18 electric AGVs from Kalmar to Singapore

In the summer of 2017, Kalmar delivered 18 fully electric Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) to the Singapore port. The project, consisting of new technology, partners and design, was completed on schedule. The AGV was completely customised based on the customer’s needs. The implemented AGV design expands Kalmar’s range of fully electric products. Comatec was involved in the project from the concept design stage.

Kalmar is a pioneer in the automation of terminals and energy-efficient handling of containers. One in every four containers in the world is transferred using a solution by Kalmar.

Singapore is one the world’s busiest shipping hubs: one in every seven containers in the world goes through Singapore. The AGVs are in preparation for an increase in trade. Furthermore, a completely new mega terminal will be opened in Singapore in a couple of years, and automatic container transfer equipment will play a key role there.

AGVs operate at the port without operators

“An AGV is an automatic vehicle, i.e. there is no driver. Automation has become more and more common at ports, and there is huge growth potential. An AGV can transfer containers between a ship’s crane and a pile of containers. The piece of equipment is able to transfer two 20-foot containers or one 40- or 45-foot container at a time,” explains Product Manager Jukka Ristimäki.

“The positioning of the AGVs at the port is based on the RFID technology. Large RFID antennas on the AGV can read the exact location from transponders installed in the ground. This allows for automatic control of the AGV at the port. As the port is full of large metallic elements, airborne signals cannot be relied on.

“Kalmar’s delivery included only the AGVs and their automation. The top level automation systems were supplied by another company this time, even though Kalmar has its own Terminal Logistic System (TLS). The TLS is delivered in connection with straddle carriers, and it has been proven functional in many places,” Jukka says.

“The AGV market is project-based. Last summer, we delivered the 18 AGVs on schedule. We hope that the AGVs will perform well so that we could get more orders in the future. New terminals or new automation systems are not built very often. A project is in the planning stage for several years, and when the planning is finished, several pieces of equipment are ordered at once.”

Kalmar aims for green business

“The delivered AGVs were fully electric. This was what the customer wanted, and it fits very well into our strategy, too. Kalmar’s vision is having all ports operate with renewable energy and without any CO2 emissions by 2060. The customer also shares this vision,” Jukka says.

“In addition to emissions from the motors, noise and light are issues that must be taken into account, because ports are often located very close to the downtown areas of cities. The lights of a fully automated port can be switched off at night. This not only reduces the disturbance caused by the lights, but also saves energy. Furthermore, electrically powered vehicles are very silent.

“Building a fully electric port is easy, because the power grid of a port is already very effective. Working at a port is clear: the routes do not change much, which means that the loading of electric vehicles is easy to arrange. This was our first fully electric delivery. We believe that their share will clearly increase in the future.

“The AGV complements our range of fully electric equipment. We can also deliver our Kalmar Fast Charge™. In this case, the fast charging device and batteries were provided by another supplier, however. We integrated the batteries into our AGV.”

Challenges included battery charging concept and schedule

“The customer wanted to try out two different charging concepts, fast charging and charging the batteries offsite. The customer had a special request: the battery pack would have to be easy to detach, so that it could be replaced with a fully charged battery while the empty battery was removed to be charged elsewhere. Designing automatic replacing of batteries was a complex process. The most major risks involved the batteries and their cooling. We were able to resolve these issues, however. Realising the fast charging was much easier, and it is also the solution that Kalmar favours,” Jukka explains.

“Optimising the weight of the AGV was a challenge from the get-go. The maximum weight-carrying capacity of the piece of equipment is 65 metric tonnes. One container can weigh up to 32.5 tonnes, and the batteries weigh some five to six tonnes. As the AGV has four wheels, the vehicle itself can weigh 24 tonnes. This meant that we had to optimise weight at every turn.

“We did not have a product line for the piece of equipment, so we knew that we would have to use several third party suppliers. The frame and assembly were completed in Estonia and testing took place in Tampere in our own testing area. In addition to our design engineers, people from Comatec and other engineering companies participated in the project. The customer was also closely involved in the design process. A good supply chain is one of Kalmar’s strengths. It means that we can find good suppliers,” Jukka says.

“The 14-month lead time added its own challenges to the project, because the piece of equipment was designed and manufactured almost from scratch. Due to the tight schedule, production occurred simultaneously with design. This was a fairly difficult and stressful situation for the design engineer. The design engineer had to get everything right the first time round. Otherwise, we could have had 18 faulty AGVs in our hands. We were able to deliver the AGVs on schedule, and they have been functioning well without problems. One of our key competitive advantages is the fact that we are able to operate on schedule and deliver the equipment when agreed,” Jukka says.

Comatec ensured the project’s design expertise

“Comatec’s design engineers participated in the project from the concept design stage all the way to testing. Four to five Comatec design engineers participated in the project, performing hydraulic, mechanical and electrical design. Comatec’s expertise in commercial vehicles and previous shared projects supported this project well,” Jukka says.

“Comatec’s design engineers designed the hydraulic hoses and shaft accessories, and fitted service hatches to the mechanics of the AGV. Mechanical design had a major role already at the concept design stage.

“At Comatec, we have extensive experience in various sectors. In this project, we utilised our expertise from several sectors in a whole new application. One of Comatec’s strengths is the fact that it is likely that we can find the expertise needed for each project in the house. We can apply our expertise so that it benefits our customers. Customers will see this as flexible service and cost savings. The project was well managed by the customer, and we felt that we were part of the team”, says Business Unit Manager Mikko Helminen from Comatec.

“The project was a good example of functional teamwork. The cooperation between all the parties involved was very fluent. The project involved major challenges, which motivated the engineers. The team’s motivation was at a high level in this project,” Jukka says.