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Singapore-developed prototypes to make air cargo handling easier

Singapore-developed prototypes to make air cargo handling easier

A robotic arm moving cargo for storage at ST Kinetics. (Photo: Elizabeth Neo)

SINGAPORE: A Singapore company has developed a prototype to automate the process of consolidating cargo for air transport, to reduce the physical strain on airport workers and boost productivity. 

The project, led by Singapore Technologies Dynamics in collaboration with Israel Aerospace Industries, was the winning entry in the second edition of the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAAS) Aviation Challenge which was launched in 2014. 

It was of two shortlisted entries from 13 submitted - the other is by TUM CREATE Ltd Singapore (TUMCREATE). The two shortlisted entrants were awarded S$4 million to develop prototypes over two years since September 2015.

For winning entrant ST Dynamics, their prototype aims to maximise the volumetric utilisation of cargo Unit Load Device pallets and containers. 

Cargo items are scanned for their dimensions while recordings of any special handling instructions are also made.

The information is then transferred to the optimisation system where it is used for the cargo build-up area. This ensures that space on the pallets are optimally used. Automatic Guided Vehicles then move the items for storage. 

The other prototype developed my TUMCREATE, also involves a three part process - Cargo Eye, Cargo Mind and Cargo Arm.

Cargo Eye scans cargo for details such as its dimension and material and uploads the data in the cloud. The process is done in real time and takes about 3 to 4 seconds instead of 10 to 15 seconds currently used by other systems, the company claims.

The data is then used by Cargo Mind - an Artificial Intelligence powered system - to decide how to load cargo in a way that maximises the volume available. Cargo Arm then forklifts and arranges the cargo accordingly. 

Automated Guiding Vehicle moving cargo for storage at ST Kinetics. (Photo: Elizabeth Neo)

In a statement, CAAS said the current process of consolidating cargo into larger pallets and containers for transport in aircraft and the reverse process of taking them apart is labour-intensive and time-consuming.

“An estimated 40 per cent of manpower deployed for cargo handling are involved in this build-up and breakdown process," said CAAS.

"It is also physically demanding as cargo handlers have to manually carry the cargo."

It noted the two prototypes were able to “reduce the workload for workers by about 30 per cent, while improving their contributions".

“In terms of space utilisation, the prototypes achieved 89 per cent space utilisation on average, which is slightly better than the 85 per cent space utilisation that a cargo planner can achieve today.

On average, the two prototypes achieved a build-up time of 48 minutes, which is comparable to the typical build-up time of up to 40 minutes today.” 

The prototypes were evaluated by a panel of representatives from the aviation community.

The projects also attracted companies to follow up with the teams on the technologies that have been developed.

TUMCREATE told Channel NewsAsia that several of the leading logistics multi-national companies in Singapore have "expressed their interest in commercialising the technology, with negotiations on the details of the partnerships are ongoing". 

Meanwhile ST Dynamics said it was in talks industry players.

Control at the scanning station to indicate the type of cargo. (Photo: Elizabeth Neo)

CAAS said it will work with interested firms to further develop prototypes for implementation at Changi Airport. 

Director-General at CAAS Kevin Shum added the projects “have the potential to transform the cargo handling process – benefiting airlines, ground handlers and workers.”

He said: “They will support the air transport industry transformation map, aimed at raising productivity and creating better jobs for our air transport workers."

Source: CNA/zl


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