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ABB

PANAMA - Energy & Mining

Patrick Vloemans

Managing Director, ABB, Panama

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.

"Our core is the ports electrification business, namely to design and build projects in the container terminal industry, which covers electrical and automation infrastructure."
TBY talks to Patrick Vloemans, Managing Director of ABB, Panama, about the firm’s operations, digitalization in logistics, and sustainability initiatives.
How does Panama’s strategic location and favorable economic environment support your company’s operations?

Our core is the ports electrification business, namely 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 was selected as our global operations 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. 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 the 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 complex import-export processes. We are incredible bullish about the potential here. With frequent daily flights to destinations across the Americas and multiple flights to Europe, Panama’s transportation links are unparalleled. Additionally, strong shipping connections make it an ideal logistical hub. This enables efficient distribution, with products manufactured in Panama reaching destinations like Morocco or Rotterdam within 15 days. This accessibility is particularly beneficial for supplying equipment to markets in West Africa and Europe. There are three promotion programs here: EMMA, SEM and Panama Pacifico, which complement each other effectively. They are excellent programs, but ultimately, you need to choose one. For instance, if you are in Panama Pacifico, you have access to other tools, but the incentives, particularly from SEM and Panama Pacifico, are highly beneficial for businesses.

How does your electrification and automation expertise improve container terminals, and how do you propose solving Panama Canal’s water issues?

We completed the electrification of PSA Panama, PPIT, along with installing electrical and automation systems. This facilitated enhanced automation of the container terminal and implemented vision-based container recognition using crane-mounted camera systems. These were our main projects in this region. Additionally, we undertook a larger project at MIT on the Colon site, automating crane operations with OCR technology. This was highly successful with a short implementation cycle. We also automated part of the container yard to expedite truck turnaround times, ensuring faster truck entry and exit. We have proposed solutions for the water issues in the Panama Canal, which are similar to those faced in the Netherlands. We believe that expertise from countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium, which have encountered similar challenges, could be applied effectively here. The Panama Canal has conducted a study with the US Corps of Engineers, and we see an opportunity to offer solutions that address both business needs and the country’s imperative to resolve its water problems in the canal.

How has digitalization improved logistics and customs in Panama?

The logistics sector has made significant strides over the past two years, particularly in terms of efficiency. Logistics and customs processes here are notably advanced compared to the region, largely due to digitalization efforts. Panama Pacifico streamlined single-window system, facilitated by a digital platform, has greatly enhanced customs procedures.

What sustainability initiatives, like solar panel installation and electric vehicles, are you pursuing?

We are actively reducing our carbon footprint in the office and planning to install solar panels at the factory for energy storage, aiming for self-sustainability. Our goal is to generate and consume our own energy without relying on the grid. We’ve already measured our CO2 and energy consumption footprint and set strict targets for improvement. This drives our investments in sustainability initiatives, including the potential adoption of electric vehicles once we establish charging infrastructure. We are committed to taking our environmental responsibilities seriously and operating in a clean, socially responsible manner.

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