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Enhancing terminal productivity through Artificial Intelligence: MultiAgent System Approach by Larry Henesey Blekinge Institute of Technology

Ports are more than just Piers! ~Prof. Dr. Willy Winklemans, ITMMA & Flemish Harbour Commission.

Abstract The management of container terminal systems is a decentralised, poorly structured, complex, and changeable problem domain. Problems exist in measuring port productivity due to the dependence as to which aspects of port operations and actors are to be considered (Persyn 1999). The proposal is that a MultiAgent System (MAS) approach would offer port or terminal managers a suitable tool to control, coordinate, improve productivity, and manage the container terminal domain. There exists a variety of inputs and outputs, actors, intrinsic characteristics and a large number of combinations of factors influencing the output that makes it quite difficult to conduct analysis. In the suggested approach, MAS will simulate the processes with in the terminal domain by mapping the objects and resources that are used in the terminal. These agents will be searching, coordinating, communicating, and negotiating with other agents in order to complete their specified goal. The results from the MAS simulation would behave as an intelligent decision support system assisting terminal managers. Keywords: Container terminals, information communities, logistics, and information technology, Multi- Agent System (MAS)

1950s there has existed the formal notion that computers could be more like humans. Much has changed over the last few years such as computers being faster and smaller. Also, importantly has been the development of computer languages based on objectoriented language (C++, Java,) and the Internet. In this sub-area of Distributed Artificial Intelligence (DAI) lies a new paradigm, a converging technology called agent or multi-agent. Agents can be seen as a system capable of interacting independently and effectively within its environment in order to accomplish given or self- generating task(s) (Davidsson 1996). The use of MAS as a metaphor in container terminals is valid and it supported by previous research, notably the following groups are doing extensive research in incorporating MAS in container terminals: 1. IDSIA- Instituto Dalle Molle di Studi sull Intelligenza Artificiale, Lugano, Switzerland. 2. UPV- Universisdad Politcnica de Valencia, Valencia, Spain. 3. Container World Imperial College, London, UK. 4. MALT Multi-Agent Logistics and Transportation Blekinge Institute of Technology, Karlshamn, Sweden The MAS approach is considered as a viable approach to container terminal manageme nt due to the complexity in finding a solution, because performance of terminals are determined by a variety of inputs, outputs, actors, intrinsic characteristics and external influences. The managing of ports is quite complex and crucial to the efficient and effective operations that are increasingly demanded. For the vessel owners it is paramount that the vessel is quickly turn-around, meaning loaded discharged as quickly as possible. An average container liner spends 60% of its time in port and has a cost of $1000 per hour or more (Rebollo et al. 1998). To shorten the time spent by vessels, terminal operators need to spend

1. Introduction Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not to be considered as magic. This area of computer science is relatively old, since

special emphasis in resource allocation, receipt of information before vessel berths in order to reduce the $45000 stay of a third generation containership or $65000 of large vessel at port (Kia et al. 2000). The terminal operators are obliged to provide a service that involves much more than crane moves per hour. It is in this decentralized problem solving area that gives rise to the idea or approach to MAS. The MAS approach to the shipping of containers, would allow each agent to find their destinations through the array of networks and systems that make up the container terminal simulation. The simulation would be the basis of the decision support system. An Event-Driven port system can be viewed as the next evolutionary step for port systems. Much progress in the fields of AI in the last few years has yielded several new concepts that can be utilized in a port system. The use of AI in ports or terminals has already taken root in some parts of the world, such as Singapore. A family of 10 expert systems (ES), a subarea of AI assists the port of Singapore to plan the optimal use of the port resources, which serve 800 vessels daily, reduces the stay in the port from days to hours (Turban 1999). A number of uses exist where agents have been applied to such areas as air traffic control, information retrieval, district heating, and recently to SouthWest Air Cargo operations (Wakefield 2001). The application of combinatorial optimization techniques has had little success in analyzing and increasing the performance of container terminals (Hayuth et al. 1994). The complexity of the real port terminal requires non- linear modeling quite always, so the resulting models are not suitable for effects of superimposition (Hayuth et al. 1994); due to these reasons isolated planning normally provides approximated results and requires to be compensated by the experience of human planners. Much attention has focused to computer simulation; modeling of agents

would be natural. Methods of modelling and simulating are essential elements in designing and evaluating transport systems, especially container terminal systems. A multi-agent based simulation (MABS) is one of the most versatile tools in port planning as it can incorporate the dynamic interplay (thousands of possible scenarios!) between the many resources/agents in the port.

