SINGAPORE - On port grounds that evoke a multi- storey building more than a box-filled yard, driverless container trucks work around the clock to get their cargo to a berthed ship on time.
This is a snapshot of Singapore's future container port imagined by seven finalists of the Next Generation Container Port Challenge, a worldwide search for the ideal port design launched last year that carries a US$1 million prize for the ultimate winner. The results will be announced on Thursday's night.
Their ideas could well materialise when Singapore develops Tuas Port, where all of Singapore's container port activities at Tanjong Pagar, Keppel, Pulau Brani and Pasir Panjang will eventually move to.
The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and Singapore Maritime Institute issued the constraints: the hypothetical terminal has to be built on a 1 kilometre by 2.5 kilometre piece of land.
The port also had to maintain Singapore's hallmark of efficiency and handle at least 20 million container boxes a year, of which 80 per cent will be transhipped to other destinations.
Singapore's five container terminals handled over 30 million boxes in 2012.
The groups also had to consider the project's financial and environmental sustainability.
Many finalists plumbed for vertical port concepts.
The group uniting Jurong Consultants with sole proprietor KH Leong Consultancy effectively increased the usable area by 30 per cent by building upwards.
"Because we created two levels, there is a lot of space below that could be used for site offices, reefer container storage, substations," said Elson Mah, vice-president of port & marine at Jurong Consultants.
A multinational group comprising Singapore's APL and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the Netherlands' Kalmar and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland went subterranean.
Only AGVs (automated guided vehicles) are allowed at the lower level as a means of transporting cargo around the terminal.
Frank Kho, senior vice- president of Netherlands-based Kalmar, said having a "basement" avoided having to build columns, which is "a blockage to the free flow of containers and will also fix the traffic flow".
A Taiwanese consortium sought to think out of the box quite literally.
It chose to slice the stipulated land into two parts, to increase the number of berths so that 22 ships instead of 14 could call at any one time.
Their design also allowed for direct ship-to- ship container transfers, which reduced the time containers spent dwelling in stacks on land after they are offloaded from a vessel, explained Jason Yu, assistant professor at the National Sun Yat-Sen University.
Cutting out unnecessary box transfers was not the only way teams sought to increase efficiency.
All seven finalists unanimously embraced either AGVs or automated crane systems to move boxes around the yard, which lessens the need for drivers or crane operators.
"Automation is key because of the volume handled. Also, many ports face labour constraints like Singapore, so we definitely have to harness automation technology," said Jurong Consultants' Mr Mah.