Automation: ‘copy with pride’

Antti Kaunonen: "When suppliers pitch for an automation job, they want to talk about their unique solution and not about standards. This means that the industry is not able to ‘copy with pride’" Antti Kaunonen: "When suppliers pitch for an automation job, they want to talk about their unique solution and not about standards. This means that the industry is not able to ‘copy with pride’"
Industry Database

Kalmar’s Antti Kaunonen explains to Carly Fields why we need automation standards

When Kalmar president, Antti Kaunonen, pitched his ‘Copy with pride’ concept earlier this year, there was acceptance of his suggestion that vendors to not re-invent the wheel in every automation project. But, speaking to Port Strategy, he concedes that the impracticalities of introducing such a concept could be hard to overcome.

When it comes to creating an automation solution for a terminal today, vendors – either from a need to project an uber-innovative face or because of customer demand – create new solutions from scratch. They do not build on solutions already available and, in doing so, eschew the building of standards for automation.

The biggest issue, says Mr Kaunonen, is that large port operators are of the mind that unique automation and IT solutions give them a competitive advantage. But, all this means is that they will need huge departments – IT, engineering, automation, and so on – to undertake centralised engineering, he says.

“When suppliers pitch for an automation job, they want to talk about their unique solution and not about standards. This means that the industry is not able to ‘copy with pride’.” The result is a myriad of once-in-a-lifetime automation solutions.

“This will be a maintenance headache because you have to update the system as well as the applications. Also, if you have unique solutions, you have unique cyber security issues,” says Mr Kaunonen.

Conceptually, he believes that both suppliers and operators appreciate the need for automation standards, but the ‘I am unique’ thinking is too ingrained. While that may be true in some cases, for example where the shape of a port is unusual, all that is normally required are unique optimisations strategies, not an entirely new automation solution.

He adds that the ‘copy with pride’ concept does not need to be from within: “We can copy with pride from a lot of other industries - we don’t need to make the same mistakes that others have made. That’s why we have a great opportunity to fast-forward.”

Hope on the horizon

There is hope on the horizon, though. As the number of successful automation reference cases increases, operators and solution providers might start to appreciate that it is not necessary to create a unique solution for every project.

“However, this will be a learning process and it will take some time; it’s a philosophical change,” says Mr Kaunonen.

He has experience of introducing standardisation: in his previous roles with industrial specialists, Mr Kaunonen was involved in moves to bring suppliers together to create standards. However, in his experience, these attempts take time, and the longer it takes to find standardisation solutions, the more technology has progressed. De facto standards then become the norm. And while he believes that, today, port operators have an opportunity to push for standardisation on automation technologies, he does not expect they will take up the gauntlet.

“Customers and port operators need to get together and start insisting on automation standards. I’m always saying that this industry is 10-15 years behind other industries that I have been involved with - that number is not going down.”

Despite all this, he looks forward to the third phase of automation that is coming. The first was reserved for the brave that repeatedly hit their collective heads against brick walls to create automation technology from scratch. Then came the terminals that now find themselves struggling to hit promised productivity levels. “The second phase are the terminals that are now suffering. They are not able to get to the productivity they expected of 30+ moves per hour and can achieve productivity in the 20s.”

The third phase will bring terminals able to reach that magic 30 moves per hour number. “When we hit thirty there will be an automation tsunami. We have to be ready for that,” says Mr Kaunonen.

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