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PSA 'to launch tender for driverless vehicles this year'
PORT operator PSA Singapore is expected to launch a tender this year for the supply of the first fleet of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) or driverless vehicles to operate at Singapore's next generation Tuas mega port.
The AGVs have been deployed in a trial for over a year at the Pasir Panjang terminals and hence, there is an expectation in the industry that the tender will be rolled out soon. When contacted by The Business Times, PSA declined comment.
The first tender, according to industry watchers, will call for bids for hundreds of AGVs to operate at the Tuas mega port that is set to become the single, largest automated port which is slated to open progressively from 2021.
One supplier said: "If AGV is the chosen technology for PSA Singapore, thousands will be required for the Tuas mega port."
It is further understood that PSA Singapore has indicated a preference to "multi-source" which means that the upcoming tender could result in contract awards to more than one supplier.
According to analyst estimates, each AGV could easily cost hundreds of thousands of US dollars.
PSA has 30 AGVs on pilot trials at its Pasir Panjang terminals, 22 of which run on batteries and have been on trials since the second quarter of 2017. The rest are hybrids running on diesel and batteries.
PSA contracted France-based Gaussin Manugistique, Japan-based Toyota Industries and Kalmar, a unit of Finland-based Cargotec CHS, to supply the all-electric AGVs in 2016.
In 2012, Singapore Technologies Kinetics and Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industry were commissioned to build the prototypes for the hybrid units.
The AGVs are used to replace trucks at ports in transferring boxed cargo between the quayside and the yard.
The Netherlands' port of Rotterdam and China's port of Qingdao are ahead of the pack in deploying AGVs for cargo-handling operations.
While Singapore may not hold the lead in this wave of port automation, analysts argue that this may not necessarily be a disadvantage.
Victor Wai, financial research lead analyst at maritime consultancy Drewry's, said AGVs are still not "the norm" at ports worldwide, so it is not too late for Singapore.
But the city state can't afford to be complacent as it could risk being left behind as automation is the current trend, he said.
Ocean Shipping Consultants director Jason Chiang concurred, arguing that it is not "necessarily beneficial to be the first to apply new technology".
"PSA can draw lessons from others that have gone ahead and seek improvements for the application of the AGV technology at the Singapore port."
There are other plus points.
CTI Consultancy partner Andy Lane said that with the Tuas mega port being built from scratch at a new site, PSA already has an advantage over other port operators that have to work around constraints at pre-existing sites.
"PSA can design the new terminals for future needs and dispose the older ones that have become unfit for today's challenges," he explained, adding that this is one "luxury" many ports do not enjoy.
Mr Wai added that if the Tuas mega port operates at an optimal level of 75 per cent of its designed capacity, it would achieve the critical mass to justify the costs of automation. The Tuas mega port - being developed in four phases - is aimed at doubling Singapore's cargo handling capacity to 65 million TEU (20-foot-equivalent) by 2040.
Mr Lane said that with this phased approach, capacity can be brought on line gradually at the Tuas port which would allow PSA the flexibility to match capacity with demand swings to ensure that the port stands "a very high chance of being utilised".