32 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
Growing port seeks
logistic expertise
Georgia Tech supply chain team joins data
analysis effort for harbor’s expansion
By Keith Albertson
Credit: Photos courtesy of Georgia Ports Authority/Stephen B. Morton
The MOL Maxim works
under a rainbow at the
Garden City Terminal
near Savannah.
March 2019 | ISE Magazine 33
Shipping goods across the
worlds oceans was among
humankinds early methods of
trading across long distances
and remains a key cog in the
global supply chain, even in
an era of high-tech commerce and in-
creased air freight.
To meet this need in a growing econ-
omy, governments of the United States
and state of Georgia are funding a 10-
year, $2.5 billion plan to expand the
Port of Savannah on the Atlantic coast to
serve larger vessels and greater volume of
cargo. To help guide that expansion, the
Georgia Ports Authority is turning to
other groups for their logistics expertise.
The port is the nations fastest grow-
ing and includes two deep-water ter-
minals: Garden City, 1,200 acres in
size and the nations fourth busiest, and
the Ocean Terminal, with 1.4 million
square feet of storage. In 2018, the port
handled more than 4 million 20-foot
equivalent container units (or TEUs, a
common measurement of cargo con-
tainers), an increase of 7.5 percent from
the previous year, with plans to increase
to 8 million TEUs by 2028.
The GPA also operates two of the
three deep-water terminals in the Port
of Brunswick 80 miles south of Savan-
nah. Its Colonels Island Terminal is the
nations largest autoport, handling 1.25
million tons of roll-on, roll-off cargo in
2018 as well as forestry and agricultural
products. Combined, the two Georgia
facilities employ some 440,000 people.
The project to deepen the ocean
harbor and Savannah River estuary to
the Garden City and Ocean terminals
is managed by the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers at a cost of nearly $1 bil-
lion and is scheduled for completion in
2021. The outer ocean channel depth is
now 49 feet, with dredging scheduled to
continue this year on the inner harbor
to reach 47 feet in depth. The project is
expected to save governments and con-
sumers some $282 million in transport
costs, according to a corps study.
In addition, the port expansion in-
cludes massive infrastructure needs. The
GPA plans to add another dozen ship-
to-shore cranes for a total of 42, increase
the fleet of rubber-tired gantry cranes
to more than 200 and expand road and
rail capacity to handle the surge of ad-
ditional freight.
Port partners take on logistics
All of these changes create logistic chal-
lenges. The GPA turned for help to two
in-state resources: the state’s Center of
Innovation for Logistics, an agency
under the Department of Economic
Development, and the Supply Chain
and Logistics Institute at Georgia Tech.
In July 2018, the three bodies signed a
memorandum of understanding to pro-
vide research and data analysis to help
the port authority navigate its growth
Tim Brown, director of the SCL at
Georgia Tech, told ISE in a recent in-
terview that the partnership came about
as a natural extension from work the
Ship-to-shore cranes load and unload vessels at the Georgia Ports Authority’s
Garden City Terminal in Savannah, Georgia.
The MOL Maxim works
under a rainbow at the
Garden City Terminal
near Savannah.
The container ship Cosco Development sails up the river past historic downtown Savannah, Georgia, to the Georgia Ports
Authority’s Garden City Terminal.
34 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
Freight expectations: Growing port seeks logistic expertise
institute had undertaken at other ports
worldwide, including those at Singapore
and Rotterdam in The Netherlands.
Over the past three years as we were
getting to know the ports management
team, we opened a supply chain and
logistic branch on the (Georgia Tech)
Savannah campus and started interact-
ing with the port more,” Brown said.
“We had the international emphasis and
an international faculty with those in-
terests, and we wanted to start working
more here in the state and domestically.
So those type of discussions led to ‘hey,
we should be working together,’ instead
of the GPA trying to re-create the wheel
and find people that are analytical. You
have all these IEs and ORs and statis-
tics people here – might as well leverage
them as we have a particular interest in
applying logistics.
