Hongkong International Terminals implements Productivity Plus Program

Hongkong International Terminals Ltd (HIT) operates theworld’s largest privately owned container terminal.  Located at the world’s busiest container port at the Kwai ChungContainer Port, Hong Kong, HIT services over 40 shipping lines, 24 hours a day.

Hongkong International Terminals Ltd (HIT) operates the world’s largest privately owned container terminal.  Located at the world’s busiest container port at the Kwai Chung Container Port, Hong Kong, HIT services over 40 shipping lines, 24 hours a day.

The terminals cover about 300 acres of yard space, contain 10 ship berths with 13,000 feet of quay space, and can store up to 85,000 TEUs (Twenty Foot Equivalent Units).  Terminal operations employ 41 quay cranes, 134 yard cranes, 24 rail-mounted gantry cranes, and a pool of 300 container trucks.

In the summer of 1996, HIT implemented a Productivity Plus Program (3P) to boost productivity, performance and profit of the terminal by 30 percent.  One of the many ways that HIT measures productivity is the rate at which vessels can be loaded or discharged.  This, in turn, dictates how long a berth will be occupied.  The faster the load/discharge rate, the more vessels can be serviced and the greater the total yard throughput.  Another measure of productivity is the turnaround time for transport operators delivering or collecting containers from the terminal.  Fast turnarounds help reduce traffic congestion on Hong Kong’s roads, reduce pollution, and reduce operators’ workloads.

With the help of BEA TUXEDO middleware, 3P’s implementation has improved vessel loading/discharging by about 25 percent and has reduced transport operator turnaround time by about 20 percent.  In addition, the volume of containers moved annually has risen by about 30 percent and overall efficiency has improved by about 25 percent.

“Our computer system is our business,” says Aaron Mak, HIT’s General Manager of Operations.  If it goes down, cargo stops moving.  We chose BEA TUXEDO because it gives us complete confidence that we can handle hundreds of thousands of transactions per hour, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

HIT’s goal for 3P was a mission-critical system that relies heavily on computerized processes to deliver control functions to operational staff.  The program’s philosophy was to accept that not all systems outages could be prevented, but they should be minimized and in many cases, recovered from with no noticeable affect on the user community.  Therefore, HIT was looking for a system architecture designed to meet high availability business requirements while being resilient, reliable, scalable, and easy to maintain.  Uptime was a priority: all terminal operations stop within 15 minutes of the computer system becoming unavailable.  A shutdown could inevitably lead to clogged roadways around the terminal or missed berthing slots for the ships.

The 3P team set several requirements for the new system:

§         Three-tier architecture

§         Fully integrated application

§         Multiple levels of resilience

§         Independent component redundancy

§         Automated alarm gathering and management

§         Automated switching on component outage

§         Improved management practices

§         Shorter development lifecycle

§         Open systems platform for reduced maintenance costs

§         Support for revised operational requirements for increasing yard capacity

§         Support for advanced yard management techniques such as sophisticated scalability for high throughput and efficiency gains

On the leading edge

During the 3P project, HIT embraced a number of new initiatives and technologies which delivered immediate benefits to the system’s users.  By replacing tedious manual processes with automatic tools and processes, daily operations improved significantly and users were able to concentrate on customer service and throughput instead of systems operation.  Major technology advances included:

§         Use a Relational Database Management System (Oracle RDBMS)

§         Introduction of three-tier client/server architecture, with separate user interface, application and databse access layers

§         Use of BEA TUXEDO as a middleware (transaction monitor) layer

§         Extensive use of paging systems to communicate within he terminal

§         Introduction of scanning systems at Entry and Exit gates

§         High levels of resilience and provision of replicate systems

One of the primary challenges of 3P was to integrate a range of disparate systems and technologies:

§         X.400 gateway for shipping line access to Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and Information Exchange Systems (IES)

§         Voice response systems for access by drayage companies

§         Scanning technology o automate gate entry and exit functions

§         Paging networks to communicate with:

1.      tractors within the yard (via purpose-built pagers)

2.      yard cranes (via vehicle mounted terminals)

3.      mobile and pier-side yard operations personnel (via hand held terminals)

§         Fiber optic networks to communicate with rail-mounted yard cranes

§         Modem-based access to a local area network for remote and depot offices

§         Semi autonomous subsystem for ship planning, load/ discharge scheduling and terminal operation planning all with LAN connections to 3P

BEA TUXEDO helped to integrate these disparate systems, providing a heterogeneous communications and management infrastructure between 600 clients and 4 large servers (Hewlett-Packard T500 and Sun workstations) running peripheral application systems.  BEA TUXEDO manages and implements more than 2000 inter-application service requests, which initiate from 600+ clients, providing load balancing for optimal system throughput.  It handles about 185,000 transactions per hour, or about 51 transactions per second.

BEA TUXEDO’s request/response communication is occasionally bolstered by asynchronous communication from the client for higher performance.  BEA TUXEDO provides the ability to decouple client and server interfaces.  These buffers support multiple versions of the interfaces, thus allowing HIT to easily stage upgrades to the client or server software.

HIT also uses BEA Log Manager to obtain a single logical log that represents the activity of all systems participating in the application.  The Log Manager does this by assembling and forwarding discrete log files to a central point.

To help ensure system resilience, HIT duplicated centralized equipment in a separate building and computer room.  One room houses the primary server; the other houses a secondary server, which is capable of handling a full system load when required.  All critical data is mirrored, with one copy available in each computer room.  Fully redundant networks were installed between the computer rooms and between the rooms and the users.  End-user connections are split across multiple concentrators, ensuring that concentrate failure does not affect all users in a single location.  A replicate database provides resilience in case of primary database corruption.

BEA TUXEDO also enables system resilience, which automatically restarts the application servers if a server fails due to an unhandled error condition.

3P resulted in tremendous productivity improvements for HIT:

§         Crane usage increased about 25 percent, from 20 to 25 per crane per hour

§         Peak crane rates increased more than 20 percent, from 24 to over 32 per hour

§         Turnaround time for externally operated tractors delivering or collecting containers was reduced by 0 percent, from 50+ minutes to under 40 minutes

§         New records have been established for maximum number of containers loaded to a ship in a one hour, as well as maximum number of tractors processed at the Entry and Exit gates

§         Yard crane productivity improved up to 15 percent

The Future

HIT is a subsidiary of Hutchinson Port Holdings (HPH) which operates 15 ports and moves in excess of 11 million TEUs each year, accounting for over 10 percent of the global container traffic.  Following the successful introduction at HIT, the 3P system has been deployed to a second container terminal in Hong Kong, which is operated by HIT as part of a joint venture with COSCO (China Overseas Shipping Company).  Planning is currently underway to deploy the system to another joint venture in China.

There is also the opportunity for the 3P systems, or its variants, to be deployed within many of the other international terminals in the HPH group.

3P uses proven core technologies for all systems components.  Centralized computer facilities, duplicated across two machine rooms located in two buildings feature the following:


§         HP 9000 series UNIX servers, with 10 by 520 CPUs

§         HP-UX 10.01 operating system

§         Oracle 7.1 database (7.04 GB total database size)

§         BEA TUXEDO System 6.1 as the middleware layer

§         Alarm Management System (AMS)

§         HP Open View event management system

§         HP Operations Centre centralized console management

§         Omniback backup management system

§         MC/ ServiceGuard to switch to alternate resources

§         Perfview Glance and Transaction Tracker for performance monitoring


End user systems include:


§         PCs conforming to standard operating environment

§         Centura Software SQL Windows (formerly Gupta)

§         BEA TUXEDO Workstation client


Network components include:


§         Dual fiber links between computer rooms

§         Full FDDI network

§         Spectrum network monitoring software