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ShinMaywa's automated jet bridges connect in Southeast Asia

ShinMaywa's automated jet bridges connect in Southeast Asia

OSAKA -- ShinMaywa Industries, a Japanese maker of specially-equipped vehicles and aircraft parts, holds a dominant 60% share of the market for automated jet bridges at airports in Southeast Asia. The Japanese manufacturer's market-leading technology is supporting movement of people in fast-growing emerging countries.

When, for example, a Boeing 777-300 aircraft arrives at a gate at Singapore's Changi Airport, whose annual passenger tally totals some 55 million, ShinMaywa's Paxway, a 2-meter-high, 20-meter-long wheeled boarding bridge, stands ready to connect the plane to the terminal building.

A member of the ground crew taps "B777-300" on the touch screen at the end of the jet bridge, the structure automatically moves to 50cm short of the aircraft's door. The bridge can stretch up to 7 meters high and extend 45 meters to connect the aircraft's door with the gate, and passengers walk through the bridge to the terminal building.

ShinMaywa's boarding bridges use "preset running technology." Previously, crews required years of experience to operate the boarding bridges, and long tunnels were needed to adjust to the door position of smaller aircraft at the boarding gate.

The new technology allows the bridge to extend automatically to the aircraft's door, based on the programmed position of the apron where an aircraft parks. The gate door's position and height can automatically match 29 models of aircraft.

"Using Paxway, any ground crew person can connect aircraft and terminal buildings swiftly and safely," Kunihiro Atarashi, general manager of airport equipment department at ShinMaywa Industries.

Smooth boarding of passengers is crucial at Changi Airport, one of Southeast Asia's hub airports. ShinMaywa has stayed competitive by "meeting airports' stringent requirements that allow only five failures out of 1,000 operations," Atarashi said.

Currently 190 ShinMaywa boarding bridges are in operation at Changi Airport. With 28 more bridges to in operation by March 2017, the company's share will become 100% as other companies' products are replaced.

The company also uses technology to prevent minor collisions that could put passengers' lives at risk and delay flights. Aircraft often have two bridges, one for first class and the other for economy, meaning the two bridges could collide.

ShinMaywa's boarding bridge has three sensors to indicate the turning angles of each end and the length of the bridge. On-board computers analyze data from the sensors on the two bridges and sound an alarm if they get too close.

For boarding bridges, solid tires -- which compress rubber to steel in many layers and do not require regular maintenance -- are used. With no air tubes and no chance of going flat, the tires can operate for five to eight years without replacement. Singapore-based staff provide 24-hour maintenance service in case of failures.

Overwhelming share

The predecessor of ShinMaywa Industries was Kawanishi Aircraft, known as the manufacturer of the Shiden Kai fighter aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy during WWII. Its expertise with aircraft helped the company win the Boeing Supplier of the Year award in 2014 and 2015 in the "Major Structures" category. The award covered about 13,000 global parts makers. The company also produces and sells specially-equipped vehicles, such as dump trucks, garbage trucks and industrial machinery systems.

ShinMaywa entered the mobile boarding bridge business in 1968. The company initially teamed up with a U.S. company, but it steadily refined its technology at its development base in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, in western Japan. In Japan, where it mainly caters to replacement demand, it ranks No. 2 with a share of over 30%, second only to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' group company.

Meanwhile, in Southeast Asia, where numerous new airports and terminals are under construction, the company ranks first with more than 60% of the market share. It is expanding sales in Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

A boarding bridge sells for 60-80 million yen ($582,000 to $776,000) per unit. The company is cutting costs by sending instructors from Japan and by outsourcing nearly all production to subcontracted plants in Thailand and Malaysia.

The remote monitoring system under development is to be installed at Changi Airport next spring. A three-dimensional image of the arriving aircraft appears on the screen, and the ground crew can gauge the bridge's position in real time. The company is making efforts to enhance safety.

The fifth terminal is set to open at Changi Airport as early as 2025, and will need about 200 new boarding bridges. "We aim for continued growth by attracting swelling demand in Southeast Asia," Atarashi said.

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