CTAC 2020: ZPMC predicts pandemic recovery will accelerate automation

Automation to accelerate post-COVID

ZPMC, the world’s largest manufacturer of container handling equipment, has said the COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate the pace of automation investment and implementation in port and terminal operations.

Speaking exclusively to PTI ahead of CTAC 2020, Sun Fei, Automation Architect, ZPMC, said the pandemic had made the industry “better understand” the value of new technologies, and that automated terminals had demonstrated their resiliency during 2020.  

Registration to the Container Terminal Automation Conference will grant you access to all presentations during and after the event.

Fei attributed the success of automated terminals to the utilisation of remote technology, which made it easier to socially distance and maintain efficiency levels during national lockdowns. 

Manual terminals, Fei explained, are at a distinct disadvantage and continuing to use them was untenable in a connected and more demanding supply chain.

“In the era of traditional terminals, a complete set of processes including planning, design, construction, delivery, and operation and maintenance of the terminal is limited by multiple suppliers, technical capabilities and resource allocation capabilities,” he said.

“The problems encountered in the actual operation of the terminal often require more time and resources to solve.

“Compared with the traditional terminal, the automated terminal has more work interfaces, and its characteristics determine that it needs more systematic thinking to dominate the whole process of terminal development.”

Additionally, Fei said without automation, terminals will struggle to adapt to the challenges of the post-COVID economy, in particular future surges in volume.

“If we continue to use the rhythm and ideas of traditional Terminal to solve problems, it will be difficult to adapt to the development of the automated terminal era.”

Fei pointed to China as an example of how smart technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, big data and cloud computing, can transform infrastructure in ports and terminals and build a so-called “new information infrastructure”.

“The new information infrastructure has promoted the shift from traditional thinking to automated and intelligent thinking of Terminal,” Fei said.

The importance of automation can be seen in the fact that investment by port authorities and terminal operators has not decreased in 2020 despite the pandemic globally, even while container throughput has declined.

Fei said the industry must find ways to work together to survive the crisis and prosper once it is over. To mitigate the worst effects of the crisis the industry must “strengthen coordination” and trust new technologies.

In Fei’s words, this means authorities and operators must “accelerate the transformation and upgrading of the terminal and reconstruct the new core competitiveness of the terminal”.

Secondly, they should adopt a more open attitude to cooperation with each other and across the supply chain. Doing so, according to Fei, can “create an open and inclusive environment for cooperation”.

Being able to share data, for instance, would be “the first step towards achieving intelligent collaboration,” according to Fei.

This could have positive repercussions across the entire supply chain, regarding both efficiency and emissions. ZPMC, Fei said, is proposing a “digital supply chain sharing initiative to contribute to industry progress and sustainable development”.

Fei believes collaboration is important because the pace of development is not going to abate and the growth of digital technologies has accelerated the speed of everyday port technologies and the need for coordination between stakeholders in the port and beyond.

“We must review the current situation, increase technical exchanges and cooperation, and continue to explore and practice ecosystem-based technology, management, and service innovation,” Fei said.

“Efforts will be made to build an open platform that links collaborative innovation, an enabling platform that links the development of port and shipping, a smart platform that links port management, and a service platform that links the future of port and shipping.”

Registration to the Container Terminal Automation Conference will grant you access to all presentations during and after the event.

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