Conventional Container
Small terminal surface Large terminal surface
Direct transshipment possible Indirect transshipment
Limited mechanization and automation Advanced mechanization and automation
Improvisation in terminal operations Organization and planning
Characteristics of Conventional Break-bulk Terminals versus Container Terminals
Conventional break-bulk terminals were mainly focused on direct transshipment from the deepsea vessel to inland transport modes. Direct transshipment is associated with very short dwell times (the average time the cargo remains stacked on the terminal and during which it waits for some activity to occur), requiring only a small temporary storage area on the terminal. Transshipment was very labor intensive with operations managed on an ad-hoc basis. It was common due to the lengthy loading or unloading process to have goods move directly from the land mode (trucks or rail) to the ship or vice-versa and ships staying at berth for several days.
The introduction of container vessels meant larger cargo volumes per port call and shorter handling times per ton. Both factors made direct transshipment no longer feasible as this would require a large amount of trucks, barges and trains to be in place during the vessel's short port stay. Due to congestion, capacity and availability of inland transportation containerization contributed to a modal separation on terminals and the setting of a significant buffer in the form of large stocking areas. Each transport mode received a specific area on the terminal, so that operations on vessels, barges, trucks and trains could not obstruct one another. This modal separation in space was a requirement for setting up a system of indirect transshipment whereby each transport mode follows its own time schedule and operational throughput, implying a modal separation in time. Under the indirect transshipment system, the terminal stacking area functions as a buffer and temporary storage area between the deepsea operations and the land transport operations that take place later in the process. As a consequence, and in spite of higher turnover levels, the space consumed by container terminals increased substantially. In turn, these space requirements changed the geography of ports and the migration of terminals to new peripheral sites.