6 new cranes will let port stack more containers, speed handling

Global positioning, computer to be used to locate cargo boxes

May 15, 2002|By Paul Adams | Paul Adams,SUN STAFF

The port of Baltimore took delivery yesterday of six new gantry cranes that will allow longshoremen to stack cargo containers in a smaller space and retrieve them in less time with the help of a sophisticated computer system and satellite technology.

Proponents say the giant mobile cranes, which cost $1.2 million each, will boost storage capacity at the state-owned Seagirt Marine Terminal and help Baltimore compete with other major East Coast ports, which are increasingly moving toward automated cargo-handling systems.

The crane system also could reduce the time trucks wait at the terminal to load cargo destined for East Coast customers. Most consumer goods that arrive from overseas are packed in steel containers.

"You really need to stay current with the technology that's out there, and these are really state-of-the-art," said Brian Miller, operations manager for Maryland International Terminals, the stevedoring arm of the Maryland Port Administration.

Shuffling the hundreds of thousands of containers that arrive in Baltimore annually is a daily chore for longshoremen. The job is now done with top loaders driven by longshoremen, who navigate rows of containers stacked two high and two abreast throughout the Seagirt terminal. Top loaders are similar to large forklifts.

The new gantry cranes are 70 feet high and 80 feet wide, making it possible to stack 20-foot-long cargo containers four high and six abreast. The result is more space for cargo.

Storing and retrieving containers will be as simple as telling a computer what to look for. The tire-mounted cranes, which can handle two containers at a time, are guided by a global positioning system and are designed to automatically find cargo among the stacks of containers. Each time a container is moved, sensors aboard the crane alert a central computer system of the new location.

The 125-ton cranes were manufactured by KCI Konecranes of Finland and delivered to Baltimore by ship. The equipment was paid for with money from the state's transportation trust fund.

Containers account for about 70 percent of the cargo that flows through state-owned terminals. The business declined slightly last year as a result of a recession that affected most ports.

Last year, Baltimore's port handled 493,135 20-foot equivalent units, a standard measure of containerized cargo trade. That was down nearly 3 percent from the 2000 total of 508,320 units.

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