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PANAMA - Energy & Mining

Patrick Vloemans

Local Division Manager and legal representative, ABB Panama, Central American and the Caribbean

Bio

Patrick Vloemans lives in Panama since 2016. He obtained his master’s degree in Electrical Engineering in Delft University of Technology in 2007. Since then, he has worked in the design and built project segment, focusing on risk mitigation, interface management and customer satisfaction levels.

"In the port business, shipping operators have been investing in larger vessels. Larger vessels still want to turn around at the same time as before, though they have to move significantly more containers in the same amount of time."
TBY talks to Patrick Vloemans, Local Division Manager and legal representative of ABB Panama, Central American and the Caribbean, about Panama’s location and potential, digitalization, and electrical consumption in ports.
What role does Panama play in your ABB business unit?

Our core in the Ports Electrification business is to design and build projects in the container terminal industry, which covers electrical and automation infrastructure. We focus on container terminal operators, generally located worldwide. Panama has a strategic role; it has been selected as our Global Operation Center for Port Electrification because it is a country with excellent logistics connections both by air and sea. Panama has a dollar-based economy and is politically stable and secure. We also found qualified resources to operate with, not only because they are proficient in English but also because Panamanians have shown adaptability and flexibility, which are essential for our business. There was initially some skepticism over whether we could deliver out of Panama to the world because Panama is not recognized as a production or contractor country. As a company we have to demonstrate that we can deliver, which we have done well with Panamanian labor. We have approximately 100 people here comprising 97 Panamanians, two Colombians, and a Dutch individual. We export to the Ivory Coast, Morocco, Senegal, Saudi Arabia, Croatia, Belgium, Jamaica, Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia and Uruguay. Panama is an excellent location for prefabrication in this segment, and in the coming years we plan to expand further into different industries out of Panama. Panama has been seeking to diversify out of banking and finance sector into other segments, like the production sectors. The EMMA law is an excellent example of Panama’s vision to add greater value to its economy via fabrication. There is great potential here. Companies can receive their goods from the far East in three weeks, develop their value addition and, from here, ship it to Europe in two weeks. There are many benefits, and we are in the free zone, so we do not have any import-export processes. We are incredible bullish about the potential here.

How do you see the digitalization of ports in the region compared to other markets out of Latin America?

In the port business, shipping operators have been investing in larger vessels. Larger vessels still want to turn around at the same time as before, though they have to move significantly more containers in the same amount of time. This means there is an urgent need for automation and digitalization. Since the pandemic, the shipping industry has invested substantially in larger vessels. We are enabling the sustainability move to become carbon neutral in the future. You must remove diesel-driven equipment in the ports industry to become carbon neutral. Accordingly, we are electrifying everything. We have done shore connections, where vessels connects for electricity sourcing from the utility grid so that they can switch off their engines when they are in port and prevent emissions. At the moment, by example, we export to the public authority in Morocco one shore power system. We are doing our part to drive sustainability forward. On the other hand, digitalization in the Latin American ports market is under development, we have seen some initiatives started in most container terminals – we had implemented OCR systems for the gate and the cranes and energy monitoring systems to track consumption. We still see room for improvement for the local customers, to work in an integrated and completely digital environment.

What main products would you highlight?

The first two are charging infrastructure for terminal tractors. We are also supporting the growing reefer container market used for refrigerated cargo. This market has substantially increased since the pandemic, which increases electrical consumption in ports drastically. This has spurred the refrigerated supply chain. Another product to highlight are the prefabricated substations—core product in our Panama factory—which means companies can switch from diesel operations to an electric terminal reasonable quickly. In the end, we enable electrification, monitoring, as well as digitalization because we can see how much energy one consumes, and then with AI we can predict future electrical consumption to optimized OPEX. With our energy management software developed in Panama dedicated for the container terminal segment.

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