Automated container terminals can process greater volumes, in addition to causing less damage to machines and containers, while being quieter, emission-free and safer for personnel. The TBA company, owned by TU Delft alumnus Yvo Saanen, will supply the operating software.
The port industry is conservative.’ Sitting in his office in Delft, Yvo Saanen knows this from experience. His company, TBA, supplies simulation and operating software to automated container terminals in ports including Rotterdam, Los Angeles and New York.
Business is thriving, and more and more terminals are seeing the advantages of automation, but there is still much ground to be gained. This is hardly surprising. ‘Many leading positions are now held by former dockworkers. These are people who once hauled, manned cranes or captained a ship. They have less affinity with technology and computers.’ Change is in the air, however, and TBA is moving with the times. ‘More and more highly educated people are entering the ranks of management. This is an irreversible trend.’
These people are more inclined to see the advantages of automation, in terms of efficiency, sustainability and lower wage costs, not to mention safety. ‘Worldwide, each year there are hundreds of casualties in container terminals, most of them run over by lorries. Remove your employees from the shop floor and the risks will be reduced dramatically.
Saanen established his company TBA in 1996, together with classmate Klaas Pieter van Til. They started with logistics consultancy. ‘We visited ministries and a number of stakeholders in the Port of Rotterdam. This led to a wide range of small projects. We’d take on anything.’
The two alumni got support from TU Delft with finding assignments: ‘contract funding research they couldn’t handle.’ ‘This was how we got involved in simulation. Mechanical Engineering professor Joan Rijsenbrij used to work for the German company Gottwald, which supplied automated guided vehicles for Maasvlakte. Gottwald needed simulation software and noticed this was something I was good at. That’s how things got started with the port. We began developing a library of simulation models. It became the basis for much of our work worldwide.’ The company has offices in Germany and Romania, and it has purchased two companies in the last three years, bringing the total number of employees to 200. This allows TBA to continue developing new products. To make this happen, the company is shifting to virtual reality. ‘For example, consider someone who performs repairs in the container terminal. He puts on goggles that make him feel like he’s in a 3D environment that simulates everything: vehicles driving around, ships being processed. He can walk around and practise carrying out his tasks in complete safety.’ Saanen is optimistic about the future. ‘I expect the number of automatic terminals to quadruple within a decade. We will have contributed to this in a major way.’
Name: Yvo Saanen
Degree programme: Systems Engineering, Policy Analysis & Management
Company:TBA (in Dutch, Technisch Bestuurskundige Adviesgroep: Consultancy on Systems Engineering, Policy Analysis & Management)
Product:Operating software for automated container terminals
Mission:To make ports safer, cleaner and more efficient
In five years:€40 million