New automated cranes and vehicles are on trial at the Pasir Panjang Terminal and can boost productivity substantially, potentially bolstering Singapore's status as a port hub.
Port and terminal operator PSA Singapore introduced details of the automated machines to Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan during a briefing at the Pasir Panjang Terminal Building 3 yesterday.
Under the new automated quay crane system, part of the process of moving containers - from a vessel to a prime mover, for example - can be done automatically.
But a worker will still need to use a joystick to load and unload containers onto the vessels and vehicles for now, though engineers are working to make the whole process automated with only minimal human supervision needed.
"Technology has revolutionised and transformed PSA and the broader maritime and ports industry," said Mr Eddy Ng, managing director of Singapore Terminals 2, which includes the Pasir Panjang Terminal.
"What used to be a lot more labour-intensive has now been refreshed by automation and digital capabilities and new technologies."
What will be especially refreshing for crane operators is that they will be stationed in an air-conditioned office instead of a cabin perched atop a 17-storey crane.
Mr Ng said the system, which allows operators to view live CCTV footage and move the containers while based in an operations centre, has been on trial since the first quarter of this year.
In preparation for the trial, 40 crane operators have been progressively trained to use the system since 2016.
These cranes will be used alongside automated guided vehicles, which are also on trial . These driverless vehicles are used to transport containers between the quayside and the container yard 24/7.
PSA Singapore has three automated quay cranes and 30 of these vehicles.
Mr Ng told the media that an existing automated yard system in Pasir Panjang Terminals 4, 5 and 6 has led to a 20 per cent to 25 per cent increase in productivity.
"In many sectors, we are seeing good results in better utilisation of equipment, higher labour productivity," he said, adding that PSA has yet to quantify manpower savings.
The move to boost efficiency at the Pasir Panjang Terminal follows a $3.5 billion expansion of the facility completed in the first half of this year.
The automated quay crane system will also be used at another terminal: It is targeted to be implemented at the Tuas mega port when it opens its first phase in 2021. When fully completed in 2040, the port is expected to be the largest container terminal in the world.
Mr Lee Poh Ann, 43, a container equipment specialist in quay cranes who has tried the new automated crane system, said a human touch is still needed for now.
Said Mr Lee, who has been with PSA for 25 years: "Looking at the CCTV footage on our computer screens instead of the actual containers needed some getting used to. It may not be very accurate as of now, so we still need humans to man the system. We can do more to fine-tune the system."