SINGAPORE - The ports of Singapore and Shanghai have been competing with each other for years for the title of the world's busiest port.
This rivalry just got friendlier: a Singapore-Shanghai team was on Thursday night named the winner of the Next Generation Container Port (NGCP) Challenge, beating six other finalists to the US$1 million (S$1.24 million) prize money.
The NGPC Challenge, launched by Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and Singapore Maritime Institute, was an open call to the world for ideas on a transhipment port of the future. It attracted 56 submissions from 25 countries.
The aim was to come up with a container port that could achieve a "quantum leap" in port performance, productivity and sustainability. Teams or individuals had to figure out how a limited land area of 2.5 square kilometres could still be highly productive and handle 20 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) a year, of which 80 per cent are transhipment cargo.
In 2012, Singapore's five container terminals handled a record 31.6 million TEUs.
The winning team with a pun for a name, Singa-PORT, saw academics from National University of Singapore (NUS) joining forces with Shanghai Maritime University and Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries Company (ZPMC) with an idea that broke away from the standard practice of a "flat" yard.
SingaPORT's design boasts a double-storey stacking yard, able to address Singapore's land scarcity and shorten the time spent transporting containers over a sprawling yard space.
It also incorporated very efficient sophisticated multi-hoist cranes to could serve both upper and lower levels - a contribution of ZPMC, one of the largest crane makers in the world.
The stacks ended up occupying only 80 per cent stipulated land space, so the group decided to accommodate an integrated logistics centre on site, equivalent to four times the size of Keppel Distripark.
"The logistics centre can value-add to the port and could eventually increase the port's competitiveness," said assistant professor Lee Loo Hay from NUS' Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.
Moreover, the separation between two floors would also cut down the time spent in reshuffling containers stacked in the wrong order - a problem faced uniquely by Singapore, a transhipment port where a majority of the containers are re-exported to other destinations.
The team was not without its differences. Shanghai Maritime University, which has consulted closely for Tianjin port, was initially concerned that coming up with a multi-storey port would make the team a "laughing stock".
"But their concept of port operations was from the perspective of an import-export port," Asst Prof Lee said, whereas Singapore was a transhipment port.
NUS also needed their Chinese teammate's perspectives. Having ShMU's experience in port development and ZPMC's expertise in crane technology was "complementary" to NUS's research strengths, said Chew Ek Peng, associate professor at the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at NUS.
SingaPORT's concept also reduces manpower requirements by about 60 per cent with automated technology, such as automatic lifting vehicles (ALVs). The ALVs run on electricity, which make port operations less pollutive.
CEO of MPA Lam Yi Young said it was not an easy task for the seven-person judging panel to pick a winner.
"All of the shortlisted proposals contained interesting ideas and had their own strengths and advantages in terms of performance, productivity, sustainability and innovation," said Mr Lam.
The six other finalists were each awarded prize money of US$100,000 at the Singapore International Maritime Awards Ceremony on Thursday night.
Get The Business Times for more stories.