Toll Tranzlink’s Auckland container terminal, deep in the industrial heartland of Southdown, Onehunga, is a vast complex of warehouses, railway tracks, marshalling yards and fenced compounds filled with neatly stacked containers. It’s a hard environment that handles more freight than all but the largest of New Zealand’s maritime ports.
Toll-Tranzlink run several container terminals - vital
interfaces between road and rail transport; the glue between road
and rail. Southdown is one of eight such inland ports around the
country, and it handles around 500,000 containers a year, many
weighing 40 tonnes or more. Shifting containers is Toll Tranzlink's
Road-rail terminals tend to be grubby, windswept places and
Southdown is no exception. It is over 4km long on one axis, so the
wind has plenty of opportunity to kick up dust. Machinery is
subjected to a constant assault from dust, soot, rain, mud - even
metal shavings; it's a challenging environment for electronics.
So when Toll-Tranzlink decided to update the way they organised
job scheduling, despatch and communications for the drivers of
their 45-tonne forkhoists five years ago, Toll Tranzlink had to
consider their options carefully. Up until then, drivers were
working from a spreadsheet each morning with a list of jobs for
their shift, returning it so the computer could be updated. They
relied on two-way radios for live communication - not always
satisfactory in a noisy environment where earmuffs are
"We wanted a fully interactive, computerised system that gave us
the ability to update and monitor our drivers' job schedules in
real-time using an interface they could easily manage, even while
wearing gloves," National IT Manager Christian Hirano explained. A
PC in each driver's cab, linked via Vodafone's GPRS network to a
mainframe computer was the obvious answer, but the solution wasn't
as straightforward as it sounds.
Limited space inside a forkhoist's cab and harsh operating
conditions - dirt, dust, vibration and general hard duty - ruled
out conventional PCs or laptops. Toll-Tranzlink was also aware it
couldn't afford downtime because of hardware failures - delays
could mean containers missing trains, road links or export
shipments. Consequently, they wanted to ensure timely, dedicated
local support for whichever product they chose.
"We went with Pansonic Toughbooks five years ago and still use
them today," Hirano explained. Toll-Tranzlink has 50 CF-18
Toughbooks in commission, making them the largest single user of
Panasonic Toughbook technology in New Zealand. "They're compact,
lightweight and incredibly robust. Reversible touch-screens and a
display that's visible in any light make them ideal. They were the
best available at the time and subsequent updates and improvements
mean they still lead the pack. Best of all, our drivers really like
using them," said Hirano. One look inside the cab of a 45-tonne
forklift is all it takes to realise that conventional keyboards
were never going to be a viable option. Dust and grime would
quickly render a normal keyboard inoperative, while vibration and
movement would make operating one inside a moving forkhoist nearly
impossible, especially since drivers wear thick gloves for health
and safety reasons. Panasonic Toughbooks also scored thanks to
their extreme portability, which makes them easy to carry from
vehicle to vehicle. Wireless operation makes mounting them inside
the cab a breeze.
"The CF-18's touch-screen allows drivers to instantly
acknowledge a despatch and confirm when the job is done," said
Hirano, "and the units are so small and light." Real-time
updating makes it possible for Toll-Tranzlink to keep track of
Vodafone mobile technology links forkhoist drivers with despatch
headquarters. Early model Toughbooks were equipped with GPRS
network cards; the later versions currently in service with Toll
Tranzlink utilise Vodafone's new HSDPA '3.5G' technology - "Much
faster," said Hirano.
Another consideration for Toll-Tranzlink was the Toughbook's
ability to run proprietary software applications the company has
recently developed in-house for container despatch and tracking.
"Toughbooks allow full flexibility to develop .net applications
that work across different platforms," Hirano explained.
"They feature a full-blown processor offering performance
comparable to most laptops in an almost indestructible case.
Fitting simcards, memory cards and other hardware is also easier
with the latest models."
But if you ask Hirano the single most important reason
Toll-Tranzlink chose Panasonic Toughbooks, he opts for Panasonic's
commitment to customer service. "We wanted to be sure that if
we needed help, there was someone local with the expertise to sort
out our problem fast." "Panasonic have been fantastic. They keep a
loan Toughbook on standby 24 hours a day, should we have a hardware
fault, and their response time is brilliant."
Toll Tranzlink is still developing their communication interface
with forkhoist drivers. Recently they've expanded the system's
capabilities to show drivers the grid they're working on within the
compound. Displayed graphically on screen, it helps drivers find
particular containers quickly, further enhancing operational
efficiency. "Toughbooks have been an excellent choice for us here
at Southdown and in eight other sites where we use this technology.
We've been happy with the performance of the units themselves in
testing conditions, and with the quality of service we receive from
Panasonic. Toll-Tranzlink and Panasonic Toughbooks have enjoyed an
excellent partnership," Hirano concluded.