The application of semi-automated gantry cranes in empty container depots
Purpose – The storage and supply of empty containers is a bottleneck in the global supply chain. In the wake of increasing containerisation and globalisation, improving efficiencies of processing within empty container depots can realise efficiencies. The overall objective of this research project is to propose an efficient and effective solution for reducing waste in an empty container depot using a crane. The issue of applying gantry cranes to empty container depots will cover both an operational and a strategic evaluation of the following research questions: 1) What are the potential solutions for a specific yard based on lean thinking, and which solution should be used within the constraints and contexts of this yard? 2) Who are the key stakeholders, and what are their stakes while implementing the solution in the yard to reduce waste? Design/methodology/approach – A review of the literature around empty container depots revealed that while lean operations have been applied to manufacturing, warehousing, and ports, it has not yet been applied to empty container depots. Whereas warehouses primarily deal with stock-holding and ports deal with quayside operations, empty container depots act as a conduit between consignors and consignees. In the vein of American Pragmatism, Design Science Research, and Strategy-as-Practice, this thesis shows that in the context of empty container depots a gantry crane is an artefact that can create efficiencies, reduce costs, as well as explore further effects on the organisation and its wider geo-political habitus. Case Study – A New Zealand company that handles roughly half a million TEUs per annum cooperated with this study. The study was conducted by analysing data from four working depots (Auckland, Tauranga, Napier) selected to illustrate variations in container volumes, types of flows (imports, exports, seasonality), and depot layouts. The current operations of these depots were analysed using lean operations, value stream mapping, and operations interwork centre flow graphs. Of the four sites identified, one (the Auckland OCP site) was shown to achieve the greatest results from a gantry crane. The results of the analysis were then used to develop a potential solution in which waste was identified and eliminated, primarily around excess handling and land utilisation. Findings – A key finding was that efficiency gains differ from site to site based on their unique demands and overall layouts. Furthermore, changes towards the current yard using gantry cranes need to be implemented incrementally based on continuous improvement. This is due to practical constraints around operations, culture change, cashflow management, the acquisition of capital, and broader market/stakeholder influences. Originality/value – The practical applications of this research case are scalable on a vast level. The effects of this research are explored in how the introduction of an artefact affects the organisation, its vision of itself, its strategies, and the broader supply chain in which this organisation operates. The results are further re-contextualisted in order to offer a holistic view of an artefact in its situated environment.