Sunday 18th Nov, 2018

PORT & CONTAINER EQUIPMENT SPECIAL REPORT: New trends in waterfront automation

Kalmar Fastcharge automated guided vehicles. Photo: Kalmar
Kalmar Fastcharge automated guided vehicles. Photo: Kalmar

Businesses working in the area of port logistics should be prepared to share technology in order to facilitate future growth.

That’s the view of Kalmar Asia-Pacific senior vice-president Peter McLean.

The Singapore-based (but decidedly Australian) executive was in Melbourne for the Global Shippers Forum where he spoke with Daily Cargo News over lunch.

We asked Mr McLean if he saw much room for growth in the field of portside technology.

“I think there is a lot more [room]. Automated terminals are no different to our smart phones or the world we live in in any way. It will always continue to change,” Mr McLean told DCN.

“We’ll get more productivity. We’ll get faster, more simple, ways to connect different systems.

“I think that can be achieved by all of us working together more. I think we need to follow the lead of the car industry. If you look at the alliances in the car industry, I think they are a good example of where the port business and the container handling and the freight business should go.”

Mr McLean said the various competitors should “drop the facades and work together more behind the scenes”.

“Of course we can all have our brand, but there is a large amount of technology and skill sets that available if we share more… For example, we recently released a product called Kalmar Key.

“So, we’ve opened our doors, welcoming people who have got other technology and want to link to ours where we will build the bridge. We will openly build the bridge so that we share.”

Automotive examples
Mr McLean noted examples of similar co-operation that can be seen in the automotive industry.

“I think we should follow the lead of the Renault – Nissan alliance and other companies where they sink lots and lots of money into these backroom-type businesses,” he said.

“They build engines and build transmissions and share technology that they put on their own products and sell their own brand.”

Asked about the drivers of change, Mr McLean said it was sustainability.

“We’re such huge consumers of energy. Our [humanity’s] pollution is out of ratio” he said.

He spoke of developments in electric automatic guided vehicles (AGVs).

“An AGV is not new to the industry, but the real release was the fast charge.

“In five minutes you can bring it up to a very sensible, high-level work charge. It’s not fully charged, but it can be 60% to 80% charged within five minutes.

“It’s that sort of technology that can be improved all the time as well as battery technology.”

For some of us, regeneration is something we once associated with episodes of Dr Who.

However, Mr McLean said this was also entirely relevant to port technology.

“Regeneration is a big thing in our industry. That regeneration of power within our business going back into the grid or back into our equipment,” he said.

“That is another big thing we’re working on. We’ve got some of it perfected, but there is a long way to go.”

DCN asked Mr McLean how stevedores would compete when automated technology became ubiquitous; his answer was in “service”.

“We’ve seen this in Australia. Australia has a very high degree of automation. There’s the saying ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ or ‘keeping up with your neighbour’.

“When Patricks years ago put Fisherman Island into place, the pressure really was on DPWA to automate their terminal and offer a consistent service.

“But then the pressure [was on] DPWA to do the next one as you go around the chain of ports in Australia and the same with Patricks. So it self-generates because the shipping lines need consistency.”

Mr McLean continued, saying, “Shipping lines have to have that [consistency] to be efficient and we want goods that we’ve ordered… so the key to stevedores is building a very consistent, reliable, fast service for their clients.”

Meanwhile, Maersk Line Oceania operations manager Stuart Jennings said in a high-cost country such as Australia, productivity and efficiency in every aspect of the whole cargo supply chain must be maximised.

“Maersk Line welcomes close collaboration across the entire ecosystem of the supply chain – customers, shipping lines, port operators, container depots, freight forwarders and authorities – to ensure Australia remains competitive in the global marketplace,” he said.

“We see plenty of opportunity for key stakeholders, both in Australia and globally, to work jointly on the development of digital solutions which support future industry efficiencies and customer benefits.”

No article in 2018 would be complete without discussing blockchain, and Mr McLean said it did not yet keep him awake at night.

“But again, it also is going to be part of our world,” he said.

“It is something that we either will start to develop ourselves or we will partner with people; of course and that’s really what blockchain is all about as well.

“So again it’s coming, and that’s why I think anyone who doesn’t open their doors and partner will be left behind in this industry.”

ICHCA Australia director Peter van Duyn helped organise the Global Shippers Forum and agreed the trends influencing automation were of great significance.

“Automation is very important, as labour costs are only going to go higher,” Mr van Duyn said.

“But it’s also about safety. We’ve had incidents recently where people were hurt on the waterfront.
“Had there been automation, you would have had damage but no injuries.”

Mr van Duyn said automation would not necessarily be implemented everywhere overnight, but would happen.

He noted Mr McLean’s comments about sharing technology.

“It’s interesting because some companies may feel they have a commercial advantage, a bit like Tesla or Uber, and are reluctant to give up too much information,” he said.

“But if there is some sharing of ideas there could be benefits for the waterfront overall.” 

This article appeared in the July edition of DCN Magazine – Port & Container Equipment Special Report

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