A clear view on scanning and detection

All scan investigations of goods on both Maasvlakte areas will shortly take place within the logistical process. “You don’t see that anywhere else in the world.”

In mid September the first trailer vehicles will pass through the brand new container scanner located on the terrain of the ECT Delta Terminal. By that time all the big transshipment companies on both Maasvlakte areas will have their own permanent scanning equipment. According to Scan & Detection specialist Joris Groeneveld, this brings about the realisation of a long-felt aspiration of the Port of Rotterdam Authority and Dutch Customs. “Almost all scan investigations now take place within logistics. You don’t see that anywhere else.”

The site of ECT is bustling with activity on this sunshiny summer’s day. Loaded and empty transport vehicles are coming and going, as always and everywhere on the Delta peninsula. In a fenced off construction area men in safety helmets and fluorescent vests are at work on a project that looks unmistakeably as if it’s approaching its end. Some are putting the finishing touches on the plasterwork, others are using a stencil to paint the word ‘Customs’ on the blank grey walls. Deep inside the structure representatives of the Chinese supplier are fine-tuning the delicate instruments that make up the technical heart of the system. Joris Groeneveld watches it all with a look of satisfaction. When it comes to scanning and detection, this is the state-of-the-art of Dutch Customs.

Dual view
“The configuration here is even more advanced than similar types of projects that we have brought on line in recent years”, Groeneveld remarks. “This is a generic scan, that means you can check for every conceivable kind of customs risk except for counterfeit items. Thus it is possible in principle to make visible anything that deviates from the declaration and every kind of packaging of prohibited goods. In addition, this equipment has two accelerators and two detectors, which means that double images are made of the contents of the containers – one from above and one from the side. This is called dual view and is currently unique for the drive through method of scanning; the nearest comparable type of equipment only provides a side view. That extra image from above gives our analysts a lot of extra information about the cargo. This allows them to state with more confidence that there is something wrong with the contents of the container and that it needs to be physically checked. We want to avoid doing this without proper justification because every time we have to open a container it costs the party involved time, money and manpower. Progressively smarter technical aids help us reduce the number of false positives.”

Remote operators
Another thing that makes this installation special is that the equipment is fully automated. Hardly any personnel are needed for operation. Groeneveld: “Usually you need about nine staff for 24-hour operational and security services – we now save nearly all the manpower costs. Only one operator monitors the entire process in real time from a remote distance – the customs office in the Maasvlakte area, a couple of kilometres from here. He checks whether the scanned images, which come in via fibre-optic cable, are usable and composed properly. If a shot has failed due to a technical problem, then he ensures that the container in question goes through the scan street again immediately.”

Naturally security is a major concern in a system that is supported by X-ray equipment. This need is increased because someone is riding along with the transport – the driver of the terminal truck, with behind him a convoy of 20, 40 and 45 foot containers which in total is eighty metres long. The scan street is not activated until the first vehicle is recognised by the camera at the entrance. The number on the cab and other aspects of the vehicle’s external appearance are compared with details in a database. Only when identification has been completed is the green light given and the gate opened. Both radiation sources are only activated at the time that the cab and driver have passed a certain point and the first trailer is in view. All the while the terrain is being closely monitored by infra-red sensors. Should they suddenly register the presence of any person then the accelerators are immediately shut down. Lastly, there is one more operator who, thanks to a closed-circuit camera, can see exactly what is happening in and around the complex, and if necessary can take action. Groeneveld: “All these measures ensure that we easily fulfil all the applicable safety requirements.”

Equal chances for everyone
When stevedore ECT officially takes the scan system on line*, the shared aspiration of both Dutch Customs and the business community will be nearly completely realised. Some years ago Customs and the Port of Rotterdam Authority articulated a joint vision on scanning and detection: ‘CSI 2013’ – an abbreviation for Container Security Inspections. That plan for Maasvlakte I and II has now largely been put into practice: all the terminals handling volumes of more than 2.5 million TEUs per year – four in total – have their own X-ray installations; the local customs office has a large scan; a train scan has been constructed; and nuclear detection gates have been set up in the port area. “The Port Authority can now be confident that this main port is highly secure; we can boast that we conduct our control responsibilities as efficiently as possible, while causing as little disruption as possible to commercial trade”, Groeneveld says. “In addition we are doing our best to create a level playing field, with equal facilities and opportunities for every player on the market. None of the big terminals has to drive the containers to the scanner at the customs office any more; everyone can arrange it themselves at the time and place they find convenient. What’s more, almost all scan investigations now take place within logistics. You don’t see that anywhere else.”

For one company that simply does not have enough space for a huge scanning system on its own site a customised solution has been found. Dutch Customs rides over there a couple of times a week with high-level scanner vehicles to check selected containers during scheduled blocks of time. Recently Customs invested in two of these big trucks as new additions to their existing fleet. Groeneveld: “It’s handy to have a few in reserve in case one of the huge scanners breaks down or is being serviced. If we can quickly deploy one of these mobile systems, which delivers the same image quality, the logistical flow doesn’t get bogged down.”

Faster container release
The X-ray images from all the scanning locations are sent by means of a high-speed cable network to the local customs office. A main server there converts them into a uniform format** so that they can be checked by any analyst. Then the system distributes the images – keeping the focus on integrity – randomly among the team on shift. Most of the time they are read immediately, but sometimes they’re buffered and examined at a later time. If the image conforms with the data (no deviations have been found), a message is immediately sent to the terminal stating that the container in question can be released. All in all this means that the time between the selection, control and release of containers is remarkably short. “And the faster the goods can be processed, the better it is for promoting our name as a prime location for business”, Groeneveld proposes. “These developments will only increase the port of Rotterdam’s competitive edge.”

* The equipment is also intended to service APMT1, also located on the Delta peninsula.

** The scanning equipment at Maasvlakte I and II was delivered by four suppliers, who each use their own software.

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