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Second Aviation Challenge from CAAS explores solutions for automating build-up and breakdown of cargo pallets and containers

Second Aviation Challenge from CAAS explores solutions for automating build-up and breakdown of cargo pallets and containers

On November 23, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore
(CAAS) announced
the winners of its second Aviation Challenge. A team led by Singapore
Technologies Dynamics Pte Ltd (ST Dynamics), in partnership with Israel
Aerospace Industries (IAI), won the Challenge, for its prototype that will help
boost productivity in the cargo handling process. ST Dynamics is the Advanced
Engineering Center of ST
Engineering
, while IAI is Israel’s largest aerospace and Defense Company.

Launched in 2014, the objective of this Aviation Challenge
was to develop solutions to automate key segments of the cargo handling process
to reduce the physical strain on cargo handlers and improve productivity.
Currently, 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, are labour-intensive and
time-consuming. An estimated 40% of manpower deployed for cargo handling are
involved in this build-up and breakdown process. It is also
physically-demanding, as cargo handlers have to manually carry the cargo
shipments during the build-up and breakdown process, and the pallets can be
built up to three metres in height. 

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. ST Dynamics also won
the first challenge in collaboration with IAI.

In the second challenge, CAAS sought to explore solutions
for automating the build-up and breakdown of cargo pallets and containers. Thirteen
teams submitted proposals. The developed prototypes were assessed by an
evaluation panel comprising key members of the air cargo and logistics
community – CAAS, DHL Global Forwarding (S) Pte Ltd, dnata Singapore Pte Ltd,
SATS Ltd, Singapore Air Cargo Agents Association @Singapore, Singapore Airlines
Cargo Ltd, and Singapore Logistics Association.

Two teams – ST Dynamics and TUM CREATE Ltd. Singapore
(TUMCREATE), were shortlisted and awarded a total of S$4 million in funding to
develop prototypes over two years, since September 2015. The team with the
winning prototype was presented a cash prize of S$300,000.

Each team’s prototype comprised three main subsystems:

  1. Advanced Cargo
    Scanning System
    : The scanning systems are capable of detecting cargo of
    various sizes, shapes and materials, and can also identify various handling
    labels such as ‘fragile’ and ‘dangerous goods’.
  2. Intelligent
    Optimisation Software
    : The optimisation software processes the cargo data
    captured by the scanning systems, and plans the build-up and breakdown of the
    pallets and containers. The optimisation software is currently programmed to
    maximise the volume, weight and stability of the cargo pallet and container,
    but can also be programmed for other parameters.
  3. Automated Robotic
    System
    : The robotic system comprises robotic arms with specially designed
    grippers to pick and place a wide range of cargo with high precision, and can
    work alongside Automatic Guided Vehicles.

Both
prototypes from ST Dynamics and TUMCREATE
performed well during their
respective final prototype demonstrations, with scope to further improve their
performance. Both prototypes were able to reduce the workload for workers by
about 30%, whilst improving their contributions. The prototypes’ software were
able to optimise for multiple parameters such as weight and centre of gravity
at the same time, which will improve work productivity.

The prototypes achieved 89% space utilisation on average,
which is slightly better than the 85% space utilisation that a cargo planner
can achieve today, while maintaining performance standards comparable to the
current manual processes. 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. 

Some companies have expressed interest to follow up with the
teams on the technologies that have been developed. CAAS will also be working
with interested companies to further develop these prototypes for
implementation at Changi Airport. 

The winning solution

The winning solution is designed to be cost-effective and
can be easily installed with minimal modifications to existing cargo terminal
infrastructure. The solution maximises the volumetric utilisation of cargo Unit
Load Device (ULD) pallets and containers. It has an automatic cargo scanning
and logging capability, via 3D scanning systems, so that upon cargo arrival,
the scanning station creates a 3D analysis of its shape and weight, and records
any special handling instructions or rules.

Automated Guided Vehicle Forklifts (AGVs) pick up cargo
items from the scanning station and store the cargo at an assigned storage
area. The AGVs automatically adjust their fork width, so that wooden skids and
crates of different widths can be handled without human intervention.

Once the ULD build-up process starts, the AGVs retrieve
cargo items from the storage area and place them at the cargo build-up area.
The AGVs then assist in the build-up of ULD pallets for large and heavy cargo
items on wooden skids.

Advanced ULD Planning Optimisation Software ensures the
automatic building of ULD Pallets with high volume utilisation. The software
generates the optimal ULD build-up plan and instructs the AGVs and robotic arms
on the loading sequence and where best to place the cargo items on the ULD. ULD
scanners also provide real-time feedback on available space. All these steps
are performed in real time while taking into consideration operational rules
and loading constraints.

Mr. Kevin Shum, Director-General of CAAS, said, “I
congratulate the teams for the great effort. Both teams produced excellent
solutions, which leveraged advanced cargo scanning, intelligent optimisation
and robotics technologies. The solutions are cutting edge. They have the
potential to transform the cargo handling process – benefiting airlines, ground
handlers and workers. They will support the air transport industry
transformation map, aimed at raising productivity and creating better jobs for
our air transport workers.”  

 Mr. Wong Chee Meng, Senior Vice President, Cargo Services at SATS, added, “SATS
has always embraced technology to handle volume increases and transform
ourselves into a next-generation ground handler. I am heartened to see, through
the Aviation Challenge, impressive prototypes developed to enhance efficiency and
increase productivity.  Productivity enhancements are in line with what we
are doing at SATS and we are glad to have collaborated with CAAS as part of the
technical committee and evaluation panel for this impactful exercise.”

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