Landside Information Control

There are several marine industry trends that are forcing all marine terminal operators toward computer systems:
  • Shipping companies are demanding better and more timely reports.
  • Shipping companies and customs agencies are demanding on-line computer interfaces for electronic data interchange. Recently, senior U.S. Customs officials have been cajoling U.S. ports to "automate or perish" [reference 1,2].
  • A computer system is the basis for the automation that can make the marine terminal more efficient.
Computer automation systems are historically divided into hierarchical levels [reference 3], much like a typical organization or company. Each computer in the hierarchy is assigned to a level. Each level has an area of responsibility and is subordinate to a higher level. Again, like a typical company, levels communicate with each other, using messages or memos, to accomplish specific tasks. At the lowest level, Level-1, is the computer that controls a single motor. A Level-2 computer controls Level-1 computers to provide a coordinated action by a single machine. The Level-2 computers report to a Level-3 computer. This computer coordinates activities between machines, Level-2s, to provide the coordinated control for an entire facility. In this context the facility would be a marine terminal.

It is the Level-3 computer on which this paper will focus. In particular, this paper will review current progress and state of the art computer techniques that make the Level-3 computer available to the smaller marine terminal operator. Several underlying computer industry trends weave through this paper:

  • There are emerging industry standards which allow the easy interchange of software and hardware parts.
  • The price of custom computer software is increasing dramatically. At the same time the rising complexity of software is increasing the risk that expensive custom developed software will not perform properly. Computer hardware on the other hand has dropped in cost and increased in performance.
  • There are new software design techniques which allow end-user maintenance of computer programs.
In order to understand the Level-3 computer, it is useful to review the growth path of the computer and automation as it is integrated into the marine terminal. There are three distinct phases:
  1. the paper system
  2. the passive tracking system
  3. the computer directed operation
The paper system is characterized by using no computer support. The passive tracking system is the computer automation of the paper system, usually tracking container moves after the fact, either in a batched mode or on-line. The computer directed operation is the first phase where the computer assumes low level management responsibility for the marine terminal. In the computer directed operation, terminal management can use the computer to achieve timely control of the operation, rather than just record what happened.