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A leap forward in global container handling

September 30, 2015

The Terminal Operating System (TOS) interface standard is a leap forward in global container handling, helping to minimize lead time and increase efficiency in ports’ operations.

In the industrial internet-enabled container terminal of the near future, machines would be designed to communicate seamlessly with each other, moving cranes and performing actions with precision. Helping to make this into a reality, Konecranes, together with the Port Equipment Manufacturers Association (PEMA), developed the TOS interface standard.

Operating systems have been developed independently by various terminal operators and commercial software companies in the past, but there has been a lack of agreement on message protocols or guidelines. As a result, while these previous systems have had similar purposes and functions, integrating them to interact with each other without friction or overlapping software has been difficult and time consuming.

A highly adaptable standard

The purpose of the TOS interface standard is to enable the synchronization of databases and operating systems, thereby allowing operators to jointly coordinate and plan the moves that a crane should perform at any port worldwide. 

Kari Rintanen, Konecranes’ Manager for Port Technology Research and the chairperson for the PEMA working group that is developing the TOS standard elaborates: “The TOS standard was developed to support various types of container handling machines and container terminal types, whether they are manually controlled or unmanned driven vehicles, operated by a computer and dedicated navigation systems.”

Vessels’ turn-around time is the key performance indicator for shipping lines. The principle is simple – if the vessel is not moving, it isn’t being productive. In turn, container ports compete with each other at providing the fastest service possible. Their goal is to successfully move tens of thousands of containers on a daily basis, without any friction.


Unifying various systems

The TOS standard unifies different systems used around the world, so when a container ship arrives to a port, the operation of the facility is synchronized, subsequently shortening the time the ship needs to spend there. Considering that the largest ports may even perform 100,000 container moves per day, the TOS is an absolute requirement for modern terminals.

As most containers have different destinations, organizing them and placing them in the right position can be very time consuming. Containers are piled in stacks in the container yard, sometimes six containers high or even higher. The TOS’s role here is to prevent a situation where the next container to be shipped is placed at the bottom of a stack of containers.

Similarly, if all of the containers are scattered in the yard, finding them could take a significant amount of time without an all-encompassing, seamlessly connected system, using either manual or unmanned vehicles with an integrated GPS or any other position detection system. For workers driving equipment within the container terminal, the TOS provides optimized job orders, offering routes to the needed containers’ pick up and delivery locations.

“The key benefits of the TOS interface standard will be realized when the standard has been widely accepted and used by TOS providers and container terminals. For this to succeed, PEMA needs to implement strong marketing efforts and successful pilot projects,” Rintanen added.

Text: Lasse Mäki-Hokkonen


  • Kari Rintanen is the Manager for Port Technology Research at Konecranes. 
  • From 2012 to 2014, Rintanen chaired the PEMA working group that has been jointly developing the TOS standard.
  • He is the inventor of several of Konecranes’ patents that are related to port technology.