Explore your world
An automated straddle carrier | Courtesy Arcadis
An automated straddle carrier | Courtesy Arcadis

The Port of Los Angeles Becomes a Little More Automated as Robotics Trend Continues

Picture of Peter Ward
Tech Editor
Updated: 18 September 2017

The Port of Los Angeles is overrun with gigantic robots. Large, looming, steel structures move quickly and efficiently, carrying containers 50 humans couldn’t lift, all without a person in sight.

This isn’t the first page of yet another Terminator reboot, this is the TraPac Terminal in L.A., a fully automated port that features automatic stacking cranes and automated straddle carriers to make it super efficient and cost effective.

The automated technology results in less downtime, reduced human error, lower capital, and increased productivity and safety, according to Arcadis, which assisted with construction management services for two phases of the project. The terminal is capable of operating 24 hours a day.

The Port of Los Angeles Automated Terminal from Arcadis on Vimeo.

In the automated system, the ships arrive at the terminal and containers are offloaded by ship-to-shore cranes, which are operated by humans. At this point the robots take over, as auto straddle carriers move the containers around the terminal, and to the stacks, where they’re stored by the automatic stacking cranes. When the trucks come into the port, the containers are loaded automatically as well.

“An automated port can provide up to 30 percent more production,” Arcadis staff resident engineer Matthew St. Germain says. “More containers would equal more revenue for both the ports and the clients. Clients of other cities or towns or ports could come visit us and see the productivity because we have two automated terminals side by side.”

The Port of Los Angeles is one of the biggest ports in the U.S. and has had the largest container value and volume since 2000. The port saw $272 billion worth of units in 2016, and spans 7,500 acres.

Having a robot-run port terminal is a growing trend across the globe. Rotterdam’s port has been automated for decades, and the Qingdao New Qianwan Terminal in China recently became Asia’s first fully automated terminal.

Some industries are more suited to automation than others, and some companies have been faster to embrace the possibilities. Amazon’s fulfillment centers have used advanced robotics for years, and CEO Jeff Bezos is a keen proponent of the technology.

Some worry that increased automation may lead to job losses, but as the cost of robotics decreases and the sophistication of the technology improves, we’ll see plenty more fully automated workplaces in the future.