2. The problem description Currently, there exists an estimated 15 million containers and this figure is projected to continue increasing for the next 10 years at 8.5% (Containerisation April 2002). Ship lines are aware of this growth as can be seen by the huge investments in yard construction of mammoth container ship that can transverse the oceans at 25 knots, whilst laden with 6000, 7000, and 8000 or more containers. Ports and terminal operators are also cognizant of the coming changes and perhaps threats if they do not keep up with the pace of change. Ports such as Antwerp, Rotterdam, and Hamburg are expanding their terminals or creating new terminals to accommodate the projected rise in number of containers. The planned container terminal investment in Europe (1999-2001) is approximately 208 million Euros (Wiegmans et al. 2002). Technology such as agents may be able to assist terminals in increasing capacity and performance without spending large investments on terminal expansion and equipment. The software` rather than the hardware of port development will be the determining factor in future trends in port competition vis--vis terminal management (Winklemans 2002). Congestion and increasing cargo dwell times is a common scene in many of the worlds ports. Shipping lines are unconcerned if there is a poor terminal productivity, as long as their vessel sails on time. Terminal operators are trying to

reduce or stabilize the cost per ton/teu handled and thus maximise profit. Aim is to efficiently use the resources available during the operating time that the vessel is occupying the berth. There lacks highlevel information system architecture with the freight systems. Competitive pressures, uncertainty about technology, and the sheer complexity of the industry holds development of an architecture and data interchange standards that define how and with whom information is shared back. The industry has relied on a patchwork of standards imposed (often ad hoc). Complications in port systems arise in having the various computer systems work together. Currently, ports are seeking better ways in improving their productivity and offering logistical solutions to shippers of cargo. No longer are ports handling just cargo, but more and more they are becoming information handlers 3. What are Agents and Multi-Agents? An agent can be viewed as an autonomous computer program that can modify its behavior based on experiences and is capable of interacting independently and effectively in its environment. The agent can be alone or embodied, such as in the case of a Mars Rover (Davidsson 1996). A Multi-Agent System (MAS) is a collection of agents co-operating with each other in order to fulfil common and individual goals. In MAS different agents may have different roles and also individual goals. The agent- like technology applications that most are familiar are webcrawlers, software programs that scan the Internet for information. Such examples of MAS could be the organization of containers, straddle carriers coordinating with yard cranes and quay cranes in order to optimize the resources in the total terminal operations process. 4. Container terminal system model

In building a model of the system, a set of operations is taken from the various sub systems that exist within the terminal domain. In figure 1, the four main subsystems/operations in a container terminal system are illustrated; (1) ship-toshore, (2) transfer cycle, (3) storage, and (4) delivery/receipt. The two subsystems that are constantly plagued with congestion and bottlenecks are the (2) transfer cycle and the (4) delivery and receipt area (also known as the gate).

Figure 1. A container terminal system and the four main subsystems:

Ship To Shore Operation

Transfer Cycle


Delivery / Receipt

Loading and Discharging

Throughput thru gates.

4.1 Operations 4.1.1 Ship to Shore system The loading/ discharging of a vessel requires a better-regulated systems approach. One area where terminal operators are experiencing problems is reducing the unproductive and expensive container moves in a terminal. The number of cranes used varies between 2- 4 on containerships with about 3 straddle carriers serving them. The vessel-planning program will work with the load list provided by the ship line. 4.1.2 Transfer system Containers are moved from apron to the storage area to be stacked or placed in an area for dispatch. Depending on the operations either yard tractors or straddle carriers are usually employed in this operation. Transtainers are further employed

in stacking or moving containers around the storage area. 4.1.3 Container Storage system Transtainers are employed in the sorting and management of containers in the terminal. A yard-planning program is employed in this system that will use stacking algorithms in assigning a space for the container till it is loaded or dispatched/picked-up. 4.1.4. Delivery and Receipt system The interface to other modes of transport lies in this system. The managing of the gate is to obtain information of containers coming into the terminal so as to be properly physically handled till loading. Controlling this access to the terminal is important in that it affects other parts of the container terminal system. The data collected; container number, weight, port of destination, hazmat, reefer, shipper, ship line, and seal number are used in deciding where to place containers for storage and later for loading.

