Technology is key for the Middle East



Allen Thomas, Chief Operating Officer, APS Technology Group, San Diego, CA, USA


As the Middle East continues to grow, it is quickly becoming one of the success stories of the maritime industry. The huge increase in container throughput has already driven more than US$38 billion in port investment and a further US$40 billion is ready to be poured into port construction across the Arabian Peninsula and neighbouring countries. Undoubtedly, the region is an exciting place to be at the moment. So, when I was approached to take part in the very first TOC Middle East conference in Oman this September, I was delighted to accept the organiser’s offer. On 21st September, I will join my industry colleagues from Moffatt & Nichol, Jade Software and ABB Crane Systems to discuss the future of terminal automation and debate how technology is opening up new possibilities to terminal operators across the Middle East. As the region’s port community is growing phenomenally, there are a number of advantages that process automation technology can bring to terminals in terms of improving efficiency and productivity, and we will offer an insight into the business benefits.

Going beyond the norm

One of the key issues that I will be looking at during the session is whether terminals can go beyond the existing norms for productivity and automation. Many operators believe that a technology ‘stepchange’ will happen and that it will be instrumental in improving productivity. Terminals in the Middle East, such as those owned by Gulf Stevedoring Contracting Company of Saudi Arabia, who are aggressively pursuing more business, realise that they cannot just continually expand their facilities to handle increased cargo volumes. They are instead looking to technology as a way of improving efficiency and throughput capacity, reducing congestion and lowering emissions, especially for gate operations.

Automation projects no longer have to be just for the high-end mega terminals and are certainly becoming the norm; however, most operators still question whether there is an adequate return on investment. In most cases, customers who implement smaller, process automation projects, be it at the gates, the vessel or in the yard, realise payback in less than a year, which is considerably quicker than other large-scale equipment automation projects. However, it is important to understand that a terminal-wide automation scheme, that may involve ASCs or a change in operating modes, is far more complex and can involve a longer payback period.

Implementing automation

When considering automation, terminal operators, especially those in the Middle East, should be looking at implementing targeted, incremental projects that offer a quicker return on their investment with less risk. Gate automation systems that leverage automated equipment and driver identification capabilities, for example, allow arrival times to be scheduled in advance and peak flows smoothed out and in my opinion, are one of the most powerful aspects of terminal automation.

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