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Automation FAQ

​​Ports of Auckland Automation Transformation

Updated Monday 9 August 2021


Our container terminal will become the first in New Zealand to use automated straddle carriers to load and unload trucks and operate the container yard. Below are a list of questions and answers about how automation may affect customers. If you have any additional questions, please email [email protected]

Click here to watch this simulation video showing the automated straddles in action.

​The below FAQ is not an exhaustive list of questions that we have had or challenged ourselves to answering. If you do have any further questions, please do not hesitate to raise via [email protected] so we can update this list of FAQ's in an effort to keep all customers and stakeholders informed.

Thank you.​ 

General Questions

Q. Why is POAL introducing automation?

A. Our container terminal currently has the capacity to handle 900,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) a year and we already experience over-capacity during peak periods. POAL has made a commitment to Aucklanders to make no further reclamation into the harbour. What we can do is harness technology to increase capacity through stacking containers higher and closer together. Automation will enable us to meet the future needs of Auckland's growing population.​

Q. Will the port be able handle bigger ships now they have bigger cranes?

A. Yes.


Q. What size vessels can the new northern berth take?

A. The overall berth length of the new berth is 300 metres long and we have 670 metres of berth length on the existing terminal berths. These berths can handle vessels much larger than we have calling at POAL today. Vessel size is dictated by length, beam (width) and the required depth of water to transit the channel or berth alongside. POAL is ensuring that it can cater for much larger vessels in the future, almost twice as large, as we see today by catering for these various dynamic factors.  


Q. Will automated straddles operate under the cranes?

A. No. The more complex operations under the crane will continue to be performed by manually driven straddles.


Q. Are the new cranes automated?

A. No. They will be manually operated.


Q. How many automated straddles (A-Strads) will there be?

A. 27  


Q. Are all straddles going to be automated?

A. We will retain 24 manual straddles for servicing the vessel cranes - the seaward side operations - and in the out-of-gauge (OOG) – oversized cargo – truck lanes.


Q. How are automated straddles controlled?

A. They are controlled by software called TEAMS which tells them what moves to make and what programmed route to take. They use a type of localised GPS system called LOCATA for accurate positioning of their own and other straddles. They also have sensors which ensure they can avoid obstacles. It is super cool German technology. Click here to watch a short video.


Q. Do the automated straddles twin lift?

A. No. Currently only our manual straddles can twin lift; twins will be paired up in both the interchange area and under the cranes.


Q. When is automation scheduled to start?

A. The project will be implemented in four stages, with the first underway. Each stage has milestones which must be met before the project can progress to the next stage. The milestones are based on safety, reliability, productivity, and operational readiness. Safety is paramount. The stages are: 

  • ​Systems acceptance testing 
  • Automation of part of Fergusson Terminal North Berth 
  • Automation of all of Fergusson Terminal North Berth 
  • Full automation of Fergusson Container Terminal (go-live). 

Q. When will the terminal be fully automated?

A. A detailed project review has found it is realistic and achievable to complete the project and go-live by late March 2022. However, this timing could impact existing import volume demand and the peak export season and cause further supply chain disruption. For this reason, we won’t give a go-live date until later in the project. If we feel that going live in March would jeopardise the 2022 export season, we will delay it. There is still a risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in New Zealand, especially from the Delta variant. A COVID-19 outbreak could delay the project. ​​

Click here to watch a video about the automation roll-out plan.


Q. Will there be teething problems with automation?

A. We are expecting there will be challenges. With a project of this size and change to the business it is inevitable that we will experience challenges at Go Live. Some may have an impact and others might be just like background noise. Extensive testing is carried out for every stage of this project to minimise risk and we are confident that any teething problems will be minimal. We have contingency plans to ensure that they will see us through any teething problems that may occur.


Container Pick-ups (Imports) and Drop-offs (Exports)


Q. Will more VBS bookings be available during peak times?

A. We expect availability of VBS bookings to be similar to what we have today. Extra bookings are made available at peak times; however we will continue to need to use the full 24 hours / 7 days a week of operations of at the terminal to ensure an efficient truck exchange.

