The future of port operations

The future of port operations

Andy Lane from CTI Consultancy gets a glimpse of new shore-side technology while visiting an exhibition in Singapore.

Container handling commenced in Singapore on June 23 1972 at the Tanjong Pagar Terminal (closed during 2017) loading roughly 300 containers onto the MV Nihon for Rotterdam. The first phase of development was funded by a S$45m loan from the World Bank. By 1982 PSA Singapore was handling 1m containers per year, which increased to 5m in 1990, and now stands at over 33m teu per year. The new Tuas terminal is expected to have capacity for 65m teu per year at full build and will span an area of 1,339 ha. The reclamation works for phase 1 are expected to be completed by 2020, and alone will cost an expected S$2.4bn.

PSA has exploited technology for many decades. In 1984 it launched PORTNET (on Windows), the world’s first nation-wide B2B port community system, serving the needs of its direct and indirect customers, and the entire logistics eco-system. In 2000, the first phase of Pasir Panjang was opened, featuring remote controlled overhead bridge cranes in the yard. Today it operates AGVs (automated guided vehicles) and Automated RTGs (rubber tired gantry cranes) on parts of the new Pasir Panjang development. It is further exploring truck platooning to serve the needs of the high volumes of inter-terminal transfers required between the city Terminals and Pasir Panjang.

Between January 10  and 17, PSA is showcasing its further exploitation of technology for the highly advanced Tuas Container Terminal at an open exhibition in Singapore. It is expected that the yard will be almost people-free, through the deployment of automated yard cranes and internal vehicles to connect the yard to the quayside. The quay cranes are expected to be remote controlled, where a single operator can handle multiple cranes simultaneously from the comfort of a modern office – and therefore where the need to transport people several kilometres and then 50 metres into the equipment cabins will become redundant. Further innovation will likely see automated twistlock fitting/removal.

Technology being explored does not stop there however. Lashing guns are already in place, reducing the physical exertion required to open and close the turn-buckles of onboard lashing-rods. Smart wearables will also further enhance the quality of the job for those who still need to work outside, such as; helmet mounted hands-free voice communications, AR glasses, body-worn cameras and wrist-worn biosensors, to name just a few. For work requiring strenuous dexterity, the use of powered exo-skeletons is also being explored.

In terms of big data, this will be used to track micro-metrics (instead of macro ones, such as moves per hour), allowing operators and analysts to review and improve the sub-elements of processes getting nearer to root-cause issues. For maintenance the shift is from preventative to predictive and will facilitate a more just-in-time approach. Additive layer manufacturing (3D printing) will also be used to create many of the spare parts which the machines need to have replaced periodically.

So with all this technology and automation, what happens to the jobs?

Well the thing is, Singapore is already overly reliant on a quantity of labour, which without immigration, simply does not exist. All industries need to be far more productive, and container terminals are not an exception. The jobs which remain will be greatly enriched, and significantly safer to perform – the number one priority for any terminal manager. So the jobs of the future will need to be focused on automation and system management, using more data analytics with a higher technology quotient and through greater cross disciplinary integration – different skills will need to be acquired as a direct result.

For the customers of the port, they can look forwards to increased efficiency and greater consistency of vessel operations. The new terminal at Tuas should therefore have many competitive advantages over its’ neighbours.

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