Kombi-Terminal Ludwigshafen – Algorithms ease operations in a large terminal

Operating an indermodal full-service terminal in one of the world’s largest integrated chemical-industry complexes is quite a challenge. Managers in Ludwigshafen are banking on the advantages offered by artificial intelligence to overcome the present limits to their capacity.

20 years ago the firm Kombi-Terminal Ludwigshafen (KTL) started operations in the Kombiverkehrsterminal intermodal facility (KVT), inaugurating what could be called a superlative goods-handling centre. The terminal’s current capacity allows it to load or unload 60 trains a day and 500,000 units a year loaded with chemicals or hazardous goods from every class. The KVT joint venture was founded in 1999 by the chemicals firm BASF, the Swiss intermodal specialists Bertschi and Hupac, and the Germany’s Hoyer and Kombiverkehr. It offers 13 transhipment railtracks (564-620 m each), 13 staging tracks (600-700 m each), and seven rail cranes with a capacity to lift 40 t each.

Push the button

Converting work orders into move jobs used to be carried out manually as was assigning them to the most suitable resource (crane, terminal truck, reach-stacker). Today it is increasingly effected by a built-in optimiser. Optimisation modules from the software firm Inform enable control-room staff to make complex and time-critical decisions in real time, thus contributing substantially to the removal of human error from the equation govern-ing the assignment formula, and allowing control-room operators to focus on handling exceptional loads and on customer services. These tasks are carried out in a compound covering 305,000m2, the size of 42football pitches, in case that makes it easier to visualise.

In practice this means that every truck driver gets an optimised sequence of pick-up/drop-off points in the ter-minal, and every reach-stacker, terminal truck or crane operator receives optimised instructions in real time on what and where to move next.

TOS with TLO

KTL’s terminal operating system (TOS) has an element called the ‘train load optimiser’ (TLO), which provides the system with a great degree of flexibility – which is needed, as yard space at KTL is limited. Under each of the seven cranes there’s a seemingly endless series of bulk and boxes containers stacked alongside the rails three high and in rows of two to six units– with many of them containing chemicals or hazardous goods. To keep terminal operations safe as well as profitable, space must be used as efficiently as possible.

Kai Rauprich, KTL’s deputy operations manager, points out that “today, we just push a button, and Inform’s train load optimiser generates an optimised plan, plus an optimised sequence of move jobs for terminal tractors and cranes.” Rauprich also believes that “Inform’s yard optimiser is the perfect tool for us to achieve this.”

For truck turnaround times there are kiosks with OCR cameras at their entrance gates, where drivers can check in themselves. Furthermore, Inform’s ‘truck scheduler and vehicle optimiser’ provides higher speeds. Last but not least, a ‘crane optimiser’ ensures that the distances cranes cover are also minimised.

Inform’s TOS is a key element of KTL’s digitalisation strategy, providing a central solution for KTL to manage and optimise terminal operations. Billing has also been simplified and reporting is now facilitated by Inform’s Qlik-based BI tool. Rauprich knows that “Inform’s solu-tion is flexible enough to scale with the growth of our business in KTL.” When asked which optimiser he could do without, Rauprich answered “none!”

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