Each of the projects partners has a
distinct role. For Techs SCL, it’s data
research; for the Center of Innovation,
networking with governments and
businesses; and for the GPA, the port
expansion itself and its big-picture eco-
nomic goals.
“We are excited to enter into this
agreement between our organizations,
GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch
said in a news release when the agree-
ment was signed. “The MOU leverages
the institute’s predictive analytics and
supply chain optimization, the Center
of Innovation for Logistics’ network of
connections and the GPAs experience
in the field as an industry leader.
Brown said in January the SCLs re-
search teams were ramping up efforts,
with the second phase of the big ship
impact project headed by Alan Erera and
Martin Savelsbergh, Russ Clark help-
ing the GPA with sensor data and Chip
White heading a research team that in-
cludes the Center for Next Generation
Logistics, Center for Next Generation
Port Logistics and National University
of Singapore. John Bartholdi III, co-
executive director of Techs Panama Lo-
gistics Innovation & Research Center, is
also involved.
A wide-angle view of the Garden City Terminal at the Savannah port.
Encompassing 1,200 acres, it is the fourth busiest port in the U.S.
Ship-to-shore cranes work to load containers at the Georgia Ports Authority
Garden City Terminal in Savannah.
Containers and ship-to-shore cranes are seen working to load vessels at the
Georgia Ports Authority Garden City Terminal in Savannah.
March 2019 | ISE Magazine 35
The short-term will be the big ship
impact stuff,” Brown said. “The longer-
term vision included in the MOU is
supportive workow and economic de-
The big picture goal is to use the insti-
tute’s expertise and research capabilities
to help solve the GPAs numerous logis-
tic challenges as it grows.
For its part, the state’s Center for In-
novation and Logistics will serve as a
liaison between the memorandum part-
ners and businesses that could benet
from the expanded port’s capabilities.
As it relates to this project, we want
to be supportive of the state’s efforts to
improve logistics infrastructure,” direc-
tor Matt Markham told ISE. “We look
for potential opportunities for com-
panies who are shippers through the
port and are looking to better their op-
erations. We work to benefit companies
that work in the state and talk to see if
there are ways we can connect them if it
makes sense. ... We make sure the infor-
mation gets to them and serve as a bridge
between business and government.
The center holds an annual logistics
summit for businesses and other stake-
holders. This year’s gathering will focus
on the ports expansion project, its needs
and its benefits, and is set for March 14 in
the northwestern Georgia city of Cart-
ersville, near the site of the ports author-
ity’s newly opened inland port.
Bigger ships mean
bigger challenges
The first challenge involves how to con-
gure the port’s infrastructure to handle
the bigger ships that will be able to navi-
gate the deeper harbor. According to
Edward Fulford, communications man-
ager for the ports authority, in fiscal year
2018 ( July 2017 to June 2018), about 12
percent of the ships accessing the Savan-
nah port (212 of 1,840) had a capacity
of more than 10,000 TEUs, an average
of about four ships of the 35 received
per week. That total is expected to rise
sharply as the port is deepened.
The Savannah expansion is timed to
capitalize on the trend of massive cargo
ships. Fulford said the shipping industry
is gravitating toward larger vessels that
are more cost-effective to operate and
can carry more tonnage per voyage. He
said the largest ships that now call on
Savannahs Garden City Terminal can
carry about 14,000 TEUs, while some
routes now include ships with capacities
up to 20,000 TEUs.
The increasing volume of big ships
is partially fueled by the recent deep-
ening of the Panama Canal from 42
to 47 feet, opening the route for more
large freighters from Asia to dock on the
U.S. East Coast rather than exclusively
at Pacific ports or by traveling West
through the Suez Canal and across the
Atlantic. Dubbed the New Panamax
class of ships, they are able to carry up
to 13,000 TEUs, compared to the 5,000
TEU limit for ships previously able to
navigate the isthmus. Because these gi-
ant vessels carry more cargo, they save
on fuel and costs.
