Barge handling

An example of a Supply Chain coordination problem is the alignment of barge and terminal activities in the Port of Rotterdam.

In the Port of Rotterdam, (container) barges are an important means to transport containers between the port and the hinterland. When barges visit the port, they typically visit several container terminals to load and unload containers. The sequence in which a barge visits these terminals depends on several factors, such as the availability of terminals. Terminals on the other hand also have their preferences when to handle a specific barge. An alignment of activities is thus required.

Nowadays, barge and terminal operators try to align their activities by making appointments. These appointments are made by telephone, fax, e-mail, and a system called PortBase. Unfortunately, it happens frequently that appointments are not met by either the barge or the terminal operator. Appointments turn out to be uncertain. There are several reasons, like the fact that appointments are sometimes not even feasible at the time they are made or the fact that a disruption at one terminal quickly propagates to other terminals and barges. The problem is urgent, since it results in significant efficiency losses for barge and terminal operators. Also the Port Authority considers the problem as urgent as it affects the quality of the hinterland connections.

Typical for this problem is that we deal with:

  • Different competing companies having different and conflicting objectives
  • No contractual relationships between terminals and barges, which means that no performance can be contractually enforced
  • Ill-structured and loosely coupled network, i.e., there is no clear hierarchy between companies or a dominant player
  • Interdepency of activities and quick propagation of delays through the network
  • Highly dynamic environment, i.e., information becomes known over time and several events and disturbances (may) take place

The above complicating factors make clear that no easy solution exists. In the past several attempts have been made to solve the problem. One of these attempts is central coordination. Next>>