In many intermodal freight terminals, additional costs, time delays and quality deficiencies are often due to the wrong positioning of Intermodal Transport Units (ITUs), and the inefficient management of personnel and vehicles dedicated to the moving of ITUs. One of the prerequisite conditions for improving the overall efficiency of the terminal operations is the automated provision of real-time error-free information about the position of all stocked ITUs and moving vehicles inside the terminal.
The PRECISE IT objectives were to set up and test a demonstration system for the automatic location of ITUs and vehicles inside intermodal terminal areas, in particular for maritime container terminals.
GPS (Global Positioning Systems) and precise acoustic systems were selected, in the preliminary stage of assessing system requirements, as the most interesting technologies for the implementation of ITU location systems. GPS has already been used for precise location systems, but it was not clear at the beginning of the project what kind of results could be obtained for acoustic technologies. In particular, the demonstration system in the La Spezia Container terminal put most efforts into finding a solution for reach stackers, which are the most flexible vehicles inside a terminal and often are working in critical conditions from the point of view of position measurement.
GPS integrated with a dead reckoning system gave excellent results all over the stacking area and met the accuracy and availability requirements for the position measurement. The acoustic positioning system was found feasible in a real-life environment, even if the accuracy and availability requirements were not completely met. On the other hand, the combined use of GPS and acoustic systems, even if easy to implement from the technical point of view, did not increase in a significant manner the accuracy and availability of the automatic location system to justify the costs.
A Position Information Server can be used to take care of all the operations dealing with the management of position data. This allows for a functional separation between the determination of the position information and the management of this information for the purpose of terminal operations (within the operator's information system).
The potential customers are mainly maritime terminal operators with a significant traffic volume and high automation level. Both systems (GPS and acoustic) have to be improved before they can be put on the market. The improvement of the systems will incur additional costs that will be supported only in presence of a real interest from the customers.
While automatic location systems are likely not to be cost-effective for the inland terminal, they will be necessary to increase the competitiveness and efficiency of maritime terminals, since more efficient and reliable operations result in lower costs and better quality of service to the customers. Positioning information also has the potential for added automation and additional uses.