As the volume of cargo increases, so
The Savannah port handled 4.35 million container units in 2018, an increase of
7.5 percent from 2017.
Port of Savannah,
by the numbers
Port handled 4.35 million 20-foot
equivalent container units (TEUs)
in 2018, an increase of 7.5 percent
from 2017
Intermodal rail lifts increased by
16.1 percent to 435,000 in 2018
Total cargo at port increased by
8 percent or 2.6 million tons to a
record 36 million tons
The port’s growth rate is 4.5 percent
annually, highest in U.S.
Savannah and Brunswick ports
employ some 440,000 full- and
part-time workers, 9 percent of
Georgia’s workforce
Port activity accounted for
11 percent of Georgia’s total goods
sales in 2017 at $106 billion
Maritime trade accounts for
$44 billion, 8 percent, of state’s
gross domestic product
29 port-related projects came to
Georgia in FY2018, bringing more
than $1 billion in investment and
4,741 jobs.
Business coming through ports
raised $5.9 million in federal taxes,
$1.4 billion in state taxes and $1.5
billion in local taxes (source: Selig
Center for Economic Growth, Terry
college of Business, University of
Source: Georgia Ports Authority
36 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
Freight expectations: Growing port seeks logistic expertise
does the ports need to upgrade its in-
frastructure. Lynch told state legislators
in January that includes a plan within a
decade to replace the Talmadge Memo-
rial Bridge that spans the river to allow
larger freighters to pass underneath. An-
other option, he said, would be a traffic
tunnel under the river.
Savannah straddles Interstate 95, a
major north-south corridor that runs
along the U.S. east coast from Florida
to New England, and I-16, a four-lane
interstate that connects with I-75 in
Macon in central Georgia up to Atlanta
and beyond. With more containers to
handle, the ports efforts are focused on
moving cargo on and off ships and onto
rails, trucks and other modes of trans-
portation as quickly and efciently as
Bigger ships are coming in, and that
means more freight is moving through,
which provides challenges upstream in
the supply chain,” Markham said. “That
impacts everything from warehouse
and distribution to truck drivers mov-
ing freight and decisions being made on
how and when freight moves through
ports. There are big business decisions
One thing we’re interested in learn-
ing are ways to optimize the flow of
freight, including changes in gate hours,
off-site storage, truck turnaround and
the impact on warehousing and dis-
tribution. We’re also looking at driver
shortages, which is an issue all over the
nation, and things that can be optimized
to make it better for a driver to deliver
through the port in Savannah so they
can do their turnarounds in a way that
maintains their quality of life.
Georgias Department of Transporta-
tion has a detailed plan through 2050
to improve freight corridors through
the state, which would include a dedi-
cated lane for trucks on I-75 heading
into metro Atlanta. Markham said other
projects include improvements to the I-
95/I-16 interchange near Savannah to
expedite freight traffic.
Fulford cited some of the specific
challenges involved with inland trans-
port of increased freight volume: Motor
carriers who are adjusting to new regu-
lations, use of electronic logging devices
and growing driver shortages, often
due to age; and railroads’ need to create
new service lanes for more intermodal
The solution to ease increased truck
traffic and move freight faster and more
efficiently is to boost rail capacity. The
port’s volume of intermodal rail lifts in-
creased by 16 percent in 2018. In Sep-
tember 2018, the GPA approved $92
million for an expanded terminal that
will double the Savannah port’s rail lift
capacity to 1 million per year, making it
the largest in North America. The work
will include 124,000 feet of new track
along with the control devices and pow-
er infrastructure needed to operate it.
Another key element of the expan-
sion is the opening of inland terminal
hubs for container units to be staged for
transport to cities in the southern and
Midwestern U.S. The GPA has created
two such facilities in south central and
northwestern Georgia and plans a third
in the northeastern sector, each located
along major interstate arteries.
