Eimskip Iceland:

How automation changed everything in a terminal

April 3th 2024

They had an eye on the technology for a very long time, and at the end of last year they jumped onboard. Eimskip Iceland automated gate and crane operations at its multimodal terminal in Reykjavik. ‘I did not imagine the positive results to be this many’, says Guðmundur Ágúst Aðalsteinsson, senior manager at the Sundahofn terminal.

For both technologies the operator reached out to CERTUS, about which Aðalsteinsson says: ‘It felt like we were one single team’. For months Eimskip and CERTUS worked together to prepare for the go live. Today, the new version of the terminal is up and running. In this blog, Aðalsteinsson shares his experience.

Major change

‘The systems in place were old, very old before the changes made last year’, he narrates. ‘We had been looking at different technologies since 2007, but for some reason we had not made a decision until last year. At that point we wanted to expand. We needed to move the gate to make more space and that was not possible with the old processes in place. That was the right moment for us to look for automation processes. We found CERTUS to be the best company to do this with.’

On 25 September the gate automation went live. The Sundahofn terminal expanded from a single lane to two lanes in and two lanes out, and these gates are no longer manually controlled. ‘The time spent at the gate went down by half the time. The queues that used to be formed at the gate were no longer there. And truckers are pleasantly motivated, as their journey has become more efficient’, says Aðalsteinsson.

In the past, truckers could be ill-appeared when they came to the gate. They were missing papers or missing booking numbers and had to call the office or export department. This could easily take up to 12 minutes, resulting in queues at the gate. This does not happen anymore, because all stakeholders know that they have to prepare the booking, or else the computer system is not going to work at the gate. Truckers do not come to the gate with empty pockets any longer. We have received great feedback from them about this.

‘This is a very positive thing for the staff, who used to work outside. They are more comfortable now.’

As the gate automation was up and running, the terminal implemented the automation of its gantry crane. ‘This was on 12 January, so it is still fresh.’ But we can already see the positive results. We changed to remote operations. This is a very positive thing for the staff, who used to work outside. They are more comfortable now.’

Labor optimization

The most important result, however, is the optimization in labor costs. ‘We have already laid down one and a half jobs so far and we eye further synergies after summer. We will be merging the gantry crane and gate operations in one remote working space, and then we will save two more jobs.’ With laying down he does not mean letting go of his staff. ‘In this case, we had somebody going for his retirement and another person leaving for another job. We did not have a replacement for these people, but we also did not need to replace them.’

‘What happened here was an organic loss of staff, but in other cases I would always ask staff that are no longer needed for a certain job to do another job. We always need extra staff, for example terminal tractor operators.’

He expects that rather than losing people, the digital transformation will result in a more skilled workforce in the future. Whereas a tallyman at the gate used to do only that, an employee will be able to handle two or maybe three different jobs in the future. ‘For instance, one day you work on a semi-automated system inside the central working space, the next day work at the gate. Maybe it is even possible to do two jobs at the same time, because of the successful engagement of the automated processes.’

‘We may be able to attract women.’

Another benefit is that the improved working conditions will attract a wider pool of people, he believes. ‘We may be able to attract women. In general, they do not like the heavy work outside at a terminal, but the job has now become more convenient.’

Eyes on the future

Aðalsteinsson has big plans for the future. Now the first steps have been made, he envisions a big central working space where all people sit together. And with the new way of working it will become possible to have the terminal open 24/7’, he explains. ‘Now we are open from 8am to 22.30pm. There are almost no trucks coming in outside those hours, but we do have some traffic of trucks bringing in fish from around Iceland at night.’

He expects to see a return on investment of the new technology in around five years. ‘Sure, the financial impact is slow going in the beginning, but this is to be seen as a long-term investment. Right now, the cleanup of our old processes at the gate operations is the biggest payback. There were so many things done wrong, such long waiting times at the gate and every mistake was being handled manually. I knew there was a lot of work to be done. But when we started designing and implementing the new processes, then we really found out what we were doing wrong. Thinking of this alone, we already made a huge return of investment.’

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