Hamburg’s UNIKAI terminal digitalises the receiving and storage of goods

Container terminal with cranes and ships loading containers. Unveiling Hamburg's O'Swaldkai Terminal: Enhancing Competitiveness through AKIDU Research Project.

The O’Swaldkai terminal is located in the heart of Hamburg. There, UNIKAI Lagerei- und Speditionsgesellschaft operates modern RoRo and ConRo ships and handles general and  project cargo. The AKIDU research project aims to optimise the handling and storage of goods and vehicles so that the terminal’s competitiveness is increased. Project partners are Unikai Lagerei- und Speditionsgesellschaft, AKQUINET and the Hamburger Informatik Technologie-Center (HITeC). The BMDV is funding the network with a total of 1.24 million euros. We talk to Stefan Henke, who is involved in the AKIDU research project as project manager on the AKQUINET side.



Hello Stefan, what is the goal of the AKIDU research project?

In order to meet the increasing demands of the market and to secure and to strengthen the competitiveness of the terminal, today’s manual processes are intended to be digitalised as part of a digitalisation strategy. The project has two focal points. The first is dedicated to the measurement and weighing of goods which are received at the Unikai Terminal. The second focal point aims at the management and optimization of the limited storage and space capacities with a system-supported yard allocation management. AKQUINET is primarily active in this area. In the future, an improved and smart planning – for instance – should enable the terminal to reduce the internal transfers of vehicles, so that not only the efficiency at the terminal increases, but the project also contributes to environmental and climate protection.


How are goods currently measured at the terminal?

It is important to know that many different types of goods are handled at the terminal, including containers and all types of vehicles as well as a wide range of general and project cargo. Today, the physical check  of the condition as well as the measurement and weighing of the goods is largely done manually and is very demanding due to the heterogeneity of the goods. A team of tallymen, as this profession is called, usually measures the goods or vehicles with a tape measure and/or a measure pole. This also requires a lot of experience. How can a crane be stored under deck , for example, where the height is limited? Besides that he measurement is also essential to calculate the tariff for the sea freight. Basically the issue is much more complex than one imagines from the outside.


How is this process to be optimised?

The AKIDU project will investigate how the manual processes of surveying and weighing in particular can be digitalised. The project will elaborate which methods of measurement are suitable for the terminal. For example, camera systems that capture a three-dimensional image as a point cloud, from which the dimensions can then be calculated, come into question. But identification markers, drones and AI technology will also be considered and tested. The greatest potential and most added value is seen in the automation of the measurement process. If, for example, a camera system has identified a vehicle model as known, it can use the stored dimensions without a new measurement.


And when this data is available, what should happen to it?

Ideally, this data is sent automatically to our CHESSON tool, which has been adapted for this purpose. Based on this data and other information about the shipment, the optimal location for the goods in the yard could be calculated immediately. It is important to know that vehicles in particular often change places several times before they are loaded. All this must be included in such calculations so that the processes are optimally designed.


Is CHESSCON already suitable for such planning calculations?

CHESSCON is already a very sophisticated product for terminal planning and visualisation. However, the CHESSCON software needs to be further developed and adjustments are still required – especially for the general cargo area in order to meet the requirements in the AKIDU project. The current software is primarily designed for containers and vehicles. General cargo is usually not standardised and comes with completely different dimensions and weights which leads to specific requirements for the storage and transport.


How will UNIKAI benefit from the AKIDU project?

Basically there are different dimensions: Through the automated measurement of the goods and the direct transfer of the data into the systems, these processes run faster and more error-free. Through optimised yard allocation management, the existing and limited spaces can be used smarter and more efficient. At the same time, costs can be saved by reducing the internal transfers of vehicles and/or travel distances, which is also an environmental factor. Overall, this increases the efficiency of the terminal and thus its competitiveness.


What stage have you reached in the project?

We are at the end of the analysis phase of the actual situation and the requirement specification is also almost done. The project team is defining the target processes and the first measurement tests are taking place. Within the next steps prototypes will be set up and tested. So, there is still a lot to do! We are happy to be part of this exciting research project, and right on our “doorstep”.

Thank you very much for the interview, Stefan!



Further information (in German):



The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Digital Affairs and Transport (BMDV) as part of the Innovative Port Technologies (IHATEC II) funding program.





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