Mining equipment could inspire new ways of handling cargo
Vehicles used in seaports to move containers and bulk cargo may seem to have little in common with mining trucks. However, it may be possible to adapt a single mining area vehicle to port transfer operations.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has slowed operations at several international ports and slowed economic growth in many countries. There is potential for renewed economic growth and expansion of trade in the years following the pandemic. While the future increase in trade would require larger terminal areas in major ports, it is also possible to develop off-site terminals located near major ports. Such a development would require the application of technology capable of efficiently moving containers and bulk cargo between port terminals and off-site. Semi-automated and automated rail operations and overhead monorail operations are possible in some locations.
The presence or installation of road crossings would hamper cargo transfer operations, leaving the air monorail as an alternative container transfer technology. While conventional rubber-wheeled modified road vehicles move containers around port terminal areas, the technology is slow and has low efficiency when moving bulk cargo between an off-site terminal and a port terminal. A newly developed mining truck offers future potential for adaptation to cargo transfer operations in the port area, including the transfer of containers and bulk cargo along dedicated rights-of-way in the port area.
Mining trucks are bulk cargo carriers and traditional mining truck designs would be impractical to operate in port terminal areas, even between off-site terminals and port terminals. Although capable of carrying over 200 tonnes on two axles, traditional mining trucks would be unable to negotiate sharp turns in port terminal areas. A newly designed version is able to negotiate tight turns, using a front wheel steering concept based on the aircraft’s nose landing gear. This design offers the possibility of being modified into a rubber wheeled hopper car capable of transporting a variety of dry bulk goods.
The new design has eight tires on two axles and can turn its front wheels to the previously unheard of 85 degree angle. Its load capacity allows it to efficiently transfer bulk agricultural freight between offsite elevators nearby and port side elevators at locations where investment and maintenance of rail lines would be more expensive. Like a railroad hopper car, it loads bulk cargo directly above and dumps bulk cargo into temporary underground storage, using lower doors installed in the wheelbase. Its size would limit its area of operation to dedicated roads, crossing a public road at an intersection controlled by traffic lights.
While the vehicle would require little or no modification to make it suitable for the port area bulk transfer service, it would require a larger modification to work in the container transfer service. It would take a longer wheelbase to transport 40-foot containers lengthwise. A modified version of the truck could carry two containers side by side, with the ability to carry three levels of height with the ability to tow a trailer. It is a rubber wheeled vehicle capable of carrying up to 12 TEUs.
Port side and off-site terminals should be located in close proximity and involve only one road intersection controlled by traffic lights. Unlike rail vehicles which would be limited to tracks, a rubber wheeled vehicle would offer much greater flexibility in terms of moving around a port area, or between nearby container terminals. It may be possible in the future to develop an automated battery-electric version of the vehicle with forward and reverse steering to improve cornering ability in port terminal areas.
The bulk truck has potential applications that go beyond the mining sector. An automated (computer-driven) version of the vehicle that uses battery-electric or hybrid-electric propulsion technology could be suitable for the service of transporting bulk cargo between the port side elevators and nearby off-site elevators. Likewise in container transfer operations, a vehicle based on this design technology could be developed to containerize up to three levels of two rows of containers along port routes, at a lower cost than using rail technology. .
Harry Valentine is a regular contributor to The Maritime Executive.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.