De positieve impact van de Barge Planning Optimizer op de planning van de West-Brabant Corridor

The NexusZ/Modality Barge Planning Optimizer (hereinafter Optimizer) is a tool that uses an algorithm that allows for 70% to 90% of containers transported by barge to be automatically planned. This enables barge planners to schedule more containers in less time, focus more on exceptions and more quickly anticipate developments. The planners of the West-Brabant Corridor have already been able to experience the benefits of working with the Optimizer in practice. In this article, Oosterhout Container Terminal, part of the West-Brabant Corridor, discusses the most significant outcomes of the implementation of the Optimizer.

Collaboration ensures more streamlined container handling
The West-Brabant Corridor (hereinafter WBC) was launched in January 2018 as a collaboration between Combined Cargo Terminals Moerdijk, BTT Multimodal Container Solutions and Oosterhout Container Terminal (hereinafter OCT). Modality has developed a dedicated system for the WBC. Using smart EDI interfaces, the various partners use this system to book containers, whereby local customer data remains shielded. According to OCT, this high degree of privacy also contributes to the collaboration’s success. Furthermore, the partnership allows the individual participants to enter into fixed window agreements with the deepsea terminals. This ability to use fixed windows provides the greatest improvement regarding the efficient handling of container flows per barge. Despite this improvement, parties are still frequently communicating with one another in late 2021 though. The planners of the various partners are constantly on the phone to coordinate the distribution of the available barge capacity. Another challenge they face in terms of central planning is the fact that each party has its own specific working method and list of priorities. This is where the Optimizer comes into play.

Benefits of Barge Planning Optimizer for the West-Brabant Corridor
Before further exploring the implementation process of the Optimizer, let’s jump back to the present. At the WBC, the various planning departments have been working with the Optimizer for almost a year already; according to OCT, this has resulted in the following benefits:

  • The know-how that was previously stored in the minds of the planners has been recorded in systems. As a result, procedures and working methods are now transparent.
  • The central WBC planning is faster and more efficient and requires far less communication. This makes it much easier to combine the WBC planning with the local planning.
  • More containers can be planned using the same number of employees.
  • The training time for planners has been significantly shortened.
  • The number of manual actions has been reduced to a minimum.
  • Because planners can schedule further ahead, bottlenecks can be identified sooner.
  • Working with the Optimizer ‘compels’ the various participants to provide higher-quality data.

For example, the various procedures and rules of thumb have now been recorded in the Optimizer and different priority categories are used. At OCT, they notice they have more room to handle the local planning and the team can schedule more containers using the same number of people. According to OCT, training a planner used to take six months. With the introduction of the Optimizer, the role of planner has shifted more towards that of system operator and the company has been able to reduce the training time to just two months. To achieve these results, good preparation is key. In the following paragraph, OCT talks about creating the right conditions to successfully implement the Optimizer.

The Barge Planning Optimizer ensures more efficient barge planning

The Barge Planning Optimizer ensures more efficient barge planning

Preparing the implementation of the Barge Planning Optimizer
The various participants in the WBC first discuss the possibilities of the Optimizer in March 2022. Because a collaboration between multiple parties is involved, the preliminary phase takes longer than when implementing for a single party. Most of the preparation time is spent mapping the different working methods of each terminal. Expertise that for the most part used to reside in the minds of the planners now needs to be clearly defined in procedures. OCT warns against underestimating the difficulty of teaching the system to think like a planner. For example, unanticipated knock-on effects need to be taken into account. One example OCT mentions is the option to ‘lock’ containers within the system. When containers are scheduled for collection and the PIN codes have not yet been received, the system normally sees these containers as ‘not in order’ and they are not scheduled. However, if the planner is quite certain that the PIN codes will arrive on time, it is possible to ‘lock’ these containers; even though they do not yet meet the correct requirements, the containers can still be planned. OCT states that it is easy to underestimate just how many factors can potentially affect the planning process and that it can sometimes be useful to include certain contingency measures. Furthermore, the full automation of planning is complicated by the many exceptions, such as customer wishes and continuously changing market conditions.

The implementation process of the Barge Planning Optimizer
The preliminary phase ultimately takes a year. In the spring of 2023, the first version goes live. A start is made with the automated planning of containers for one single deepsea terminal. During this phase, planners again encounter various challenges. It becomes apparent that the quality of the data used in the system is often substandard. For example, date fields are not always updated, and planners have to plan further in advance than they are used to. The system is expanded with additional date fields and ‘error notifications’ are built into the system to force employees to work more carefully and pay attention to the quality of the data they enter. The various participants within the WBC use the summer of 2023 to improve the quality of the data, adjust working methods and make the system more ‘foolproof’. Once the data quality – and therefore also the quality of the automatic planning – has noticeably improved, the number of containers that is automatically planned is slowly scaled up. Plenty of time is taken for this as well. Before planners allow a system to take over part of their work, they must first feel fully confident that the system can generate a 100% reliable planning. This confidence is now there and about 70% of the containers are planned automatically. The remaining 30% often involve shipments that must be collected or returned outside the fixed windows and for which separate calls must be created.

The positive impact of the Barge Planning Optimizer at the West-Brabant Corridor
Although OCT states that it is difficult to express the positive impact of the Optimizer in numbers, they notice clear improvements in several areas. As mentioned earlier, planners spend less time scheduling containers for the WBC and have more room to focus on local planning. They can also anticipate ‘problem cases’ and exceptions sooner. Moreover, the training time for planners has been significantly shortened and a large part of the internal know-how has been secured in systems. According to OCT, the quality of the data input is crucial to the successful implementation of the Optimizer. In addition, the sheer number of factors and exceptions that must be taken into consideration when mapping the planning process and recording it in systems should not be underestimated. Are these conditions met? Then using the Optimizer can ensure that 70% to 90% of containers can be planned automatically.

Would you like more information about the automatic planning of containers using the Barge Planning Optimizer? Our sales department will gladly discuss the possibilities! Please contact our sales department directly via, +31 (0) 180 531 035 or watch our video WBC Barge optimizer – Modality – Nexusz on Vimeo.

Other posts

  • Automatiseringsoplossingen aan de waterzijde
    8 February 2024

    Automation on the waterside; efficient communication between barge operator, shipping line, shipper and terminal

  • Handlings minimaliseren door automatisering stacking rules
    19 December 2023

    Terminal optimisation through automation stacking rules

  • Terminal trekker passeert OCR-portaal
    28 September 2023

    The three benefits of OCR integration at inland terminals