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Bladerunner vision

Singapore’s new terminal in Tuas will be revolutionary in its use of technology.

Fifteen years from now Singapore’s port sound like it’ll resemble a Ridley Scott movie, drones flying around the place, and driverless trucks delivering containers to and fro. Much of the details of this Bladerunner-esque landscape have been revealed in recent months as authorities accelerate plans to shift the port from downtown to Tuas in the west of the republic.

The port is still growing however in its original location – in size, if not in throughput. This June the prime minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong,  opened phase 3 and 4 of development of PSA’s Pasir Panjang container terminal.

Around S$3.5bn ($2.6bn) is to be invested in the next two stages of the terminal’s development, which will enable Singapore to handle 50m teu of containers annually by the end of 2017.

While this development is impressive in scale it is nothing as to what is being talked about over in Tuas where dredging is already underway for the new 65m teu port that could look like a futuristic multi-storey carpark when completed in 2030.

Planners have had to get creative because of land constraints in the republic. As a result Singapore is considering using a two-tiered container terminal in Tuas, Maritime & Port Authority (MPA) of Singapore’s CEO Andrew Tan has said.

Speaking at the Singapore Maritime Institute (SMI) Forum in October, Tan said that the port is exploring building a double-tiered container terminal.

Tan said: “We should not restrict ourselves to traditional port layouts. One of these new land-use concepts is to develop a platform above part of the container port on which port-related and industrial developments, such as container freight stations, logistic hubs and other facilities, can be developed to intensify land use.”

“The aboveground space development over part of the new mega container port could create significant land area for the development of a cluster of maritime and port business activities, including amenities and possibly commercial-residential areas for those working in the area to form a component of the future Tuas maritime hub.”

There is also the possibility of developing underground storage.

Another aspect of the new terminal that will make it a world leader in automation is the use of driverless automated guided vehicles (AGVs). AGVs are unmanned transportation platforms used for shuttling containers between the quayside and container yard.

Terminal operator PSA currently has a fleet of eight AGVs undergoing live operational trials at its Pasir Panjang Terminal.

PSA has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Transport to develop an autonomous truck platooning system to transport containers between its terminals on public roads, as well as other potential future trucking uses.

One or more driverless container trucks will be led by a single manned truck, thereby raising productivity with more cargo transported per driver, and encouraging more trips to be carried out at off-peak hours, which will improve traffic flow during peak periods.

Permanent secretary for transport Pang Kin Keong, who is chairman of the committee for autonomous road transport in Singapore, commented in a statement earlier this year: “As Singapore’s maritime sector continues to grow and container volumes increase, the need for efficient inter-terminal and inter-port haulage has never been greater. Autonomous truck platooning technology can enable us to make a quantum leap in productivity in the port sector, while addressing the shortage of drivers in the trucking industry and adding value to their jobs.”

Deploying drones to drive productivity is also being researched at the moment while automated cranes are likely to feature in Tuas with the whole port operation making far greater use of predictive analysis. MPA has this year teamed up with IBM to look into how best to harness Big Data for port operations.

The first phase of the Tuas project, including 20 deepwater berths with a total annual capacity of 20m teu, should be operational in 2020.

As MPA’s Tan said in summing up Singapore’s future port planning: “By harnessing technology, by our willingness to experiment, and by learning from others, we will push the boundaries of what defines a port.”


This article first appeared in the recently published Singapore Market Report 2015, published by Splash. Readers can access the full magazine for free by clicking here.

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