Wallenius Wilhelmsen uses Wireless Internet to Increase Loading Efficiencies at Southampton Port
January 19, 2005
By Jason Deign and Damon Crane, News@Cisco
Wallenius Wilhelmsen, one of the world's largest ocean transport and logistics specialists, is pioneering a quay-side Internet Protocol (IP) wireless network at its Southampton terminal in the UK.
The network, from industry technology specialist LXE and the world's leader in IP networking, Cisco Systems®, has increased the speed of operations. Wallenius Wilhelmsen expects to make a return on its investment within two or three years.
Furthermore, the company is now well placed to implement further advanced technologies on its IP infrastructure, such as corporate IP telephony, mobile soft phones and streaming video, at a fraction of the traditional cost.
At Southampton, thousands of commercial and light industrial motor vehicles are driven on and off gigantic vessels one by one and parked up in the sprawling dockside bay area, ready for collection by a host of customers.
It is a highly labor-intensive process. "The most important question for us from a cargo logistics standpoint is always: What's the status of loading a vessel? How much cargo is loaded and how much do we have to go?" explains Wallenius Wilhelmsen's IT manager, Phil Gartell.
"Traditionally, we've gotten the answer once the vessel has completed loading and we could compare manifests.
"For some time, we've been investigating solutions that could improve the way we capture cargo loading information in real time so that we can have absolute control over our supply chain."
The old system for monitoring cargo transportation and storage in the port involved vehicles being counted on and off vessels and then allocated parking bays on site, using terminals on the quayside running a batch system that was periodically uploaded.
"Using the batching system did not provide the local port, Global Operations or the customer with the real-time status of a vessel, which meant we were losing a major strategic advantage," explains Gartell.
"Also, the data we did collect was often of questionable accuracy as it depended on when the last batch was uploaded or completed."
Wallenius Wilhelmsen decided to seek out a technology solution for its Southampton operation as part of a wider corporate company transformation program aimed at improving communication between headquarters in Oslo and the various regional ports.
Cisco partner LXE saw the opportunity for a wireless network in the port terminal area.
Dubbed "The RF Company", LXE improves supply chain performance by applying over 30 years' experience developing and integrating rugged mobile computers, advanced Auto-ID technologies, secure wireless networks and delivering a full range of turnkey services.
It also company specializes in producing Internet-enabled mobile terminals for use in harsh and challenging environments.
"We knew the idea of an intelligent terminal that you can carry around on the quayside with IP capability would really appeal to Wallenius Wilhelmsen," explains Derek Harris, LXE account manager.
Wallenius Wilhelmsen is now using 15 MX5 terminals to monitor roll-on, roll-off traffic around the port. Every vehicle passing on and off the vessels contains a barcode which is scanned using the terminal and then allocated a specific storage bay within the port area, in real time.
"Aside from its ability to provide an end-to-end solution, the most obvious and immediate benefit of wireless IP for us was not having to lay down cables," says Gartell. "Ours is a massive site and the disruption and cost of doing that would have been huge."
Another critical factor was that vessels do not always dock at the same birth, so a conventional network would prove very restrictive.
Cisco Aironet wireless local area network (WLAN) technology solved all of these problems by providing a completely wireless network consisting of a series of access points dotted strategically around the port.
"Our Aironet technology provides coverage in the difficult environment of the port in much the same way that mobile operators provide coverage for their phones," explains Cisco's mobility specialist Scott Bain.
"It uses a limited number of radio frequencies configured to operate in a specific area, the end result of which is very consistent coverage with virtually no blind spots."
Ultimately, like all technology projects, the bottom line for Wallenius Wilhelmsen is return on investment.
"Information systems and technology plays a key role in our organization and, like other business areas, approval for new projects is necessary at an executive level," says Gartell.
"So while I firmly believe that you get what you pay for, I also needed to demonstrate to my management team that this solution would deliver the goods financially."
Based on the lessons learned from the Southampton installation, the company expects to implement similar networks in Belgium and Finland in less than half the time.
The Cisco network will enable Wallenius Wilhelmsen to piggyback a raft of value-added services at little extra cost.
An application like IP telephony alone could save a pan-European company like Wallenius Wilhelmsen thousands of dollars in phone bills.
Looking ahead, vessels could be fitted with either wireless IP or satellite broadband networking technology to enable them to communicate seamlessly with the port.
Gartell says: "Wallenius Wilhelmsen is very keen to keep pushing ahead with this technology and we're quite open about the fact that the LXE/Cisco team has worked very well together. As long as they continue to deliver, we'll use them for all our future installations."
Nigel Nawacki, Cisco Systems marketing manager for Seaports/Maritime & 3PL Solutions in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa), adds: "By unleashing mobility and converged Internet IP applications right across the loading yard, W&W is reducing risk and improving load activities.
"Clearly these improvements give end customers increased satisfaction and the knowledge that their shipping and cargo needs are in the best possible hands. Internet enablement has long been seen as a way to improve the fluidity of supply chain industries and this is a clear example."
Jason Deign is a freelance journalist located in Barcelona, Spain. Damon Crane is a writer based in Brighton, UK.
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