A computer system designed to facilitate operations and coal unloading at the port of Tubarão in Vitória, in the state of Espírito Santo, where Vale receives most of the material it needs to run its steelmaking plants, was developed by a group of researchers from the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp) and the University of Campinas (Unicamp). “Among the advantages offered by this integrated logistics system is a reduction in the time required to unload the ships, with the resulting reductions in the amount of time the unloaders are needed for this task, the energy cost and environmental impact of the operation,” says Professor Luiz Leduíno de Salles Neto, director of the Science and Technology Institute of Unifesp in São José dos Campos, in the state of São Paulo, and coordinator of the project financed by Vale and FAPESP within the scope of the Research Partnership for Technological Innovation Program (PITE). This project is part of an invitation to bid issued in 2010 by the Company in partnership with research foundations in the states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Pará, to finance studies with total investment of R$120 million.
“The system we developed is integrated because it organizes the sequence of ships that will dock, which berth each of them will dock at, the order in which they enter, which unloaders will be allocated to each ship, the positioning of this machinery, even down to the conveyor belts on which the coal will be unloaded for transportation to the stockyards,” explains Salles Neto.
The first step, before development of the software, was to develop a model that presented the real problem in a mathematical format. “This was one of the great contributions of the project,” says Salles Neto, who holds a PhD in applied mathematics from Unicamp. Based on the mathematical model, algorithms were used to find the best solution. “All we need to do is add information to the program, such as the type of ship, cargo and arrival time for our system to find the best solution in terms of reducing operating costs, saving time and energy and reducing the environmental impact.”
Integrated logistics have strategic importance for the port of Tubarão. “Approximately 70% of the coal supplied to Brazilian steelmakers goes through this terminal, and from there it is distributed by rail or highway,” he notes. Since Brazil does not have any reserves of this fossil fuel, which is the second most important in the global energy matrix, it imports the ore from China and the United States, the main exporters. In June 2014, Vale, Unifesp and Unicamp filed jointly for a patent to protect the system. The University of Campinas joined the partnership because at the time the project was submitted for approval, the São José dos Campos campus of Unifesp did not have a graduate program.
“Before starting the research process, meetings were held with Professor Salles Neto to develop a project that could better contribute to the Company’s needs,” says Edgar Sepúlveda, development analyst in the technology development department of the Vale Technology Institute (ITV). Over the course of the work, the professor went into the field to learn about the terminal’s operating logistics. There, he met the team of engineer Lourenço Torres, from the board of operations of the port of Tubarão, who is responsible for the project at Vale.
Planning for unloading the coal at the port of Tubarão is based on the scheduled arrival of the ships, through an agreement between the commercial area and the clients. The best allocation of the equipment must also be defined. “The system developed by Salles Neto’s group adds to the existing software by optimizing the process, allowing a choice of routes,” says Sepúlveda. “It reduces the workload and time spent by programmers, because it performs the entire process using just the data entered into the program.” However, no date has yet been set for its implementation at the port of Tubarão. “Studies are being conducted by the information technology department to evaluate how the two systems, the old and the new, will communicate with each other,” adds Sepúlveda.
The integrated logistics software program can be used at other terminals or ports in Brazil that operate with bulk carriers, the name given to ships that transport merchandise in liquid or solid bulk form. Originally the plan was to deliver a prototype of the software. As the research moved forward, Salles Neto’s team has been working on a new product, in collaboration with Professor Aníbal Azevedo of the Unicamp Limeira campus. This project involves integration of the first software into the organization of products in the stockyard, where they will be stored until they are sent to the steelmaking plants.
“Vale requires that the yards be organized,” Azevedo says. In other words, after the coal is unloaded from the ship, it is transported by conveyor belts to the stockyards, where it is kept until an order is issued for it to be transported by train or by truck to the steelmaking plants. “Currently, the decision on where to store the coal at the yard is made manually,” he explains. This is why the new program under development will determine the best possible place to store it in order to use the least amount of energy in the operation. “The better the location of the mineral, the lower the cost to move it, and it will be possible to send the product to its final destination sooner.” The project is in the completion phase and is expected to be incorporated into the port optimization system.
Development of this project by Salles Neto’s group opened up new possibilities for partnership with Vale. “We were used to working with some specific groups and this collaboration opened the path to a new, highly trained research group,” says Sepúlveda. “This partnership brought new horizons, since in our routine work, we usually end up doing things without having the time to stand back and take note of any bottlenecks,” says Lourenço. Parallel to the project in partnership with Vale, the Salles Neto team is working to develop integrated logistics systems for ships that transport containers. These studies are needed for the forecasted growth in cargo movement at Brazilian ports.
According to Salles Neto, 95% of Brazilian foreign trade goes through the ports. If the 5% growth rate reached in recent years is maintained, Brazilian ports will need to increase their capacity from the 650 million tons a year they handled in 2012 to 900 million in 2017. This 40% growth rate, around 32 million tons annually, is the equivalent of a new port of Santos every three years. To compare global investment in port infrastructure, a terminal capable of unloading 30 million containers a year was inaugurated in China in 2013. This is equivalent to more than 10 times the 2.8 million tons that the port of Santos was able to unload in 2010, for example. “Optimization of port operations in Brazil is of strategic importance for the economy,” says Salles Neto.
Optimization of loading costs and cargo transport by ships: technical and computational aspects (no. 2010/51274-5); Grant mechanism Research Support – Research Partnership for Technological Innovation Program (PITE); Principal investigator Luiz Leduíno de Salles Neto (Unifesp); Investment R$75,600.00 (FAPESP) and R$93,000.00 (Vale).