The global freight transportation industry has evolved to the extent that it is now acceptable business policy to expect orders to be air freighted within 24 hours from one side of the world to the other.
One company set for further expansion has envisaged the importance of such logistically slick operations; and today ensures rapid global deliveries are an everyday occurrence.
Asia Airfreight Terminal (AAT), an air cargo terminal based at Hong Kong International Airport, is committed to unsurpassed levels of service, swift document processing and a futuristic IT platform. With a capacity in excess of 1,500,000 tonnes per annum, AAT has played a vital role in anchoring Hong Kong's position in the global logistics arena for more than a decade. Back in July 1998, AAT launched its Terminal One service for cargo handling utilising several sophisticated facilities, which included a fully automated material handling system (MHS) and a cargo storage and cargo management system (CMS) for cargo inventory and documentation for 600,00 tonnes handling capacity per annum.
AAT's advanced MHS comprises pallet and container handling systems that accept and dispatch built-up units. There are also automated storage and retrieval systems to process bulk cargo. Truck docks are built at each of the four levels of the Terminal Two warehouse for acceptance and delivery of cargo while despatch of cargo to and from aircraft is through the two-level airside.
Thoroughly integrated with the government, airlines and other air-cargo community systems, AAT's web-based CMS provides a comprehensive suite of e-services offering access to registered users via the internet. This increased transparency resulting from up-to-the-minute information sharing is a source of comfort to customers.
"The MHS has a total power backup system and the resilient CMS provides highly optimised solutions," notes Nelson Lee, AAT's general manager —p lanning and services.
Towards the end of 2006, AAT opened Terminal Two which combines state-of-the-art architectural design, further advanced material handling systems, the latest IT applications and an increased handling capacity of 910,000 tonnes per annum.
According to Mr Lee, the average utilisation rate of the terminal now is in the region of 50 per cent of its maximum —a calculated decision incorporated into the original development plan to allow ample room for future growth.
"Phased addition of handling capacity relieves the operational expense burden, which translates into better cost-effectiveness. Additionally, terminal users can also enjoy the most up-to-date technology for both hardware and software. Customer satisfaction levels are therefore enhanced," Mr Lee explains.
To maximise efficiency, the company's sophisticated truck control system (TCS) also adopts radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to monitor traffic flow of vehicles entering AAT for business. RFID tags containing information such as the vehicle number, registered company, driver details and contact information have been issued to more than 5,000 trucks in Hong Kong.
Linked to the CMS, TCS can allocate the truck dock nearest to cargo storage locations automatically and helps reduce waiting time to boost efficiency. Concurrently, the cargo processing data collected help to facilitate monitoring and analysis of service standards.
New technology also enables quick multi-channel truck dock notification. Once a truck driver selects the incoming purpose on the touch-screen, and a truck dock is available, the system notifies the driver of the assigned truck dock number through several channels, including gate kiosks at entrances, phone calls via interactive voice response system, truck dock allocation displays and self service kiosks.
"There is a constant demand for more manpower in our IT team since AAT keeps improving the system to boost service standards while our customer base expands continuously," Gary Suen, IT manager of AAT, points out. To align with AAT's strategic development, the IT team is divided into two main streams, one focusing on network infrastructure and the other on programming. As such, a clear career structure is set so that team members know exactly where and how they can progress professionally.
AAT continues to set the industry benchmark with its careful consideration for the future of Hong Kong, the sustainable growth of freight services and the professional platform laid out for its personnel.
The environment profits too from advances in e-freight technology. The International Air Transport Association for instance has requested a cut in paper cargo documentation. Certificates of origin, invoices, packing lists and air waybills can all be processed electronically today to minimise paper consumption.