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How our technology is revolutionizing port logistics

Ports the world over are bursting at their seams. Worldwide, freight traffic has been growing continuously in volume. Today’s modern container ships are much bigger than aircraft carriers. They can transport more than 24,000 TEU containers.1 These gigantic freight volumes take most ports to their limits, as space behind the quay wall is limited, as is the overall capacity of the container terminals.

Port operators are trying to get a grip on the situation by speeding up the ship loading and unloading processes. Thanks to the advances in crane technology, container cranes at the quays perform their work faster than comparable systems. Yet, this is not enough. Downstream storage yards must also be able to cope with the growing inflows and outflows of containers. In these yards, the containers are stacked on top of one another – up to six levels high. Experience shows that the higher the containers are stacked, the lower the efficiency becomes because – in order to access any of the containers at a lower level – the containers on top have to be shifted. This costs time and money.

1 TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) is a measuring unit commonly used in container logistics. 1 TEU equates to one standardized 20-foot container. However, nowadays 40-foot containers have become more popular. These containers are counted as 2 TEU.

Photo: SMS group: Insight into the underfloor pallet circulation system
The underfloor circulating pallet system interconnects the individual aisles of the BOXBAY store.
Photo: SMS group: View of container storage at the port
The containers are stored in separate compartments on eleven stories.

Plenty of room at the top

The solution is called BOXBAY, a High Bay Storage system for containers that is able to store containers up to eleven stories high. Most importantly: Each individual container can be directly accessed. Compared to conventional solutions in container ports, BOXBAY achieves a more than three times higher storage capacity – on the equivalent ground space of an RTG-based terminal. The quay crane performance – an extremely important indicator for port operators – will increase by up to 20 percent. This means that, with BOXBAY, port capacities can be expanded without the requirement of extra ground space. This gives port operators an alternative to land development or reclamation and the negative impact these options often have on delicate land and marine ecosystems.

We have developed BOXBAY in a joint venture with DP World, a leading port operator based in Dubai. As early as 2019, at TOC in Rotterdam, the world’s most important trade fair for port, ship and terminal technology, experts from the logistics industry could get a first impression of BOXBAY – and recognize the system’s maturity for practical operation. 2020 saw the erection of the first-ever BOXBAY system at the port of Dubai. During the EXPO in Dubai, DP World will present the system to the public at its pavilion on the fair grounds and organize tours of the facility in operation.

The initiators and driving forces behind the joint venture are looking forward to this event: “BOXBAY is a disruptive innovation that is setting entirely new standards in port logistics in terms of performance and storage capacity, and digitalization,” says Burkhard Dahmen, CEO of SMS group. “We are convinced that our solution will increasingly replace existing systems.” Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Chairman and CEO of DP World Group, also emphasizes the new system’s future potential: “We are impressed with BOXBAY because it increases both the speed and efficiency of operations. These are key factors in running ports and terminals. We believe that this new system is a game-changing development for the global port industry.”

BOXBAY has been designed with a clear focus on practical requirements. From the outset, our main concern has been to assure smooth operation by means of a straightforward, easy-to-handle concept that would not be more complex than absolutely necessary.

The system at a glance

Photo: SMS group: Automation

01 – Container ship unloading

In container terminals with a BOXBAY store, unloading of the containers from the ships will still be performed by gantry cranes. Driver-operated or driver-less vehicles (terminal trucks, AGVs, straddle carriers) take the containers over and transport them to the BOXBAY store. There the containers are collected by stacker cranes.

Photo: SMS group: View of the unloading of a container ship

02 – Collecting the containers

Stacker cranes pick the containers up at the transfer positions arranged at the aisle ends. From there, the cranes take the containers down the aisle between the racks to their dedicated slots. To save time, while on the way to their destination the cranes lift the containers up to the story where the respective slots are located. The stacker cranes serve both sides of the aisle. In other words, containers can be placed in and retrieved from racks to the right or to the left of the stacker crane. This is a novelty in container terminals, where much time and energy is usually wasted on the reshuffling of containers.

Photo: SMS group: 2 pallet trolleys in the transport system made of rails

03 – Transport system and stacker cranes

In the basement of the high-bay store structure, there is a rail-bound circulating underfloor transport system. The stacker cranes lower the containers they have retrieved from the store all the way down to the basement level, placing them on circulating transport pallets. Likewise, they can pick containers up from the pallets and lift them up to the racks. The pallet system transfers the containers to the land-side truck interface and takes the containers arriving at the land-side interface designated for export to the sea port storage yard.

Photo: SMS group: Container being collected

04 – Automation

In a BOXBAY high-bay store, two completely decoupled transport systems operate in parallel: the circulating pallet system and the stacker cranes. The movements of both the cranes and the pallets are perfectly harmonized using state-of-the-art digital technology. This boosts performance, speeds up operations and provides maximum flexibility. And, being equipped with the latest digital tracking technology, BOXBAY knows – at all times – the current position of each individual container. As each container can be directly accessed and there is no reshuffling of containers, BOXBAY is fast. Very fast.

Not only ports will benefit

In the development of BOXBAY, the main emphasis was on meeting the requirements of the port operators – and on sustainability. The system scores with numerous benefits for the environment and for the people living near the ports:

  • CO2 emissions: All BOXBAY systems are exclusively electricity-operated. Consequently, they do not release any CO2 emissions locally. Energy recuperation systems enable the recovery of electricity during container handling. In addition, it is possible to generate power by means of solar panels installed on the roof of the store structure, which – in sunny regions – can provide enough energy to operate the complete system. Depending on the green share of the electricity supplied by the local provider, the operation of a BOXBAY store can even be completely CO2-free.
  • Light pollution: BOXBAY does not need any lighting while it is operating. This means a higher quality of life for the local residents, especially at night time – and it saves on electricity.
  • Noise abatement: Selected sides of the structure can be completely covered with soundproofing panels, which may even be greened. Not only do these green walls give BOXBAY a more appealing look, the living plants even capture particulates contained in the air, significantly improving the microclimate as a result.

These examples show that the port of the future will not only become smarter but also greener. According to Volker Brück, Director Business Development of BOXBAY, this is a very promising combination: “With BOXBAY, we implement an autonomous, eco-friendly and sustainable solution that sets new standards in every respect. I can’t think of any other system that fulfills such a wide range of requirements and has been designed with as much responsibility and consideration for the people who work at the ports or live in their neighborhoods. BOXBAY is an example, especially for future generations, that shows that economic efficiency and sustainability are not in contradiction but perfectly complement one another – if done smartly.”


  • Higher storage
    capacity per
    ground space
  • Efficient operation
    with no reshuffling
  • Higher handling
    rate per equivalent
    storage space
  • Lower
    operating and
    maintenance costs
  • Excellent
  • Approx. up to 20%
    more containers per
    hour transshipped
    at the quay