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Changi Airport Terminal 4 Turns to Robot to Meet Labour Needs

August 11, 2017

In a bid to overcome labour shortage by embracing automation technology, Changi Airport is turning to robots to keep the newly-built Terminal 4 spotless. The robots are expected to help reduce the airport’s needs of housekeeping manpower, Channel News Asia reports.

Four automated cleaning robots had been set up by Changi Airport Group (CAG) at the terminal, after a thorough preparation that took about three years. For the future, it plans to add six more in 2018.

Physically attractive with cartoon faces, the robots cost about S$80,000 each, and are able to cover up to 1,600 square metres per hour.

As the robots cannot function alone without human’s touch, housekeepers are trained to programme the machines to do various jobs, such as mopping, cleaning, and picking up small items.

One of the 150 housekeepers in the airport, Tan Tiong Wah (69-year-old) said, “It’s exhausting to clean these wide floor areas by ourselves. Using these robots makes life easier for us.”

Besides the terminal floors, the robots are going to be used to clean car parks and toilets. This transformation, CAG representative said, will reduce housekeeping manpower by about 20 percent overall. Additionally, working side by side with machines is expected tomake the employees better skilled.

See: When Robots Steal Jobs: 7 Occupations Most at Risk of Being Replaced by Automation

Mr Kenneth Ho, senior manager of facilities management at CAG said that such cleaning technology will be deployed in Terminals 1 to 3 soon as well, after studies to measure the robots’ efficacy at T4 are done. He added that airports in New Zealand and some parts of the United States have also adopted similar technology.

“We are looking at a wide fleet of cleaning robots,” he said. “The job redesign process includes many different parts, from toilet cleaning, car park cleaning (to) floor cleaning, so we do see airports using some of this technology in parts, but not in full.”

Not only housekeeping, Changi Airport has also introduced automation and technology in other areas, including the ground handling, security, retail and F&B sectors, which comprise 80 percent of all employees at the airport.

“At the end of the day, it’s really more of a shifting of resources, and not so much letting go of people from the airport,” confirmed T4 Programme Management Office vice president Poh Li San.

Further, Ms Poh stated that she expects T4 to be about 10 percent more productive compared with T3. “We have to be very specific when we look at how and what kind of staff are being required at each different role,” she said.

Staff members in roles which can be automated – such as those involving data entry or laborious housekeeping – could be retrained to take on jobs which are of “higher value”, Ms Poh added.

Terminal 4 is being touted as a test-bed for the use of technology and innovation in the airport. It features automated check-in kiosks as well as automated immigration clearance and boarding gates – all equipped with facial recognition technology.

Read also: 31 million Domestic Robots to Help in Households Worldwide by 2019

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