Dubai automation hands Kenya business lessons

Dubai, UAE

An aerial view of Dubai in the United Arab Emirate. FILE PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH

It is slightly after 11 am at a factory owned by giant food and beverage processor, Nutridor, within the expansive Dubai Industrial City (DIC).

On a relatively tiny factory floor measuring just about 9,290.3 square meters (10,000 square feet), a compact set of machines are humming away producing 60,000 litres of products per day and supervised by only 15 workers per shift.

“Our operations are highly automated, which presents us with good economy of scale. The size of our factory relative to what we produce is impressive, thanks to high automation,” Nutridor Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sankha Biswas told Business Daily in an interview at the company factory in Dubai.

Sankha Biswas - CEO Nutridor 3

Nutridor Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sankha Biswas. PHOTO | COURTESY

“We produce $1,500(Sh 227,750.78) value of goods per square foot (0.092903 square meters) due to automation.”

This concept of ‘micro-factories’ due to high automation is now dominant within the DIC—handing investors much relief from the high overhead costs associated with the traditional non-automated factories that require large spaces to set up and many workers.

“Automation has become big, and most investors are spared the costs of setting up large factories with many employees. I recently received an application from an investor who wanted to set up a factory operation and after I reviewed their plan, I told them they did not need all that land they had secured because of automation and advised them to lease out part of it,” Saub Abu Alshawareb, executive vice president of the DIC said in an interview.

The ‘micro-factories’ are small-to-medium in scale and highly technologically advanced compared to the traditional factories. They consume less power and human resources due to newer technologies with higher efficiency, hence requiring little to no human input.

Away from the DIC, the power of automation in instilling business efficiency also plays out at Dubai’s Jabel Ali Port which is located 35 kilometers southwest of Dubai.

The deep seaport’s container Terminal 3, commonly referred to as CT3, is semi-automated and offers users a remarkable technological experience.

Most of the operations at the port, including customs inspections and loading and offloading of cargo containers on trucks are done through automated systems.

The port runs on an automated digital system known as the ZODIAC, which consists of 18 internal integrated systems, including an automated cranes system, and berth planning. It also manages the rail system within the expansive port, provides full fleet management, and controls the container freight station and inland container depot.

Furthermore, the ZODIAC system provides real-time container location tracking, clearance, and delivery with billing systems, all buttressed by the Internet of Things system.

For example, from the comfort of a small, air-conditioned control room within the port, a handful of workers routinely operate cranes and plan berths using joysticks and computer screens, thanks to the ZODIAC system that is backed by more than 4,000 surveillance cameras.

“The result of this kind of automation is immense efficiency because every bit of operations is coordinated and monitored. Each truck has 15 minutes to complete its engagements through the port,” said Abdulla Al Hashmi, the chief operating officer of DP World's Parks and Zones in the United Arab Emirates.

The Jabel Ali port also has an automated container storage system known as “BoxBay” that saves space and time by stacking containers 11 stories high in a steel frame.

Typically, at major ports, shipping containers awaiting transport are simply piled up on top of each other six or seven high, waiting to be moved onto ships by cranes. This kind of arrangement not only takes up huge space, but it also means more time is spent locating and picking up the right box can be time-consuming.

But with BoxBay, which was jointly developed with German firm SMS Group, operators at the Jabel Ali Port can pick up the containers with cranes without needing to reshuffle those above them.

Key auxiliary services such as customs and documentation are also online. For example, exporters and importers have access to digital services which include processing of customs declarations and online payment of customs duties and fees.

Haulers can also create e-Tokens on behalf of exporters and importers for the delivery and pickup of containers to and from Jabel Ali Port.

Such automation is fast spreading in all key sectors of the economy as part of a national initiative dubbed The Dubai Robotics and Automation Programme, which aims to increase the robotics sector's contribution to Dubai’s GDP to 9 percent before 2032.

As part of the programme, 200,000 robots will be provided over the next 10 years until 2032, to increase efficiency and productivity in various sectors including services, logistics, and the industrial sector, and enhance the competitiveness of Dubai’s economy.

The Dubai Robotics and Automation Programme aims to increase the robotics sector’s contribution to Dubai’s GDP to 9 percent before 2032.

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