La Spezia Container Terminal (LSCT), on the northern Mediterranean coast of Italy, is one of the major port facilities in Europe. Part of the Contship Italia Group (www.contshipitalia.com), LSCT handles 1.4 million TEUs (Twenty Foot Equivalent units) per year, providing fully integrated logistics services and intermodal connections.
La Spezia Container Terminal in Italy has been working hard to increase productivity and reduce downtime. At the heart of the action is the Terminal Operating System, also known as TOS, which allows LSCT to centrally coordinate the handling and storage of containers. In order for the TOS to work, a solid wireless network is required so that all the yard and quay equipment can exchange data in real time. The reliability of the wireless connection impacts the orders that are sent to and received by the operators, so network uptime and consistent coverage are critical for the terminal productivity.
La Spezia Container Terminal had deployed an 802.11 WiFi system for TOS Connectivity in 2008 and had worked through numerous upgrades and tuning sessions over the years to maximize its performance. The network was composed by 76 Access Points for coverage and supported 200 pieces of equipment. Fiber onsite is not available to any of the equipment thus making the wireless network of paramount importance for the terminal.
The terminal layout presents challenges for wireless propagation due to high density of stacks, containers being stacked 5 high, loads of metal structures, and high interferences coming from ships, radars, and the nearby city of La Spezia. Although the WiFi system at LSCT was stable, coverage had been an issue leading to minutes of equipment downtime every day. This impacted drivers and crane operators which were forced to find areas of good coverage to get their next order.
Moreover, LSCT has been on a path to continue to adopt advanced automation solutions to increase its productivity and safety at the terminal. The limits of 802.11 WiFi for OT applications have been a concern to management which pushed to look for alternatives. Issues such as packet loss during roaming, high latency to vehicles, and jitter become very critical in automation applications involving video or control and LSCT was fully aware of the negative impact they can have on operations.
After a careful analysis of wireless solutions available including LTE and WiFi, La Spezia Container Terminal decided to upgrade its wireless OT network by adding Fluidmesh MPLS technology. The Fluidmesh network will work in parallel with the existing WiFi system: Fluidmesh will be used for the connectivity to all movable assets such as Ship-to-Shore Cranes, RTGs, Stacking Cranes, Reach Stackers, and Terminal Tractors creating a low-latency roaming wireless backbone. The existing WiFi system will be left in place in areas where connectivity to hand-held devices such as tablets and laptops is required.
By using Fluidmesh MIMO Antenna technology, LSCT was able to address its wireless coverage issues as well as drastically reduce the number of access radios needed for coverage. In fact, only twenty Fluidmesh base stations are being deployed, showing a 70% reduction in density in comparison to 802.11 WiFi. The Fluidmesh wireless OT network will run on 5 GHz, leaving the 2.4 GHz spectrum for WiFi applications. Moreover, the twenty Fluidmesh Base Stations will use Fluidmesh Machine Learning algorithm to optimize channel access and vehicle connectivity. This makes LSCT the first terminal in the world to adopt Artificial Intelligence to increase the performance of its wireless OT network.
On the vehicle side, each piece of lifting equipment is being fitted with one or two Fluidmesh FM3500 ENDO radios and dual-polarity antennas for a total just shy of two hundred Fluidmesh radios. The onboard Fluidmesh radio provides connectivity to a Zebra tablet used for onboard TOS display and control. Thanks to Fluidmesh MPLS technology, the vehicles will be able to roam with a 0ms hand-off time and support up to 5 Mbps of usable bandwidth each. This will allow LSCT to roll out video and control application in the future without any major network upgrade.
Thanks to Fluidmesh technology, LSCT was able to radically improve its wireless network without the need to go through a full network replacement. The Fluidmesh network, which is already deployed in part of the terminal, has demonstrated to full address the coverage issues and network downtime that LSCT was experiencing.
“We have been extremely impressed by the benefits of adding Fluidmesh MPLS technology in our terminal. Our operators will finally be able to focus on their job without having to worry about wireless connectivity and TOS – comments Stefano Lorenzini, Technical Department of La Spezia Container Terminal. “The amount of penetration that Fluidmesh has been able to achieve in between container stacks has re-defined our perception of what can be done with wireless. It is the first time that our operators have been able to drive around the terminal without dropping a single ping. We believe this solution to be a no-brainer for any terminal looking to solve TOS connectivity or any terminal looking to roll-out an automation capable OT network. Uptime for us is king and Fluidmesh has over-delivered on its promises”.
The implementation was carried out by system integrator TPSFERIACOM. “We have been working with Terminal Operators for more than 20 years,” said Arturo Gulisano of TPSFERIACOM. “When we came across Fluidmesh we realized they had the industrial-grade solution we were searching for, one that could take LSCT’s communication system to the next level. Fluidmesh is a top manufacturer of professional solutions, with excellent technical support. They were able to solve even the most difficult cross-system troubleshooting problems for us and the customer.”
“We are thrilled to have been able to assist La Spezia Container Terminal in addressing their OT connectivity needs at the terminal and help them in driving productivity” – adds Marco Tagliabue, Fluidmesh Director of Sales EMEA. “Our wireless MPLS technology has been designed for customers like LSCT and we are looking forward to continue working with them through their productivity and automation journey. Wireless for TOS has historically been done using WiFi which is a technology that is not designed for automation or fast-roaming. Private LTE is still unfeasible in most countries. We are pleased to be able to offer an alternative path to any Terminal Operator looking to increase their productivity through a better wireless OT network”.