HHLA implements machine learning for the first time to increase productivity

10 July 2020

Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA) is one of the first ports worldwide to develop solutions for its Hamburg container terminals that use machine learning (ML) to predict the dwell time of a container at the terminal. The first two projects have now been successfully integrated and implemented into the IT landscape at Container Terminals Altenwerder (CTA) and Burchardkai (CTB).

Angela Titzrath, Chairwoman of the Executive Board of HHLA, emphasised the importance of ML for the company in her welcoming address at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) that is taking place in Shanghai from 9 to 11 July. “Advancing digitalisation is changing the logistics industry and our port business with it. Machine learning solutions provide us with many opportunities to increase productivity and capacity rates at the terminals.” The HHLA Chairwoman announced that further uses for ML were bound to be identified.

The productivity of automated block storage at CTA will be increased by means of an ML-based forecast. The goal is to predict the precise pickup time of a container. Processes are substantially optimised when a steel box does not need to be unnecessarily restacked during its dwell time in the yard. When a container is stored in the yard, its pickup time is frequently still unknown. In future, the computer will calculate the probable container dwell time. It uses an algorithm based on historic data which continually optimises itself using state-of-the-art machine learning methods.

A similar solution is applied at the CTB, where a conventional container yard is used alongside an automated one. Here too, ML supports terminal steerage by allocating optimised container slots. In addition to the dwell time, the algorithm can help calculate the type of delivery. The machine learning solutions can predict whether a container will be loaded onto a truck, the train, or a ship much more accurately than can be determined from the reported data.

A significant positive effect can already be seen at both terminals since the containers are stored based on their predicted pickup time and must therefore be moved less frequently. The projects were driven forward by teams from HHLA and its consulting subsidiary HPC Hamburg Port Consulting.


Container yard at HHLA Container Terminal Altenwerder. Image by HHLA.

HHLA Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG