an angel at the port of tajung pelepas

Malaysia’s Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP), inaugurated in 2000, came close to falling victim to its phenomenal growth. At issue: how to make the best use of the 44 gantry cranes that had sprung up on its 12 piers, by 2010, to handle 6.5 million TEU (20-foot equivalent unit) containers?

“The more we grow, the more complex the smallest operation becomes,” said Yasmin Kristensen, chief process officer, operations division. Senior management at the Port of Tanjung Pelepas needed reinforcement to management a growth spurt as sudden as it was unexpected.

Help came in the form of a math angel. Benoit Paquin, an ex-pat Quebecker living in Denmark, introduced PTP officials to Yard Analytics software, produced by the Danish firm he works with, Ange Optimization.

Benoit Paquin, l'ange québécois au port malaisien


Port de Tanjung Pelepas

This software uses algorithms to store and analyze data, enabling it to find the most efficient combination to move containers during loading and unloading. Yard Optimization flags unnecessary delays and congestion during container handling at the port. Better yet, this software identifies the specific causes, such as a crane that’s operating more slowly than usual, too few or too many trucks, a ship docked too far from the loading site, or poor coordination of ship-loading versus unloading operations.

From this analysis, terminal operators can learn, for example, the exact number – no more, no less – of cranes needed to load or unload a vessel ASAP; exactly where the vessel should be positioned for maximum container handling ease; and the optimal position of each container on the berth that will favour the simplest move.

patient work

“Machines don’t replace human labour, they assist it. By creating transparency, we make it possible for humans to better understand and make better decisions,” wrote Ange Optimization founder and president Nicolas Guilbert on the firm’s website.  That explains why, once the software was installed at the Port of Tanjung Pelepas, Benoit Paquin meticulously worked on data development.

One fine day, port users noticed a man standing on the pier, a bottle of water in hand, in the blazing sun of a 30-degree Celsius day. After 45 minutes, he changed place. He did the same thing in about dozen places in the port. “I observed all the moves I saw around me and took notes. Then I wrote my reports,” said Benoit Paquin.

Nicolas Guilbert, fondateur et président d'Ange Optimization

Then the math whizzes at Ange Optimization enthusiastically got to work. Using the data collected dockside, they spent three weeks on an algorithm exercise, then wrote a program containing 550,000 variables and a million equations! Linear programming is a method that makes it possible to find the least cost to carry out a given task.

the most efficient route

Picture a huge Lego set where each container is a piece that must be moved on a board without blocking the way for any other piece. The flow of pieces arriving and leaving keeps increasing and each piece has its own specific route. Yard Analytics software has the capability to determine the simplest and fastest route. In short, the most effective. As well as what steps to take to achieve it.

Yasmin Kristensen, directrice des procédés, division des opérations, au port de Tanjung Pelelpas

The Ange Optimization team began by imagining how containers would be stored and handled dockside in an ideal world, if the areas were empty and they started from scratch. “For example, we’d put containers from Amsterdam here, those sailing to Singapore there, etc.,” explained Benoit Paquin. Then they applied this ideal framework/schema/schematic to the actual situation at the Port of Tanjung Pelepas.

“A number of technological tools, like NAVIS and COSMOS, can help us apply a management plan to our handling areas, but a large port like ours also needs a tool that helps us model scenarios and verify their efficiency,” said Yasmin Kristensen.


identifying the weaknesses

Previously, storage area managers relied on their experience to plan operations, but a tool was missing to validate their plans and understand why operations hadn’t worked out as efficiently as expected.

The new software enables detailed tracking of the moves of every single container, rolling vehicle, gantry and other types of crane. It issues extremely accurate and detailed reports, some of which are studied not only by the operations manager but by the port’s senior management as well. Finally, they know what must be done to improve the efficiency of container handling.

Exemples de données visuelles

This graph shows the activity of each crane. It measures crane performance, making it possible to find out which cranes were used and for how long; how many seconds a crane takes to complete a manoeuvre; how many minutes a crane waits between two manoeuvres; and how many cranes were used compared to the optimal number. For example, if the optimal number of cranes is 4.8 and only 4.7 were used, then the handling was excellently planned.

This diagram shows the blocks of containers stored in the container yard, the water (blue band) and the vessel’s position. The arrows indicate how the boxes move: red for unloading and blue for loading. The size of the red and blue dots shows the range of unloading and loading moves for each block of containers stored in the yard. In this example, we see that several loading and unloading moves were concentrated in a few blocks, which caused congestion.

This chart tracks each crane’s activity on a timeline. Each horizontal line represents the moves of a crane in time: blue for loading, red for unloading.  The lines’ vertical moves refer to moving gantry cranes.

This graph measures the wait time of each truck on-site to load and unload containers. Each line represents a crane. The dark gray area above them represents the number of waiting trucks. An orange dot (to the right) indicates that there were too many trucks in relation to the wait time. A red dot (to the left) represents a time interval during which there were not enough trucks.

The Quebec Angel

Benoit Paquin studied mathematics at the University of Montreal. At age 21, Bachelor degree in hand, he was drawn overseas by the sea wind. He worked in Amsterdam and Madrid in oil exploration before settling in Copenhagen. From there, he became founder of a new company based in Toronto, New York and London specializing in financial forecasts. In 2003 he started over, became interested in the marine field, where he rediscovered mathematics as optimization tools. He and Nicolas Guilbert worked out a method and obtained a patent for a system to optimally place containers on a ship. Since then, they have applied advanced mathematic to all facets of marine and port activities.