Today, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) announced the winner of the first Aviation Challenge. The Aviation Challenge was launched in 2014 with the objective of developing innovative solutions to automate labour-intensive processes in airport operations.
The first Aviation Challenge sought to reduce the physical strain of baggage handling on workers, caused by labour-intensive tasks such as the manual loading of bags into trolleys and stacking of bags inside an aircraft cargo hold, by automating the baggage handling process for narrow-body aircraft.
Fourteen teams applied of which five were chosen and awarded a total of S$9.2 million in funding to develop prototypes from September 2015 to July 2017. The prototypes were then evaluated jointly by a panel comprising senior representatives from the aviation community.
The five finalists were Ctrlworks Pte. Ltd., Cyclect Electrical Engineering Pte. Ltd., Singapore Aerospace & Aviation Services Pte. Ltd., Singapore Technologies Dynamics Pte. Ltd. and Temasek Polytechnic (click here to view details of all 5 prototypes)
A team led by Singapore Technologies Dynamics Pte. Ltd. (ST Dynamics), in collaboration with Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI), emerged winners and was presented a cash prize of half a million dollars at the award ceremony. ST Dynamics is the Advanced Engineering Center of ST Engineering.
The solutions tried to tackle a three-stage baggage handling process for departing as well arriving flights.
Departure stages: 1) Reconcile & Build (After check-in, bags are sent to carousels using a baggage handling system and reconciled to ensure they are loaded to the correct flight, and manually loaded into trolleys.); 2) Transport of Bags (trolleys are manually towed by tractor to the departing aircraft); and 3) Loading into Cargo Hold (Bags are then manually unloaded from the trolleys onto a conveyor belt loader. Apron assistants also need to sort bags inside the aircraft cargo hold, as it can be as deep as 10 metres long.)
Arrival stages: 1) Unloading from Cargo Hold (apron assistants will unload bags from inside the cargo hold onto a conveyor belt loader. Other apron assistants will pick up the bags off the belt loader, and place them inside the trolleys.); 2) Transport of Bags (trolleys are then manually towed either to their respective transfer belts or arrival belts); and 3) Offloading onto Arrival Belt (Bags for arrival reclaim will then be offloaded manually from the trolleys.)
The winning prototype uses bar-code readers, fully automated baggage sorting and transfer systems, robotic arms, and a multi-flight baggage handling software suite to automate the baggage tracking, sorting and loading process. It also uses unmanned autonomous baggage tractors (ABTs) to transport the baggage trolleys between the aircraft and baggage handling areas, and a Baggage Trolley Offloading system to automatically transfer baggage of incoming flights onto the airport arrival carousels. The trolley offloader prototype is able to lift a fully loaded baggage trolley, tilt it and offload the entire trolley’s load of bags onto the baggage conveyor belt in less than two minutes – all with the push of a button.
Minister for Education (Schools) and Second Minister for Transport, Mr Ng Chee Meng graced the award ceremony. Minister Ng said, “We should systematically and proactively look for ways to apply technology such as robotics and automation, to raise productivity and create better jobs for all our air transport workers.”
Mr. Kevin Shum, Director-General of CAAS, added, “We are delighted that this Aviation Challenge has brought out the spirit of collaboration and innovation – both within and beyond the aviation community – to enhance Changi’s competitiveness. These strong partnerships are key to ensuring that Singapore’s aviation industry continues to flourish and offer many exciting and attractive opportunities.”
Mr. Lee Seow Hiang, Chief Executive Officer, Changi Airport Group, said, “Changi Airport Group is pleased to support the Aviation Challenge where protoypes can be tested in a live airport environment. These innovations can help to enhance productivity and make the work environment more pleasant for our airport staff.”
The second Aviation Challenge will look at how to automate the process of consolidating cargo into larger pallets and containers for transport in aircraft and the reverse process of taking apart cargo from these pallets and containers. The second challenge is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.
In April 2017, CAAS released the Air Transport Industry Transformation Map (ITM) which aims to achieve real value-added growth of 16% from 2015 to 2020 and boost productivity by 3-4% per annum, in addition to creating more than 8,000 new jobs in the sector by 2025. The Aviation Challenges are one of the ways in which CAAS is exploring technological solutions to urgent challenges faced by the aviation industry.