As the processes become embedded, we can expect some optimisation of the system.


Q. Will there be an increase in truck turn-around times?

A.  Truck turn times are expected to remain similar to the current times.  During phase one of Go Live, where the northern terminal is operated by automation, there may be an impact on some loads where containers from both ends of the terminal are required. An exchange area within the terminal will be used to be able to service the one truck through one lane. This means POAL will do the connecting of containers too/from the trucks via our side of the operations.


Q. What is Lane Assignment? 

A.  Is a part of the Gate Operations process whereby after entering the Fergusson main gate trucks then register at another kiosk further into the terminal which specifies a specific truck grid lane for the truck to go to. Each truck is assigned a free lane to be serviced. This improves productivity and ensures all lanes are used to the fullest potential.


Q. Can trucking companies book dual slots (one for an export drop-off and one for an import pick-up)?

A. Yes, and they are encouraged to do so.


Q. Will truck drivers be able to manage the new system?

A.  Many of the changes for truck drivers have been rolled out slowly over the past year. Comprehensive training for truck drivers is starting from 18th December 2019 and all drivers will be assessed prior to Go Live.


Q. Will truck drivers be safe?

A. Truck drivers will also receive comprehensive training prior to Go Live. The system will not allow a driver in the area at the same time as an A Strad.  For a short period during and after Go-live extra additional POAL staff will be allocated to assist truck drivers.  


Q. Will there be less "lost" containers?

A. Yes, this is an issue we have today due to some of the manual processes in validating where a container is placed in the terminal. We are  will be using optical character recognition (OCR) on all the cranes and ultimately at Road and Rail entry points into the terminal to read container numbers as they discharge or load. Any movement by an A- Strad is systematically controlled which will reduce human intervention. 


Q. Are there any changes to export booking processes?

A. No. Except for loads wider than 3.5m (out of gauge (OOG)). Refer to the Exception Management (OOG and DMV) section below for more details.

Internal Port Moves

Q. If my container needs an MPI inspection, how long will it take?

A. The process is similar to now. We don't anticipate any changes. 


Q. Will grain taping still take place? Will there be any change to cost?

A. Automation will not impact the grain taping process. The carrier/customer notifies POAL prior to the vessel arriving, the containers will be moved to the grain taping area. Once released, you can make a VBS booking will be required to pick-up. There will be no change to cost in the immediate future.


Q. How will on-wharf fumigation take place? What time frames will we work to?

A. There is no change from the current process.


Q. If my container needs a Customs X-ray, how long will it take?

A. There is no change from the current process.


Q. Will the internal shuttle moves between Multi Cargo and Terminal change? 

A. The tranship moves between MC and the terminal utilise an exchange area. Both Multi Cargo (MC) and the Terminal use the same container tracking data, so we know where the container is and when it needs to be moved onto another vessel. Transfers to and from MC and the Terminal follow the same process. No change to current time frames.


Out of Gauge and Hazardous containers








Q. Will the receival and delivery of over-height (O/H) and over-dimension (O/D) process change?

A. Trucks will be assigned to one of the manual straddle lanes to load or unload the cargo onto the truck.


Q. How will Hazardous DMV containers be picked-up or dropped-off?

A. The same process as currently. The driver will report to Drivers Assist (as they do now). The truck will be escorted onto the Terminal via the DMV gates at the northern end of the truck grid.


Q. How will a truck driver report a damaged container, while in the truck lane?

A. As they do now, they will contact control via the intercom at the truck lane.


Q. Are the current protocols to minimise containers dwelling longer than necessary going to change?

A. No. Dwell times and tariff demurrage and storage rates will apply.  Hazardous (DG) and Reefer containers must be prioritised.


Q. Will there be any changes to the way empty containers are dropped off or picked up?

A. There will be no change to the way empty containers are received or delivered as a result of Automation. ​