Press Telegram: How technology is shaping the nation’s busiest seaports

by Michaela Carmichael
September 28, 2015

For years, Ryan Molinaro and Garrett Laudenback have sought to move cargo through the port faster.

The traditional way of moving cargo involves digging through a stack of random containers, a cumbersome process that can take moving three or four boxes to get to the right one.

So the managers at West Basin Container Terminal in San Pedro implemented a Free Flow program, which would allow them to sort cargo bound for one place into a separate pile and let trucks peel a container off the pile and go.

The peel-off program works well if you’re Target or Walmart and can easily set aside 50 containers, but not so much for smaller cargo owners.

“We noticed how difficult it was to get traction with the program; there wasn’t as much participation as we wanted,” said Molinaro, terminal manager for West Basin. “How do we get more free flow?”

Enter Cargomatic, technology that enables a terminal to consolidate the loads so small- and medium-sized cargo owners can participate in the Free Flow program and turn truckers into Uber-type drivers.

“It’s like a taxi line,” said Brett Parker, co-founder of Venice-based Cargomatic. “So when the first container comes off the pile and onto chassis, drivers can be told where to go. The technology can tell them where to go.”

Laudenback and Molinaro reached out to Cargomatic’s founders after hearing a presentation on their technology a year ago and volunteered West Basin as a testing site for the technology.

“Technology can help bridge some of the communication gaps,” said Laudenback, terminal operations manager for West Basin. “We’ve all been using more and more technology here and we’ve seen the improvement.” Cargomatic is one of a handful of technologies being tested or considered at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s busiest seaport complex handling 40 percent of U.S. imports.

“We’re extraordinarily siloed when it comes to the exchange of useful and timely information,” said Michael Christensen, Senior Executive Lead for Supply Chain Optimization for the Port of Long Beach. “Each one of the links in the supply chain all have sophisticated operating systems that don’t talk to each other.”

That’s because stakeholders are reluctant to put out proprietary information. But ports can act as honest brokers who can filter the information and put it out so all others in the supply chain can use the information to plan their part in moving cargo, Christensen said.

Technology has been part of the ports’ movement to improve efficiency throughout the supply chain. Technology includes Quick 180, which acts as a virtual container yard, andFRATIS, which provides drivers a better way to communicate the best time to pick up a container quickly.

Yusen Terminals at the Port of Los Angeles was the testing site for Phase 1 of FRATIS, outfitting 50 Port Logistics Group trucks with technology that allowed both to exchange real-time information on cargo availability. There are now plans for more testing at other terminals.

Cargomatic has garnered interest from other terminals at Los Angeles/Long Beach, as well as other ports in the country, Parker said.

“Technology will help us get there,” said Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles. “Today, there is more creativity and motivation than ever to move our industry forward.”

And as more and more mega ships carrying massive amounts of containers at one time arrive at the twin ports, the industry is beginning to recognize that things need to change to keep up with the rising influx of cargo, officials said.

“We’ve just had the same model for years and the industry really wants change,” Molinaro said. “We didn’t like the answer, ‘Well, that’s just the way it is.’ We need to look at other ways.”


Written by Karen Robes Meeks. 

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