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Automating Auckland’s Port – next steps

Ports of Auckland outlines the timetable for completing automation.

Ports of Auckland's automation project is important for the port and for Auckland. It will allow us to deliver more capacity without the need for further reclamation of the Waitematā Harbour. It is a ground-breaking project, and it is difficult – but it will allow the port to meet Auckland's freight needs for several decades.

The contract for the project was signed in November 2016, and despite a delay caused by the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 & 2021, it is now in its final stages.

Currently, Ports of Auckland's container terminal is operating in two parts, an automated operation in the north and a manual operation in the south.

Automating a container terminal while still operating it is no easy task – it's like having heart surgery while you're playing tennis. We're doing it this way because we're a small port. We don't have room to create a new terminal area, automate and test it offline, and then turn it on once all the bugs have been ironed out.

Despite these difficulties – including working through a pandemic and a global supply-chain crisis – we have handled over 100 vessels through the automated yard. We've had some bugs, as expected, and we are still optimising the system, but overall, it is improving.

The next big challenge is full terminal roll-out (FTR). Preparation is well underway, and we are now at a point where we can share with staff, customers, and stakeholders the go-live timetable. We want to ensure that everyone who works at or with the port knows the plan well in advance.

Before we can proceed with FTR we need to meet four key deliverables:

  1. The recent CHASNZ report on health and safety at Ports of Auckland recommended that we complete a safety assurance review for the automation project. While we are confident the automated system has been well built and is safe, the assurance review must be completed before FTR so that all our stakeholders can have the same level of confidence in the system.
  2. The automated part of the terminal must meet an agreed level of productivity.
  3. The automation software must meet an agreed level of stability; and
  4. We must make sure that our own people are ready for the change. This includes ensuring we have we have enough people, and everyone has completed the required training and upskilling.

Once these deliverables have been met, we will give our customers – shipping lines, transporters, and others in the supply chain – eight weeks' notice of the go-live date. This will give everyone time to plan.

On the go-live date we will close the container terminal for 84 hours to prepare the manual part of the terminal for automated operations. Work that will take place at this time includes the removal of old light poles which become redundant at the end of manual operations, configuration of the container stacks for automated operation, configuration of the automated straddle carriers for full-yard operation and much more. Further detail on these works will be provided closer to the time.

At the end of the 84-hour shut-down, operations will resume. We expect there to be a drop in productivity at this point and a period of system optimisation will be required to return productivity to normal levels. To support the operation and our customers through this period, we are increasing our staffing levels to compensate for the expected drop in productivity. Recruitment of new staff and training of existing staff for higher-skilled roles is going well. We are also recruiting a small number of key staff – crane operators – from overseas.

The question that everyone asks is: what day will automation go live? The answer to that is: when everything is ready. We have previously given an indication of when automation would be switched on, but we also gave a commitment that we would not proceed until everything is ready. That's because we have to get this right. We cannot take a risk with the safety and wellbeing of our staff, or with the Auckland and New Zealand supply chain, just to meet a date.

To help stakeholders plan and to give the market reassurance, we will provide regular progress reports on our preparations. These will include:

  1. An indication of when the safety assurance review will be complete.
  2. Metrics for productivity and system stability.
  3. An assessment of our internal readiness.

With this revised plan in place, we look forward to successfully completing this project.


For further information contact:

Matt Ball

GM PR & Communications

M: +64 21 495 645

E: [email protected]