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Westports eyes automation and emerging technologies in expansion

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Planners behind the Westports expansion will be making a concerted effort to invest in automated container equipment as the port seeks to manage surging demand in the coming decades.

In its terminal expansion creating capacity for lots between CT10 and CT17, automated equipment investment will become necessary, Westport Holdings Berhad (Westports) told a webinar on 18 February.

Westports expects capacity to double from 14 million TEU currently to up to 30 million TEU once CT17 is fully operational.

Westports has already received a fleet of new equipment, including 12 Mitsui Rubber-Tyred Gantry (RTG) Cranes delivered in December 2020 and January 2021.

Looking forward, Westports Managing Director Datuk Ruben Gnanalingam said the company will move towards automated cranes and potentially automated trucks to operate in its shipping yards.

“We may also be looking at automated maintenance and also consider automated tugs when the technology is available. When feasible, we will be exploring ancillary services such as lashing, mooring, and stevedoring,” he said.

Although Westports plans to significantly invest in automated equipment, Gnanalingam said current operations will still require some processes to be done manually.

“For us, right now, a lot of the operations we do are manual,” Gnanalingam explained. “We have human beings driving the cranes, trucks, stackers, human beings everywhere.

“We’re trying to get fewer human beings doing better jobs. We’re not going to automate all of the cranes because we feel in some instances human beings are superior to robots – but we feel there are some areas though where automation can really help.”

Gnanalingam continued to note that the company aims to become a “logistics technology sandbox,” experimenting with several companies on an AI system for yard optimisation.

Use of Westport’s E-Service reached an average of 98% in December 2020 and from July 2021 the company plans to operate online-only communications with customers as part of its digitalisation efforts.

Despite the decision to embrace automation and digitalisation at the port, Gnanalingam tempered expectations on the rapidity of its digital shift.

“One of the biggest challenges for us [in digitalisation] is that it isn’t cheap,” lamented Gnanalingam.

“We’re in an industry where customers have a lot of cost pressures in a normal year. They want cost driven down. When we digitalise, the ROIs need to be good. There’s no point just doing it for the sake of it.”

Westports, a multi-cargo terminal located in Port Klang, Malaysia, expects to invest RM12.6 billion ($3.12 billion) over a 20-30 year time period as part of the expansion to CT17.

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