Hitting the Bottle(neck)

Earlier this month Gary Ferrulli took a good long look at our West Coast container terminals and saw some glaring weaknesses in their performances. For starters, he revealed that those terminals are recording approximately 24 lifts per hour, and this came as a surprise because we’ve been led to believe that lift rates in those terminals are in the 35 to 40 per hour range, and that terminal operators are prepared to deal with the expected doubling of imported goods in the next decade.

According to Gary, however, the West Coast output is far behind the 30-or-so lifts per hour in U.S. East Coast ports, the 40-or-so lifts per hour at Manzanillo, Mexico, and the Port of Yantian in China, and seems feeble when compared to the 40-plus lifts per hour being achieved by European ports.

Gary mentions the word “bottleneck” about a half-dozen times in his most recent Journal of Commerce article, and he expresses concern about the low productivity in those West Coast ports. “If productivity remains where it is today,” he writes, “it won’t matter if the ports are expanded, roads widened and fixed, rail track capacity doubled, and hundreds of thousands of truck drivers hired. The freight will be sitting on ships for far too long and not moving. A lot of time, energy and money will have been expended, and the results will not have changed. The bottleneck is there and the bottleneck is low productivity.”

“How long can we avoid talking and doing something about it? … We can’t afford terminals that are 30 to 50 percent ineffective”, he concludes.

It isn’t as if the labor force is being paid minimal wages, so that’s not the reason for low productivity. The average pay for full-time ILWU longshoremen last year, in fact, was $ 127,000, and the average pay for marine clerks was $ 145,000, so the issue certainly isn’t labor related. Furthermore, the 34 percent increase in numbers of dockworkers in the last five years assures the terminals of enough willing hands to handle the projected cargo volumes. Labor is not the cause of the bottlenecks.

“The freight will be sitting on ships for far too long and not moving”, is what Gary pointed out, and that can mean only one thing … the bottlenecks which prevent a smooth flow of goods from the ships, through the terminals, and eventually into the traffic corridors, are plunk in the middle of the cramped, congested and inefficient storage, retrieval and delivery operations of the container terminals.

There’s just one solution, and it’s a simple one. Retrofit each of these terminals with our patented system and do away with those seemingly insurmountable hurdles … those bottlenecks, if you will. There is no other way to deal with the inevitable increase in incoming cargo. The transition must be made because the nation’s supply chain is being threatened with gridlock.

Review the “Problems & Solutions” section of this web site. The “bottlenecks” existing in and around conventionally-structured terminals are the direct result of the inefficient, costly and primitive methods of operation being employed within those terminals. It’s time for a changing of the guard.