High-efficiency Ports are Bridging China Ever Closer to the Rest of the World

“This is the highest level of efficiency in the world,” Luan Baobo, vice general manager of the port, said. “Traditional terminals are around 23 or 24 containers per hour.”

High-efficiency Ports are Bridging China Ever Closer to the Rest of the World

Besides the breeze blowing off the nearby Pacific, the only sounds are electronic levers, gears, cranks and the occasional warning sirens bleating from vehicles hauling steel shipping containers to awaiting vessels.

What is unusual for a bustling dock that moves 5.2 million containers annually is that you don’t hear any shouts, laughter or other human speech.

Welcome to Qingdao Port, home of one of the few fully-automated port terminals in the world and one of the most advanced in Asia. Now in operation for over a year, the terminal boasts a loading efficiency of over 33 containers an hour, and in April this year reached a record of 42.9 containers in an hour.

“This is the highest level of efficiency in the world,” Luan Baobo, vice general manager of the port, said. “Traditional terminals are around 23 or 24 containers per hour.”

Port authorities say they developed all the technology for automating the port themselves from the ground-up. Vehicles moving containers use a magnetic guiding system and censors to ensure they do not collide with each other, as well as the overall technology that automatically brings the containers up to the port area for loading. They also developed the first automatic robotic disassembly system for unlocking the twist locks to remove containers from the vehicles.

“We’ve not had any collisions or accidents for over a year,” Luan said. “Traditional terminals can occasionally have accidents, and perhaps one or two deaths a year at a port.”

When it comes to building automated platforms such as this, Shandong province is taking a lead in China.

From companies like Changyu, the biggest wine producer in Asia, to Bright Moon Seaweed Group, the largest producer of seaweed-based products such as food, cosmetics, medical materials and fertilizers, everything here is done on a massive scale that increasingly requires automated systems to keep up with demand.

Nearby in Qingdao is one of Haier Group’s 10 interconnected factories used to make both large-scale industrial air conditioning systems and smaller ones for home use as well. The company has put both automation of its industrial process and intelligent communication with its customers through a platform called COSMOPlat as keys for its continued development.

COSMOPlat allows Haier to monitor and communicate with users of its industrial air conditioning systems throughout China, gathering data on their energy use and efficiency in order to offer solutions on how they can best optimize those systems during their production processes.

“We’ve developed this whole procedure for using the platform, starting from interaction between marketing, manufacturing, producing and when we reach the end user, we can use big data and artificial intelligence to bring the most intelligent solution to our users,” said Wang Xiaohu, Haier CEO for its Mass Customization Platform.

A few hours away in the city Yantai, one of China’s oldest port areas, is home to two major companies also making strides using automation to create advanced systems for extraction industries.

One is Jereh, a leading oil and gas equipment manufacturer that is increasingly moving toward creating safer, more reliable, energy efficient and environmentally friendly equipment due to customer demand and increasing regulation around the world for protecting and cleaning up the environment, according to Louis Song, director of Marketing for the company.

The other, Yantai-based CIMC Raffles Offshore Ltd., builds some of the largest and most advanced semi-submersible drilling platforms in the world. At the assembly area, which is home to a crane system that can lift around 20,000 metric tons — enough to lift some of these platforms for additional construction — visitors are shrouded in the shadows of these massive systems that will soon be sent to sea.

CIMC Raffles has built two drilling platforms that will increasingly become news items in the future — Bluewhale I and Bluewhale II — each, when fully realized, are designed to use pressure drilling systems to extract natural gas hydrates from seabed combustible ice.

The gas trapped in seabed hydrates is a possible major energy source if engineers can perfect the pressure drilling process and minimize the release of methane gas, one of the most significant greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.

Bluewhale I is back at the facility now for retooling after having spent two months earlier in the year as part of a research project the company has partnered with the Ministry of Natural Resources and China National Petroleum Company. The platform can sail from Yantai all the way to the Pearl River Delta where the testing occurred in just 15 days.

“These two rigs will go to the South China Sea at the beginning of next year,” said Pan Xilu, senior manager of strategic maritime development at CIMC Raffles. “Last year it produced 30,000 cubic meters a month of gas in two months. Right now, it is still just testing. There are still a lot of questions that need to be resolved and a lot of technical issues to answer.”