“”Move ’em out!””

Port Seaport’s Managing Director Charlie Sheldon said it best: “The densification of terminals is happening naturally in the industry”.

Industry officials attending a major maritime conference in Charleston the other day shared Charlie’s concern.

In the words of Maersk’s Tony Scioscia, “I don’t know how you feel about this, but it’s scary. This is a major, major challenge”. Part of the solution, he said, is for ports to work smarter.

Working smarter, however, won’t quite cut it. The number of cargo containers arriving at U.S. ports is expected to double in the next 15 years, and all the talk among industry officials these days has to do with “density” and “throughput”… squeezing as much as possible out of existing terminals …which is what Charlie meant when he talked about “densification”.

“Density” or “throughput” (or “densification”) is the industry’s yardstick for efficiency, and is determined by dividing the number of containers a port handles annually by the total acreage used in the port’s handling operations. The resulting answer to this simple math problem shows how efficient the port is in its use of its acreage. Compared to most of the world’s terminals, U.S. ports aren’t doing too well. Some Chinese ports, it is claimed, move more than 12,000 TEUs per acre … almost 3 times what a typical U.S. port could do. What compounds the problem is that U.S. ports face limited growth potential because of the unavailability of coastal land.

Mr. Scioscia said that in order to improve density, terminal operators should:
• Invest in data technology to help better coordinate containers on vessels and throughout the supply chain.
• Streamline gate operations to get as many trucks in and out of the port as quickly as possible.
• Reduce “dwell times” – the period full containers can sit on the docks without charge.
• Extend gate hours to allow greater movement of containers and reduce bottlenecks.

Those steps sound sensible but they won’t produce the numbers needed in conventionally-structured container terminals. The incoming cargo containers are expected to double in the next 15 years, remember? And we’re just about out of coastal land. Remember that, too. It’s about time industry officials acknowledged the inadequacies of U.S. ports and the need for a complete make-over.

Take a minute to click back to Volume I. In our October 14th, 2004, commentary entitled “Plus Signs”, we’ve listed more than two dozen advantages provided by our patented storage, retrieval and delivery systems. This listing more than satisfies the recommendations proposed by Mr. Scioscia.

“Density, throughput, densification”, whatever you wish to call it, is the way we approached the problem when we designed our systems. Our systems, in fact, can move almost 3 times as many TEUs per acre as the Chinese, and almost 7 times as many as a typical U.S. terminal. Do the math.