Across China: Smart port busts myth of "no woman's land"

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TIANJIN, Aug. 31 (Xinhua) -- Ma Honglai, 52, and Ding Yanan, 37, are both gantry crane operators at China Tianjin Port Container Terminal Co., Ltd. While Ma crouches in a 3-sq-meter cockpit over 20 meters above ground, Ding sits behind screens in a sprawling control room.

Thanks to the Tianjin Port's efforts to equip its gantry cranes with remote control in its transformation into a smart port, Ding became a member of the new team of six female operators, a job that has previously shunned women.

Fiddling with joysticks and a mouse, Ding can control the gantry crane and place a container on a truck within two minutes. To perform the same operation with a manually-operated gantry crane earlier, Ma would need to scale the leg of the colossal machine to the cockpit, where he had to hunch over his lap for a good view of the containers below for the entire 12-hour shift.

"Perhaps one day, the gantry crane might not need me anymore since our new team of operators is already able to remotely control the machine from an office," said Ma.

When Ding applied for the job last year, she faced strong pushback from her father, who worked at the port his entire life and told her that "no woman is fit for the cockpit."

His concern was not unfounded. In the past few decades, when the gantry cranes were controlled manually, operators had to endure noises, sunburn, cervical strain and long hours confined in the cockpit, among other inconveniences. Before Ding, the job at the port has been occupied only by men.

In December 2019, with the number of automated gantry cranes rising, the company rallied the group of six female operators who used to work as tallymen at the port.

"Now one operator can control five to six gantry cranes at the same time since all 31 of them at my container port are automated," said Ding. Meanwhile, the company is also considering fitting gantry cranes with remote control in the area where Ma works.

Automating the gantry cranes is part of the efforts by Tianjin Port to reinvent itself as a world's leading smart port with the help of new infrastructures including 127 5G stations and a cloud data center. The measures were emphasized in a June guideline on further lowering logistics costs, jointly issued by the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Transport.

On Jan. 17, 25 domestically-made unmanned electric container trucks, equipped with 5G transmission technology, helped transport containers to ships docked at the port. It was the first time in the world for driverless trucks to complete such an operation, marking another milestone in pursuit of a smart port.

Efficiency has improved as the port became smarter. An automated gantry crane can operate on average 32.5 containers per hour, while all major efficiency indicators related to air and land transportation scored double-digit growth in the first seven months of this year, data showed.

Despite challenges brought by the pandemic, container and cargo throughput at the Tianjin Port were both up 4 percent year on year in the January-July period, with figures for July setting new records, said Liu Qingshun, vice president of Tianjin Port (Group) Co., Ltd. Enditem

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