Ports have adopted automation at a relatively slow rate compared with other industries. Sectors such as mining and warehousing have been faster to recognize the benefits of automation and implement the technology into their processes. Automation allows ports to operate more safely, minimize human-caused disruption, and enhance performance.
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The up-front cost of setting up fully automated shipping solutions has previously acted as a barrier to automating the shipping industry on a global scale. Global mechatronics solution provider Stäubli has now launched its Quick Charging Connection solution integrated into PSA Singapore’s container transshipment hub. The technology will allow the port to become fully automated. It will also likely act as an example to the wider industry of how automation technology can be adopted to leverage numerous benefits.
The Fully Automated Port
While the world’s first automated container port was created back in the 1990s in Europe, automation has not fully taken off in the industry. To date, roughly 40 more ports have become fully or partially automated, with around half of these being established in the last few years.
Data estimates that approximately $10 billion in total has been invested into port automation projects, with $15 billion more expected in the next five years. There is a keen interest in automation technology in the shipping industry. However, there are limited examples of seamless, fully automated operations to provide case studies to ports for developing automation in their location.
Quick-Charging AGVs to Automate Port Operations
The world’s largest container transshipment hub, PSA Singapore, will soon become fully automated. The port connects shipping lines to more than 600 global ports. Annually, it handles over 85 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of containers. To prepare for inevitable future growth, PSA is adopting Stäubli technology to integrate fully automated shipping solutions into its hub.
Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are key to the fully automated port. They are vehicles that can move shipping containers without the need for manual (human) labor. To optimize the operations of automated ports, AGVs must be efficient and reliable.
The PSA hub is trialing AGVs that can carry 65 tons and move at a crushing speed of 25 km/h. The AGVs are more cost-effective and energy-efficient than their traditional counterparts. They also require less maintenance and help the port reduce its carbon footprint by being fully electric, and, therefore, do not release emissions into the atmosphere.
Stäubli supports the adoption of these vehicles with its Quick Charging Connection solution that allows AGVs to charge their batteries in just 20 minutes, proving four to five hours of operation time.
Fast Battery Replacement During Maintenance
Stäubli’s Multi Connect System provides fast battery replacement for efficient maintenance. With numerous AGVs operating simultaneously, it is vital to the seamless running of port operations that battery replacement of the AGVs must be equally speedy at all hours of the day.
To address this need, Stäubli has developed its Multi Connect System (MCS) that centralizes different energy sources and can connect them with a single movement. The MCS is perfectly designed to support automatic and rapid operations.
The Future of Fully Automated Shipping Solutions
A recent McKinsey report has highlighted the value of automating the shipping industry. According to current data, successfully automated ports can benefit from a 25-55% reduction in operating expenses and a 10-35% increase in productivity. These figures demonstrate the benefits of fully automated shipping solutions.
The project's potential success at PSA, where Stäubli has been integrated, will likely act as an example to other ports across the globe hoping to benefit from automating their shipping systems. This project in particular will also likely further Singapore’s connectivity, enforcing its importance as a shipping hub, in addition to inspiring other locations to do the same.
In the even longer term, the PSA/Stäubli project's inspiration may usher in a new paradigm known in the industry as Port 4.0, which represents a shift from asset operator to service orchestrator. Port 4.0 acts as part of the more significant paradigm shift called industry 4.0, which joins and optimizes production and operations activities with intelligent digital technology, machine learning, and big data. As a result, more value will be generated for the operators of ports, supplies, and customers. While there will be a lot to be leveraged from implementing fully automated shipping solutions, innovative business models will be required to get the most out of this technology.
References and Further Reading
Innovative mechatronic solutions for higher productivity. Stäubli. Available at: https://www.staubli.com/en-us/
Quick and reliable connections for AGVs at the world’s largest container transshipment port. Stäubli. Available at: https://www.staubli.com/index.php?id=13588
The future of automated ports. Fox Chu, Sven Gailus, Lisa Liu, and Liumin Ni. McKinsey. Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/travel-logistics-and-infrastructure/our-insights/the-future-of-automated-ports