handle yard vehicles out of sequence or put a container aside till an issue is resolved, all the while keeping the operation moving. At an automated terminal all these problems create exceptions that have to be communicated, decided and resolved.
Pernia said one of the keys to successful automation is having the right level of communication between planning and execution staff, so that decisions are made in a way that matches the sequence of the automated equipment, and exceptions are solved quickly when absolutely needed. An important part of this is having not just visibility, but the right amount of visibility.
For some positions, this means narrowing the focus to highlight only what needs to be addressed by a specific role to facilitate a container move. A configurable crane team GUI is an important part of this.
N4 3.1 features a new rail gantry crane (RGC) scheduler for decoupled trackside operations. This is important for GCT Canada, which uses Navis, and is installing a new on-dock rail system at Deltaport in Vancouver with eight widespan cranes that will be semi-automated with remote control. The integral RGC scheduling component in N4 3.1 will utilize existing rail planning capabilities along with ASC, AGV and terminal tractor schedulers. “Most critical is to ensure the smooth flow of containers to and from the rail via existing Prime Route for Terminal Tractors (PRTT) logic and timely delivery of planned moves in a logical order from the ASC stacks via the ASC Manager,” explained Navis.
To facilitate more of the remaining SPARCS users migrating to N4, version 3.1 features architectural and system performance improvements, as well as “migration improvements”. It has been “performance tested for transshipment operations at 12M TEU”. Navis also offers “a third-party host interface to maintain existing TOS functionality”, that lets terminals use N4 with an in-house back-end system.
N4 was designed as a unified back-end and planning system, and many terminals have replaced their in-house system and SPARCS with N4. Some, however, have resisted as they have substantial investments in in-house systems and/or integration between these and other applications, including gate automation, ERP and billing applications.