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Planning Optimization – an overlooked way to increase terminal throughput

The throughput challenge

When a capacity-constrained terminal has to increase its throughput, the terminal COO is often faced with two main choices:

  • Operational improvement programs – ramping up training, performance management and process changes to squeeze additional throughput out of existing equipment and manpower
  • Investments in additional STS cranes, straddle carriers and RTGs

Operational improvement programs, while often delivering improved results after months of implementation, can be fraught with challenges. Some of the potential challenges are increased operational risk and a reduction in capacity while new processes are implemented, and potential issues with labor unions that may not be supportive of increased performance management measures.

Investments can sometimes seem to be the “easy” way out from an operational perspective, but may not create the desired ROI that the CAPEX approval business case is based on. With a $10M+ price-tag, a new Super-Panamax STS crane is for most terminals a significant investment that also reduces the opportunity to invest in other equipment and software that could create an even greater impact on increasing throughput.

Increasing throughput with planning optimization

An often overlooked, but powerful way to increase terminal throughput, is planning optimization. Extending the planning horizon while simultaneously optimizing resource utilization is a smart way to generate more volume from the same equipment and manpower.

Many terminals today have a planning horizon that in practice extends 2-4 days, which they strive to increase to 7 days of foresight. At the same time, they may have idle capacity as a result of manual planning in spreadsheets, and basic tools that don’t offer any kind of optimization and decision support for the planners.

At Portchain, we strive to deliver significant operational impact, while making the life of the planning team easier, providing decision support using mathematical optimization and machine learning. Across terminals of various sizes, we often see an untapped opportunity to increase throughput by 10%+.

Planning optimization as a “Quick Win”

We believe that there are 4 main reasons for operations teams to consider the power of planning optimization before venturing into the more traditional efficiency levers:

  1. It reduces idle time and drives up throughput, without any investments or extensive performance improvement programs
  2. Results are captured early – once you use optimization in your planning, it has an immediate impact on your decisions, resource utilization and capacity
  3. The planning horizon can be extended to enable better use of available gangs and immediately understand the implications of today’s decisions on the next week of planning
  4. The process changes are limited to a small core group of planners, who will experience a significant reduction in the time they spend manually updating and creating plans, allowing them to spend real time evaluating scenarios and evaluating the most cost-effective plan that maximizes client service levels

Use AI to unlock more operational impact from your current equipment

At Portchain, we work with our clients according to this philosophy on a daily basis. We combine cutting edge mathematical optimization and machine learning with easy and intuitive cloud-solutions. Our two proprietary AI solutions for terminals and carriers unlock operational and financial value without the need to expand investments in physical infrastructure – ensuring that you always get the most out of what you already have. Visit us on to learn more.

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