COMMENT: Efficient dock scheduling

There are many variables to managing incoming and outgoing vessels.
Dock, Vessels, COMMENT, Business Trends


by Jossama Tawfick, regional senior director, MENA, at AspenTech. 

There are many variables to managing incoming and outgoing vessels to remain competitive. Planning and scheduling liquid bulk shipping efficiently requires an accurate programme of delivery dates, tanker routing, berth availability and staff collaboration leading from the refinery gates down to the docks.

With a multitude of complex chartering challenges, organisations need to move away from traditional static tools and adopt cutting-edge technology to yield significant financial benefits. Today, there is one simple solution that provides the perfect one-stop-shop for dock operations – automated scheduling.

Across the petroleum industry, 50 percent of all shipments, whether crude or refined products, are transported via waterborne tankers. Tankers arrive at the docks of refineries and either unload or load their cargo destined for a customer.

These ships are typically owned by a third party and it is integral to the charter agreement that the chartering company arranges to use the ship for a specified time period (laytime). If they exceed this laytime, the vessel’s owner charges demurrage, which can quickly eat into the profits for the refiner if they do not manage their loading and unloading facilities efficiently.

When these vessels reach the harbour, there are a series of actions that must be monitored to avoid unexpected charges. As they approach the designated staging location in the harbour, typically they will notify the receiving company of their arrival.

Depending on where they are headed, there are usually certified pilots that must be informed. In many cases, the mooring company must be notified in preparation for the ship to be tied up and the inspector alerted to the impending arrival.

Dock scheduling is a complicated task requiring the scheduler to have all the correct information at hand. This includes the berth availability upon which the vessel can dock, whether the dock has a pipeline line-up to the correct tanks and the physical characteristics of the dock, so the ship does not risk running aground, the width (or beam) to see if the ship can fit within the space available and that the cargo is compatible with the dock.

Disconnected static tools like Excel are inexpensive and quick to build, but only provide a rough picture of dock utilisation. These basic spreadsheet tools offer no visibility to storage capability, product availability, physical constraints or demurrage charges and lack many other vital details necessary for planners and schedulers.

Terminal or refinery schedulers often use traditional printed copies of dock schedule that quickly become out of date leading to serious issues, including containment issues, product downgrades, delayed shipments, less desirable crude and product blending, berth availability and much more.

In doing so, dock schedulers focus on short-term feasibility and ignore demurrage reduction opportunities. With this in mind, it is imperative for refiners to remove these inefficiencies between the refinery and the dock in order to be competitive.

By empowering planners to create actionable plans with more sophisticated tools they can take full account of vessel and hatch capacity and last cargo restrictions. Essentially, with automated scheduling software, schedulers can minimise delays whilst maximising capacity utilisation.

Cutting-edge automated petroleum scheduling software can deliver refinery-wide visibility into the schedule for multiple users enabling better collaboration among schedulers and other departments. The dock screens extend the scheduling envelope past the refinery gates down to the docks, which decreases the disconnection between refinery operations and logistics to operate closer to the optimum refinery plan.

Improving scheduling of dock operations and achieving integration of the refinery schedule can realise more than $1.2 million annually in benefits. Cutting-edge automation scheduling software provides the important bridge between a feasible plan and operational execution. The ability to quickly and easily update events across the refinery schedule down to the docks allows for better collaboration and more informed, profitable decision making.

Companies can reduce the damage of demurrage by as much as $60K per day for a single supertanker - now that’s super savings. When the problem is ongoing shipping complexity, the solution is to perform one-stop scheduling.

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