Research and development

One of HHLA’s strategic objectives is to continuously improve the efficiency of its operating systems, and consequently its competitiveness, by developing application-oriented technologies. The main focus of these activities is therefore on engineering and IT-based innovation projects. Due to close collaboration with technical universities, institutes, industry partners and government authorities, joint projects can be planned, managed and developed by working groups.

In the 2018 financial year, HHLA mainly focused its resources and available capacity on research as part of the subsidy programme for Innovative Port Technologies (IHATEC).

Container terminal 4.0

The Container Altenwerder (CTA) is one of the most highly automated container terminals in the world. Since it opened in 2002, HHLA has constantly been researching and working on improving and expanding automation at the site. Right at the start, a paradigm was established whereby automated work areas are separated, isolated and off-limits to staff in order to guarantee occupational safety. This principle has always been upheld. Today, however, this paradigm is preventing the ramping up of the  automated processes as it inevitably excludes them from areas used by people. The research project “Container terminal 4.0 – a paradigm shift in the automation of container via human–machine interaction rather than separation” is to be conducted as part of the German government’s Innovative Port Technologies (IHATEC) incentive scheme. The project’s main objective is to develop automation solutions for various container crane systems used at the terminal in work areas shared by people and machines (e.g. alongside ships and trucks) and to implement them as prototypes. At the same time, the experience, knowledge and evidence gathered during this process should play a fundamental role in establishing the safety standards needed to create a reliable framework for future automation projects.

Further development of HVCC software

Also as part of the IHATEC subsidy programme, the Hamburg Vessel Coordination Center (HVCC) continued the project “HVCC software – further development of interface- and real time-based software for the cross-operator coordination of barges, and mega-ships at a universal and multi-terminal port with nautical restrictions”. The aim is to expand the software to incorporate the various operators involved in ship calls. This could eliminate redundant working processes and improve data quality. The project’s main aims are as follows: Adapt the port to the challenges posed by persistent growth in the volume and size of container vessels. Boost international competitiveness and avoid unnecessary and inefficient transport, thus reducing the environmental impact. Accelerate the use of digital networks in maritime logistics and the port industry while making more effective and efficient use of the infrastructure of the Port of Hamburg and its upstream waterways.


SustEnergyPort is another IHATEC project being conducted by Hamburg Port Consulting GmbH (HPC) to enhance energy sustainability in the port sector. As part of this project, a structured, model-based process is to be developed and filled with content to enable port operators to identify suitable measures for improving their energy sustainability, thereby minimising their environmental impact and enhancing their profitability. The aim is to develop a structured process which will equip ports and terminals to achieve targeted improvements in their energy sustainability.

Heat treatment unit

UNIKAI Lagerei- und Speditionsgesellschaft mbH has developed a worldwide unique technology for preparing vehicles for pest-free export to Australia and New Zealand. As of 1 September, goods being exported from Germany to Australia or New Zealand have to be fumigated or heat treated due to the appearance of the brown marmorated tree bug (Halyomorpha halys). This also includes all vehicles that UNIKAI sends to Oceania. The new process involves converting forty-foot reefer containers into heating containers – a flexible, mobile and ecologically sound solution that is also attracting great interest beyond Hamburg.

Hamburg TruckPilot

With the Hamburg TruckPilot field test, which is scheduled to run for the next two-and-a-half years, MAN Truck & Bus and HHLA are launching a highly innovative research and testing project to develop automation solutions in road transport. The aim is to analyse and validate the precise requirements for the customer-specific deployment and integration of self-driving trucks in the automated container handling process under realistic conditions. Initially, the project will involve two prototype trucks equipped with the corresponding electronic automation systems. In fully automated operation, they should be able to navigate the journey on the A7 from the Soltau-Ost junction and autonomously unload and reload within the Container Terminal Altenwerder. The project is split into three phases: in the preparation phase, which already began in 2018, the technical conditions must first be defined. The testing phase is scheduled to run from January 2019 to June 2020. It comprises the technical development of the system at MAN’s testing centre in Munich in accordance with the specific requirements identified during the preparation phase. The structure of the subsequent field tests from July to December 2020 will be determined by the results of the preparation and testing phases and conducted under conditions similar to customer usage.

Hyperloop transport system

In December 2018, HHLA established a joint venture with the US-based research and development company Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) to explore possible applications of hyperloop technology for transporting shipping containers within the Port of Hamburg. The hyperloop concept is based on the idea of transporting people and goods at high speed through a tube. Using magnetic levitation technology, transport capsules are sent through a tunnel with a partial vacuum at speeds of up to 1,000 km/h or more. Initial plans are for the construction of a transfer station for testing purposes at an HHLA terminal in Hamburg, and the development of a transport capsule for standard shipping containers.

Performance certified

In order to document their performance, the Container Terminals Altenwerder (CTA) and Tollerort (CTT) once again completed certification in accordance with the Container Terminal Quality Indicator (CTQI) in the reporting year. The standard, which was developed by the Global Institute of Logistics and Germanischer Lloyd, checks criteria such as the safety, performance level and efficiency of a terminal on both the water side and onshore, as well as its links to pre- and onward-carriage systems. With their successful certification, the terminals once again confirmed their high levels of performance and compliance with all quality standards.


In maritime logistics, a terminal is a facility where freight transported by various modes of transport is handled.


In maritime logistics, a terminal is a facility where freight transported by various modes of transport is handled.

Feeder/Feeder Ship

Vessels which carry smaller numbers of containers to ports. From Hamburg, feeders are primarily used to transport boxes to the Baltic region.