To more easily move a greater volume
of goods, Brown said numerous other
options are on the table, such as expand-
ing port hours to handle the extra capac-
ity and whether I-16 could be used as a
test site for autonomous vehicles.
Ship-to-shore cranes are lined up along the dock at the Georgia Ports Authority’s
Garden City Terminal in Savannah, Georgia.
The Garden City Terminal cargo import and export site is seen near Savannah.
Plans are underway to expand the port’s rail terminal capacity.
March 2019 | ISE Magazine 37
Better cargo movement
through data analysis
With all these challenges before them,
researchers now are engaged in analyz-
ing data from multiple sources to find
solutions to various issues. Fulford said
analytics provided by the SCL could be
used to help cargo owners and third-
party logistics providers streamline their
supply chains by factoring in various
transportation costs and other market
forces to determine the type of transport
used and sites for future distribution
As container volumes increase, dwell
time allowances (the time a container
waits to be picked up after being ofoad-
ed) on terminal must be modified,” Ful-
ford said. “How we modify dwell times
and understanding how those changes
might impact shippers and supply chain
partners is very important.
Such efforts are right in line with the
expertise Georgia Techs SCL can pro-
“We really liked hearing about the
inland port plans they were having,
Brown said. “We love to do multimodal
stuff and look at network planning and
inflows and outows and how to bal-
ance them and where to put these type
of things. ... They want us to play with
new ideas, analyze the data and antici-
pate problems.
From its previous work, the SCL
team has found that issues encountered
at ports in Asia and Europe arent always
the same as those faced in the U.S., such
as different labor challenges.
“Different parts of the world have dif-
ferent cost issues, different labor issues,
different automation levels,” Brown
said. “Singapore and Rotterdam are
more automated than ports here, for in-
Some of the Georgia ports specific
challenges are unique. In Savannah, a
city of about 145,000 residents, moving
goods from the river terminals to major
highways can be dicey through the citys
narrow, tree-lined streets. To ease this
problem, a connecting highway was ex-
tended 3 miles from the port to I-95 to
expedite truck traffic. Sensors also have
been placed throughout Savannah to
help analysts read traffic patterns to find
other solutions, Brown said.
While the port stands to benefit from
the expertise of Georgia Techs team of
data analysts, the schools faculty and
students will be able to gain real-world
experience in solving such problems.
And those interested arent limited to
industrial engineers.
“It presents a lot of interesting chal-
lenges (for IEs) that are not just within
the four walls of a plant,” Brown said.
“We’ve done show-and-tells with differ-
ent faculty on campus and it’s surprising
to see different faculty looking at port
issues from different perspectives. Some
even from the school of history look-
ing at how sea containers have changed
global trade. Some are looking at it from
a regional development perspective.
Here in industrial engineering,
the faculty, given this relationship and
how it ties to other things we’re doing
around the world, has started directing
more graduate student projects into the
port aspects, like looking at for instance
shared infrastructure in the automo-
tive industry. There’s been a project on
blockchain enablement on container
Though the project remains in the
early stages of data analysis and assess-
ment, the partners will ramp up efforts
throughout the year as dredging of the
harbor nears completion, set for 2022.
Fulford said research on the project was
scheduled to continue early in 2019 and
the GPA expects to have recommenda-
tions to consider by the years third or
fourth quarter.
Bigger ships mean
more cargo
The expansion of the Panama Canal
allows larger cargo vessels to travel
more easily to East Coast ports like
Savannah. Here are the difference in
ship sizes able to use the canal:
Panamax (previous): 965 feet long,
106 feet wide, 41.2-foot draft, 5,000
TEUs in cargo
New Panamax: 1,200 feet long,
160.7 feet wide, 49.9-foot draft,
13,000 TEUs
Source: http://maritime-connector.com
Workers use a rubber tire gantry to load containers onto a train at the
Appalachian Regional Port near Chatsworth, Georgia. The inland terminal was
the second created by the Georgia Ports Authority, with a third scheduled to be
constructed near Gainesville in northeastern Georgia.