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Innovation key to transforming sector

Leading this process is the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, which works closely with industry players.

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Automated guided vehicles at PSA Living Lab. Singapore is investing in new port capabilities that will capitalise on emerging technologies.

WITH the government encouraging more companies to invest in innovation, drive productivity improvements and enhance the skills of the maritime workforce, technological advances play a crucial role in improving productivity.

Many steps are being taken to get the maritime sector to harness new technologies and innovations to its advantage. Leading the transformation process is the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), which is tasked with the mission to develop Singapore as a premier global hub port and international maritime centre.

"MPA, working hand in hand with the maritime industry, has collaborated in more than 100 industry R&D projects, involving nearly 300 researchers. This commitment has deepened our maritime innovation and R&D capabilities to support our port and international maritime cluster," says Kenneth Lim, chief technology officer and director, research & technology and industry development, MPA.

Singapore is the world's busiest transshipment hub and the second largest container port. The vibrant maritime cluster provides more than 170,000 jobs, contributes about 7 per cent of the GDP and comprises over 5,000 maritime companies.

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"By building a maritime cluster centred on strong alignment of innovation and R&D efforts between the public and private sectors, our industry will become not only more productive, intelligent and secure but also more environmentally sustainable. As new technology evolves, it opens up new possibilities and forces us to constantly re-examine the status quo," says Mr Lim.

This is aligned with the Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map (ITM) that has earmarked innovation as one of the key pillars, alongside connectivity and talent. By working together to leverage trends of disruptive technologies to digitalise our maritime services and products, the industry can only be more robust and resilient, he adds.

"Looking ahead, with a strong foundation in maritime R&D, MPA has co-created with the maritime industry three masterplans - Industry Transformation Map, International Maritime Centre 2030 and Next Generation Port 2030 - to transform and position ourselves for the future," says Mr Lim.

For instance the creation of the MPA Living Lab, a technology partnership platform, encourages collaboration within the ecosystem, promoting experimentation of new ideas and concepts while concurrently collectively reducing the risks involved.

Similarly, MPA is partnering with the Singapore Maritime Institute (SMI) to set up maritime research centres of excellence at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and National University of Singapore (NUS) to deepen Singapore's maritime R&D capabilities and accelerate technology transfers to the industry. It is also partnering with the National University Entrepreneurship Centre to bring startup talents into the maritime industry.

"In the same vein, SMW supports this direction, as we bring the industry together and present opportunities for companies to strike partnerships, as well as facilitate knowledge exchange so that they stay abreast of the latest trends and be at the forefront of innovation," says Mr Lim.

Singapore is growing diversity in its maritime services by catalysing the growth of non-traditional players. The International Maritime Centre (IMC) has grown to become home to over 5,000 establishments and offers a comprehensive range of maritime services. Growing the diversity of the services will increase Singapore's attractiveness as a maritime hub.

"Apart from encouraging established companies to venture into new business activities, we will catalyse the growth of non-traditional players - especially those in the area of technology. For example, we have supported the growth of technology enterprises like Alpha Ori, Metcore, Gleematic and Brightree, and these non-traditional players bring with them emerging technologies such as AI, data analytics and IOT to support our maritime industry," says Mr Lim.

Importantly, ship classification societies like DNVGL, Lloyd's Register and ClassNK are supporting projects and research centres. They play a key and active role in driving applied research and technology development, initiating and promoting R&D projects here especially through the setup of their research centres and test centres in Singapore.

"The Singapore Maritime Data Hub (SG-MDH) is one new initiative that we look to work closely with classification societies. SG-MDH is a one-stop data repository that will not just enable the development and test-bedding of innovative digital apps and services, but also serve as a collaborative platform for technology companies, start-ups and maritime stakeholders to co-develop innovative data-driven maritime solutions," says Mr Lim.

Similarly, Jurong Port and PSA are working on intelligent shipping systems to establish and maintain technical standards for the construction and operation of ships.

"Singapore is investing in new port capabilities that will capitalise on emerging technologies. Our port operators are exploring technologies such as data analytics and simulation, unmanned drones, smart wearables and automated quay cranes," says Mr Lim.

The MPA-PSA Port Technology Research and Development Programme sees MPA and PSA stepping up on R&D and capability development in areas of digitalisation, connected community systems, automation and robotics.

Meanwhile, MPA renewed the MOU with Jurong Port on "Next Generation Multipurpose Port Programme" in 2017 to support efforts to digitalise multipurpose port operations. The three organisations - MPA, PSA and Jurong Port - have also set up their own respective Living Labs to offer technology developers and industry partners platforms to co-develop and pilot innovative solutions.

Apart from these, Tuas Port will harness data analytics to optimise operations such as just-in-time vessel arrivals, and the deployment of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) in the Pasir Panjang Terminal, adds Mr Lim.

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