Automation in the shipping industry has been the dream of US ports for decades. It brings efficiency, cuts costs, and lowers the chance of mistakes. Major overseas ports have utilized automation for years, but US counterparts have yet to catch up. And as more super-ships begin to dock in the US, the need for greater efficiency has port terminals scrambling.
Automating the gantry cranes, stacking cranes and transport vehicles cost the port of Rotterdam $535 million. Now nearly every part of the container shipping process is automated by software, and supervised by remote workers.
While the cost to automate may be extreme, it was simple to justify in Rotterdam due to the tremendous volume of containers handled by the port. Compared to Oakland, the port of Rotterdam handles over 5 times the amount of containers.
Another difficult step in automating the port of Oakland will be heavy job cuts. Some estimate that automation will eliminate 40-50% dockworker positions. While many businesses may be willing to cut jobs, the port of Oakland dockworkers are unionized under the ILWU, which is not interested in losing members.
It's not a question if Oakland will become automated, it is now a question of when.