MOL Taps Into AI to Optimize Car Carrier Loading Operations

Japan’s Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd. (MOL) has used artificial intelligence (AI) to develop a new vessel allocation plan and cargo loading plan for car carriers that promises to significantly speed up operations.

Developed in cooperation with MOL Information Systems, the plan is based on “mathematical optimization,” one of the fundamental technologies of AI, the company said.

MOL operates about 100 car carriers, and in general, cargo capacity per ship is around 5,000 standard passenger cars. In recent years, transport and logistics patterns of automakers and other shippers have been diversifying, and efficient vessel allocation and cargo loading are essential to ensure the fleet to operate at peak effectiveness to meet customer needs.

As the company explained, when the vessel is calling several loading and unloading ports, the deck and hold in which cargo is loaded can significantly affect safety of cargo operation and its efficiency. In addition, since the order of cargo loading/unloading and hull balance during the voyage must be taken into consideration, it can take longer to develop a loading plan, depending on the plan’s level of difficulty and the skills of the planner.

In this study, in cooperation with Associate Professor Umetani, of Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, Osaka University, two teams developed an algorithm that efficiently generates a proposed plan from an enormous number of combinations by using mathematical optimization. Both teams will assess the potential for practical use of the technology, aimed at improving services through digitalization, and shortening the required time to respond to customers when transport volume or the order of port calls changes suddenly.

This is not the first time the company is implementing AI in its operations. In 2016, MOL carried out a study aimed at developing the capability to analyze data and forecast the ocean shipping market and bunker prices with greater accuracy by using artificial intelligence (AI). More recently, the company installed augmented reality navigation systems on 21 MOL-operated very large crude oil carriers (VLCCs).