Container crane reshuffle at Fergusson Container Terminal

A recent project at the Ports of Auckland has seen two of its smaller container cranes relocated from one end of the wharf to the other to ready the port for bigger ships and for automation. By Mary Searle Bell.

FERGUSSON CONTAINER TERMINAL has five cranes – two older and smaller positioned at the end of the wharf, and three larger and newer closer in. They are kept busy loading and unloading ships as they call into the city.

The three newer cranes can load and unload up to 19 container rows deep, while the two older cranes have a reach of just 16 container rows. As the port is soon expecting larger – wider – ships to start using the port, they wanted to reorder the cranes for maximum ease and efficiency when servicing them.

The cranes move on rails along the wharf, and consequently they can only move between each other. Therefore, repositioning them is not a simple task.

In late May, the two older and smaller cranes were lifted off their rails so the three newer and larger cranes could be positioned at the northern end of the terminal, where they will be able to load and unload bigger ships.

Ports of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson says the port currently has a capacity of 1,000,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) but that is not enough for our population growth.

“More people in Auckland means more imports and more shipping. This work is one part of our investment in the automation of our container terminal which will meet that growing demand. This phase of automation gives us enough capacity to handle the freight for an extra million people in Auckland – 30 to 40 years of capacity.”

Automation will see the use of Autostrads in the terminal stacks. This allows containers to be stacked one tier higher, meaning more containers on the same footprint. This will increase the capacity of the terminal to around 1.7 million TEUs.

Operations engineer John Miller says the repositioning of the container cranes will make it easier for the port to handle bigger ships.

“We have a long wharf in Auckland, and as you get further in there’s another wharf alongside which presents a clash for bigger ships,” John explains.

“We want to keep the large vessels at the northern end of the wharf where there’s more room – they’re bigger and harder to position.”

The relocation of the smaller cranes was done by the port’s engineering team, along with two specialists from crane manufacturer ZPMC, all without disrupting the port’s operation or without turning away a single customer.

Although smaller, the two ZPMC cranes weigh in at 1100 tonnes each and have a span of 30 metres between their legs.

The relocation saw the northern-most smaller crane lifted off its rails onto skids and pushed back into the container stack. The remaining four cranes were then driven past before the first crane was pushed back onto the rails and driven 600 metres to the southern end of the wharf. With a top speed of 45 metres a minute, this journey took around 13 minutes.

With the first of the smaller cranes shifted, the process was repeated for the second smaller crane.

The team did as much as they could during the day for safety reasons, and early evening work was assisted by lights. In all, the relocation took about a week, says John. Two days of prep work were followed by about two-and-a-half days of moving.

Weather was also pertinent to the project because, while the cranes can withstand storms when on their rails, when they’re off they can only tolerate light winds of less than 25 knots.

Tony acknowledged the highly skilled engineering team that carried out the project.

“We run a very busy terminal, so getting this job done quickly and with minimum disruption to shipping was essential.

“It’s a bit like doing knee surgery at half-time and then getting your player back on the field for the second half.”

Watch a video of the crane.

This article first appeared in Contractor July 2017.

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