Hong Kong’s leading ground and cargo handler Hactl has taken its first step into robotics with the opening of a new automated parts store (APS) for its giant container- and loose cargo handling systems.
The robotically operated parts dispensing system enables urgently-needed spares to be quickly accessed around the clock, both for routine maintenance and in the event of occasional breakdowns.
Hactl’s automated and highly complex Container Storage System (CSS) has 11 levels, is 260 m long, features a giant ULD racking system that holds 3,500 units and stores and retrieves up to 8,000 tonnes of air cargo per day. Meanwhile, an automated Box Storage System (BSS) can handle loose cargo, using 10,000 stillages that run on tracks between the cargo pick-up and build-up areas.
These giant machines are the beating heart of Hactl, working 24/7/365 to maintain Hactl’s mission-critical operations, which often process over 100 wide-body freighters daily, and often 16 or more at the same time. Routine maintenance, as well as occasional breakdowns, employ an 80-strong team of engineers and technicians, who are constantly visiting parts stores to collect the components they need.
The previous, manual parts requisition process required technicians to visit the main parts store in the terminal to collect components such as sensors, switches and lamps for replacement. Outside the parts store’s opening times, the technicians could sometimes obtain the parts they needed from a cabinet in the Maintenance Services Centre on level 3 of SuperTerminal 1; but this held only 60 or so of the most commonly-used spares. Requisitions were recorded in a logbook, which the parts store staff later used to update stock levels. These parts store staff also had to conduct manual inventory cross-checks every week: a time-consuming task with the potential for error or oversight.
The new APS features an automated robot that manages more than 200 multi-compartment bins, housing all of the most commonly-used spare parts. On visiting the APS, technicians simply scan the code for the relevant parts, and input quantities needed, via a user terminal. The robot then takes the shortest route to retrieve the parts and serve them to the waiting technician.
The APS robot weighs around 270 kg, and can lift up to 40 kg. Although the APS is a “no-man” zone with 24-hour CCTV surveillance coverage, the robot is fitted with intelligent sensors to avoid any potential collision with personnel or property. The robot can automatically recharge itself at its home station whenever it is inactive.
The new APS system automatically updates stock levels after every pick, so no part stock is ever exhausted. When stocks do need to be replenished, the robot collects these from parts store staff at the counter, and places them in the correct location on the racking. This means technicians can collect any of the most frequently-needed spare parts at any time of day or night, and reduces the time taken to do so by around 50 percent.
Says Hactl Chief Executive Wilson Kwong: “Hactl is a mission-critical operation for its customers and the whole airport, so minimising downtime is vital in the daily operation of our core Cargo Handling Systems. The APS robot will immediately save more than 1,500 man-hours per annum, while a mobile app that enables technicians to order spare parts from any location will also be introduced in due course, further improving our efficiency.
“This is also an important technological step for Hactl. The experience we are gaining in designing, implementing and operating this facility will prove invaluable in enabling us to identify other suitable applications for robotics within our large-scale operations, and then produce tech-led solutions.
“This is yet another illustration of Hactl actively driving innovation and efficiency in its operations, through continuing investment in state-of-the-art solutions.”