WITH keen support from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), PSA Singapore Terminals - which operates the world's largest container transhipment hub in Singapore - is increasing its R&D efforts to develop innovative technologies for effective application in the port environment.
This comes as the country moves towards consolidating all container operations at a brand new port in Tuas. The longer term plan of moving the container terminals from the city to the green field megaport at Tuas provides opportunities for the development of new technology and the testing of advanced container terminal operational systems.
Among the opportunities identified by PSA are the improvement of manpower productivity and the use of renewable and clean energy.
The MPA and PSA established the Port Technology Research and Development Programme (PTRDP) in April 2011 to focus on R&D and test-bedding of technologies in the areas of port automation, port planning and optimisation, as well as green port technologies.
Both organisations have jointly provided S$50 million to the programme which connects them with technology providers, local institutes of higher learning, research institutes and other industry partners to collaborate on port-related R&D efforts.
An important project under this initiative is the driverless automated guided vehicles (AGV) for future terminals. AGVs are unmanned transportation platforms used for shuttling containers between the quayside and container yard.
Relevant skillsets would be required to operate and maintain this technology and to manage the complex systems involved, thus creating job opportunities for a new generation of tech-savvy Singaporeans.
When completed, Tuas Terminal will have a scale of operations larger than any port in the world, and AGVs will play a key part. The new port will handle up to 65 million TEUs every year when fully operational.
"PSA has been collaborating closely with MPA, industry partners and institutes of higher learning to develop future technologies for Tuas," says Adrian Sim, assistant vice-president, Tuas Terminal Planning, PSA Singapore Terminals.
"A wide range of automation technologies such as automated cranes and automated guided vehicles are being adopted and progressively test-bedded at our terminals. These include the use of predictive analysis for port operations, equipment and resource management, as well as the implementation of smart crane management systems."
PSA is also developing augmented reality platforms for use in equipment maintenance, troubleshooting and repair.
"The aim of finding and amalgamating different technologies is to improve reliability and reduce downtime, key elements of our quest for operational excellence," says Mr Sim.
"As PSA expands our capacity in Singapore, we will require higher skilled personnel in engineering and IT to help develop, operate and maintain these new technologies. Together with government agencies and partners, PSA is helping to build an ecosystem of local technological expertise to enhance the value-add of the port to the country through skilled employment."
Improvement of manpower productivity and the use of renewable and clean energy are among the priorities identified by PSA.
"PSA is firmly committed to a clean port. Our automated yard cranes are fully electric with zero on-site emissions. Within our current terminals we have also progressively introduced electrically powered versions of our rubber tyre gantry cranes," Mr Sim highlights.
In preparation for Tuas, PSA will also be looking into next-generation smart AGVs which use clean energy technology. It has also recently invested in solar power, installing prototype CIS thin film solar modules on its new terminal building in Pasir Panjang. These technologies will play a part in reducing reliance on conventional fuels.
"We currently have a fleet of eight AGVs undergoing live operational trials at Pasir Panjang Terminal. We will be increasing the scale of these live operational trials within the next two years, in preparation for eventual full deployment at Tuas. The AGVs will bring about significant savings in manpower as they are driverless, unlike conventional prime movers which require drivers," says Mr Sim.
In line with this, PSA recently 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.
"PSA is working together with higher learning institutes to help students develop skills and competencies in port operations and automation from an early age," says Mr Sim.
"We have signed separate MOUs with Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Republic Polytechnic and ITE, to help ensure we build up the skilled talent PSA requires to stay competitive in the container port and transhipment industries. These collaborations apply to all aspects of automation and operations in our current and future terminals."
Looking ahead, PSA is exploring the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for port applications. For instance, a UAV could fly near hard-to-reach areas of a crane to detect cracks and corrosion.