in relationship to costs and profit. The goal of the agent would be to maximize profit. Objects to be mapped as agents: Objects in the terminal Quaylength:1,180 meters. (no. of berths) ~ 1-5 ShipAgents Cranes: 6 50/73 T super panamax ~ 6 Agents 2 50/73 T super post panamax~ 2 Agents 1 53 T Gottwald crane ~ 1 Agent Transtainers ~ 12 Agents Straddle carriers ~ 30 Agents Containers ~64000Agents Higher- level agents: Coordinating Vessel Planning Agent Container Yard Planning Agent Resource Planning Agent Visual Gate System Agent 5.1. Agent descriptions 5.1.1 Crane Agents Modeled as agents in that they have local knowledge of operations at the quay. Through sensors and precepts, can communicate information to both Ship Planner and Yard Planner. 5.1.2 Straddle Carrier Agents Modeled as autonomous agents that are to communicate with the yard planner, which in turns communicates with straddle carriers. Goal is to fetch containers from the container storage system. Straddle carriers must avoid each other and use the quickest path to the crane so as to optimize the crane moves per hour. At the apron, straddle carriers will pick containers discharged off the vessel and communicate with yard planner, in turn will communicate with transtainer for appropriate space. 5.1.3 Transtainer Agents Modeled as an autonomous agent. Communicates with straddle carrier and Yard Planner agent so as to optimize moves made and minimize the number of times a container is handled in the stack. Importance of correct stacking is paramount.

5. Multi-agent Architecture The architecture of the simulation is to map the objects in the port with simulation agents. The following model is an example of a terminal in Northern Europe. The model would be developed from the objects required and physical characteristics of the terminal obtained in order to complete 1-4 operations in the terminal. The agents will have to interact with other agents that may have different goals. The agents may first communicate their positions within the terminal to each other in order to determine individual goals or the terminals objective. The major features of the negotiation will be the language used by the terminal agents and the decision process that each agent would use. The agents employed should not waste resources. One possible mechanism that would be incorporated to assist in communication and organization would be the use of computational economies. Whereby terminal actions would be defined

5.1.4 Ship Agents Every ship arriving generates an agent. The load list and discharge list will be made by the agent. Bay plans will be generated as well as the instructions from the ship line. Each vessel has a set schedule and must compete for resources (berth, cranes, gangs). Ship agents will communicate with the resource planner to establish a work scheme. 5.1.5 Gate Agent Provides information to the Yard Planner and Ship Planner of containers entering the terminal. Instructs carrier terminal area to park for loading or unloading. Gate Agent acts as an interface to other possible actor agents (i.e. Rail agent or lorry agent) in dispatching containers. 5.1.6 Resource Planner This is a computer program that is imputed in real time with the resources that are currently available. Resources include the equipment and the labor. The program is wrapped as an agent and communicates with ship planner and yard planner on possible down-times and availability of labor. 5.1.7 Ship Planner This is a modeled agent that would wrap around an existing ship planning software program. It would allow the ship planning to have decision-making ability and communicate to other agents in order to complete the goal, to load the vessel according to the established scheme. 5.1.8 Yard Planner The yard planning software program is wrapped by an agent and given autonomy as like the ship planner. It would have a goal to optimize the capacity of the yard with minimizing the number of resources and moves (costs). 5.1.9. Container Agents The container entering and departing the terminal would be inheriting characteristics

given to them by the shipper and the information that they contain is critical. The container agents would allow each container to find its destination through the array of networks and systems that make up the container terminal. The model in the simulation is an abstract of the real world processes to be simulated. The multi agent system simulation (MASS) is then an implementation of the model to allow the study of the processes without the need to actually perform them. The MASS model provides the opportunity: 1. to allow Vessel Planners, and Yard Planners to optimize the holistic Container Terminal System through the use of what- if scenarios, 2. to validate the model prior to simulation implementation, thus reducing the possibility of errors, and 3. comparing the simulation to the experience of Terminal Managers with documented specification for verification.

6. Conclusion The MAS approach is presented as a valid concept that can be employed in container terminals. The uses of mathematical models and combinatorial optimisation tools have not been very successful due to the complexity and dynamisms of the problem. The MAS approach would provide a framework that could represent the multiple and complex interactions that are taking place in the container terminal. The MAS would simulate the objects in the terminal in order to assist terminal managers and would be the basis of an intelligent decision support system. Currently research in this area is in its infancy, but interest is growing fast. The work carried out by Imperial College is the most ambitious to date, where multiple ports and actors will be mapped as agents. 5

The problem of achieving port efficiency and optimising port performance may be achieved by simulation. The goal in the future would be to conduct a more thorough analysis of a major container terminal. The knowledge mapping of the several actors that make the key decisions would be carried out, as well as the processes that they invoke. An analysis of the bottlenecks within the port would be critically analysed. The use of real data is paramount to this research in order to test and validate the study.

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