From the InGate to the UnGate: Why are We Waiting?
Automation of truck gates has increased cargo velocity, but as digital technology advances, it's time rethink the gate operation entirely and remove barriers to entry
Who likes waiting? Anyone?
Not me for sure…even the sight of a queue ahead – on the highway, at the airport, wherever - results in an immediate feeling of angst. And most of the key stakeholders in our container supply chain – like truck drivers and the cargo owners they are working for? Strangely, it turns out, they hate waiting, too.
Why are they waiting?
In some cases, the sheer volume of new cargo moving through port communities and our inland supply chain…well, it just creates congestion. However, in many more other cases we are the ones creating (or still relying on) artificial barriers to entry into our container terminals.
Enter the InGate
Gates were designed long ago as well-intentioned points of confirmation where valued employees on the ground could safely verify container condition, collect and input equipment numbers and confirm cargo was approved to pass in and/or out of a facility. As clipboards have given way to technology solutions over the last few decades, considerable portions of this process have been automated. Indeed, Automated Gate Systems (AGS) today can automatically identify equipment, drivers and streamline, if not eliminate, the need for complicated data entry by driver or clerk at a terminal’s gate complex.
The downside of that process? Considerable amounts of technology requiring complicated IT integrations must be placed on top of highly valuable land which should be put to better use – at the least to store containers, if not something that adds even more value to the supply chain, and revenue to the terminal.
And now for the UnGate
For all their bad press, labor strife and fledgling density ratings, many marine terminals on the US West Coast have begun to rethink the cost and complexity of managing inbound and outbound container flows. The path forward appears to be akin to the "pre-check" process used by frequent flyers at airports in the US and elsewhere. In that scenario, the flyer opts into a program, submitting themselves to a background security clearance and for a nominal fee can skip all the time-consuming steps in the airport security check (e.g. removing shoes, laptops, liquids, etc).
In the same manner, several progressive USWC marine terminals and at least one Class 1 Railroad are choosing to leverage a similar "pre-clearance' process whereby online web portals or Port Community Systems (PCS) collect information from shipper/BCO or motor carrier systems about upcoming gate arrivals as soon as the details are known (i.e. truck X is bringing container Y).
The net result? High levels of automation at the in-gate complex, courtesy of the existing investments in AGS (specifically the OCR imaging solutions and truck RFID tags).
What's NOT used in this scenario? The expensive, footprint-stealing gatestands fanned out over up to 25 lanes in some large terminals. In many of these cases, the driver gets instructions on a mobile app, signboard or LCD screen as to where to proceed in the terminal, although plans are already underway to send simple SMS or voice text instructions which may soon give way to turn by turn directions to the phone or in tablet.
CSX Intermodal, for example, has deployed a similar solution, dubbed xGate to over 21 intermodal terminals in just over a year, realizing a dramatic increase in gate velocity. The solution leverages one to two imaging/OCR portals per site and correlates the information collected via the shipcsx.com portal with a driver’s mobile app, which confirms the “pre-advised” information in the lanes. If the reads from the OCR system match what’s been announced, routing instructions are sent to the driver’s smartphone and he or she can enter the terminal straightaway.
“We kept it simple,” said Gary van Tassel, Director of Operations Planning at CSX Terminals. “We built a mobile app that, when combined with our shipcsx portal, streamlines the driver’s visit to our terminals. I think the high rate of adoption shows we hit the mark.”
Systems talking to systems
This UnGate process leverages technology, for sure, but not all the normal parts of the time-consuming AGS and with no requirement for a time-specific appointment. In some cases, it even replaces the need for a driver to stop. Or wait. It also eliminates the need for all the expensive land and infrastructure used to support and operate a glorified cash machine aka the kiosk or gatestand.
In the end, the community portal concept is all about facilitating collection of pre-check information and then collaborating with other systems (AGS, TOS, etc.) at the terminal so they can then confirm, immediately upon arrival, that everything matches up with what was advised beforehand in the shipping order. No interaction from the driver. No data entry from the dispatcher. And no one gets disturbed at the terminal unless there is an exception.
Is any of this mandatory at these USWC marine terminals? No, and it likely never will be. That’s because, just like at the airports, not everyone visits a certain port complex or container terminal more than once. And – at least for now - not everyone WANTS to take extra steps to ensure a faster passage through a gate complex. For that reason, certain lanes will likely always be needed to deal with those outliers. However, the hope is that more and more truckers will begin adopting this new pre-check process and speed their way through the UnGate lanes.
Hopefully, without even stopping…