Maritime big data, our learnings

Yes, it is happening! More and more vessel builders and owners slowly open up to the idea of using data to optimise their operations. Though we had our first pilot in early 2016, the whole concept of data use did not really kick-off until this year. Perhaps this is because of the promise of autonomous vessels and digital twins or just the fact that it can save money. Next to that, it answers to many of the challenges Covid-19 brought us.

Data is slowly getting the recognition it needs from vessel owners and builders. But data-driven operations like we see in the process industry have not yet entered the maritime industry. Aligning technology with our maritime organisation is not really a walk in the park. Let’s go through some gains and challenges we have encountered since the first pilot. Because if we can bring human and machine interaction to a higher level, this brings significant optimisation in all aspects of a maritime operation.


About the technology

Technological development is moving at light speed. Every two years, hardware gets half as small, and storage and systems speed double, disrupting whole business models and opening up new doors for those who are the first to adopt. The gains get bigger and bigger as new technologies become available all over the world, and become cheaper and easier to use for anyone that did not manage to get an Msc degree in IT applications. For the maritime industry, this means that they can access information that was up until now hidden or scattered throughout the organisation.


About us, the humans

Humans and the way we work have developed over the years seem to be at a standstill compared with the technical capabilities that are created. One of the things I like to state is that the “technical challenge” is often not the biggest hurdle, even though we encounter a lot of old technology as vessels have relatively long lifecycles. However, if you can think of a solution you would like, you can be sure that the suitable technology is available out there. A bigger challenge is our ability (individually and as a company) to adapt to the impact the digital transformation brings. Accept that we need to change the way we work and maybe sometimes accept that what we have done for the last 100 years is not the best way to do it. There is no blame here, since we will have insights that were simply not available without the computing power of today.

So how can we improve human-machine interaction in a way the maritime industry can benefit from the full potential any (new) technology brings? Some key lessons learned from similar projects:


  1. Technology is not your biggest challenge: What you need is out there, so unless you have a very specialised operation, do not start to build applications yourself. Your specialism should be building and/or operating vessels. Developing data analytics tools is a whole other game that others have been playing for more than forty years. The biggest challenge is to get the right adoption and needed change within your organisation to make the effort worthwhile.

  1. Dream big, but start small: Looking at the potential, you are allowed to dream of all the nice things you can achieve and all the value you will create. Build air castles and use your growth mindset to envision all the positives the future will bring. Done that? Great, that will be the destination of your journey and you will use it to motivate your team to go forward.

Now START SMALL. Develop a proof of concept on a specific theme, one vessel or even only a few valuable insights. There are companies spending millions without actually creating value. There is no shame in asking for help from someone who already made the journey or is experienced in similar projects. There are other industries that have gone through similar journeys and can provide you with great guidance.

  1. Start with what is available: Roughly ninety per cent of valuable data is already there, but is currently not used efficiently. Connect the unconnected. This so-called “grey data” only needs to be turned into information. Next step is to get that information to a person in your organisation that can actually act upon it. If you are going to upgrade your systems, make sure you select a vendor that delivers “smart” devices and you can access the data they create. All vendors can explain where the data that their equipment produces can be of value to your operation. If not, well you probably need to find another vendor.

  1. Be agile: Though you set off with a clear (small) goal in mind, it is possible that along the way you gain insights that bring faster and other values. It happens that once the journey is set (and investments are made), it is difficult to change headings. If you find a more suitable application that brings a faster return on investment (ROI) or more value, do not be scared to change course and head for another direction. Even if this value is for another department within the organisation. But keep point two in mind and do not end up changing course all the time and not reaching any success at all.

Well, that noted, what can this bring to our maritime operations? Let’s give an easy to understand example.


Using grey data

During one of the many maritime networking events we attend, I spoke to a guy who manages a firm that delivers and maintains generator sets for vessels. He told me that a generator runs best with a specific load. Any generator that runs on thirty per cent or less of its load shows heavy wear and is likely to catch fire at some point. When they visit a customer, the first thing they do is have a look at the log files. One of the logs shares the load deviation over time. Practically always when something went wrong, the loads were not at an ideal point for a longer period of time. These logs would be grey data to the vessel operator. If only he could get that information from all the generators in his fleet and monitor the load deviation. He could even get an alarm when specific thresholds (load below thirty per cent and time) are reached. These log files (and much more information) are often retrievable and can be shared with anyone that can act on them. Even really old or closed systems can be monitored to some extent. Your dashboard will look something like the picture below where the load deviation of three generators, each with a capacity of 900 kW, is monitored over time. It is clear that all generators are running at a load of 250 kW or less at all times. This same visual can be created for pumps, fans, engines, winches and a lot more.


Monitoring and benchmarking

There are multiple studies that prove that matching a vessel’s technical configuration to the job it is performing, is one of the biggest and easiest optimisations a vessel owner can do to decrease fuel use and emissions. Step one is monitoring the actuals during operation. Something that can be done with free accessible data from AIS is speed over time. A vessel that is designed to sail at 22 knots is less efficient when it sails at 8 knots as shown in the visual on the next picture.

The next example is from an air compressor unit. When a compressor is used, it loses pressure and an engine will switch on automatically to build the pressure back up. If you have a leak somewhere in the system, this means that the compressor loses pressure and every once in a while starts to do what it is designed to do. If this is not detected, it is not hard to imagine that this is not a desirable situation. Though if the compressor starts and stops with a more or less recurring interval, this is easily detectable with data analytics by monitoring energy use, vibration or on/off switch interval. We trigger an alarm after three or four start-ups in roughly the same sequence to warn the crew and if there is no response, you can send the alarm to your maintenance team onshore.

Last one: if we compare engine load versus speed development (minus current and wind), we will notice that a vessel (any vessel) will need more and more engine load to reach a specific speed over time. This is an indicator of fouling.

The interesting part of data monitoring is that you can bring information to shore that was normally only available on the vessel and gets lost over time. This means that you can relieve your seafarers from technical knowledge (and manual logging). This way, they can do what they do best. Next to that, you do not have to have one person on each vessel keeping track of alarms/trends and visuals. By bringing this to shore, you can have one person looking after the whole fleet. By defining strong key process indicators (KPIs), you will be able to keep track of anything that influences your cost price, availability, emissions or safety. We strongly advise to monitor multiple similar vessels and assets over time and benchmark their performance. This way, you get an overview of your best and worst-performing vessels on KPIs that are important to your operation. By learning from these best and worst performers, you can optimise the whole fleet. This works for all possible areas that shipbuilding or ship operation faces. So let’s say that you have ten vessels, then you can optimise at least nine.


Smart Vessel Optimizer

TechBinder launched Smart Vessel Optimizer by the end of 2019 after both founders did a pilot with Damen Shipyards. By implementing industrial technology from Schneider Electric and AVEVA to unlock grey data, they believed they could improve their support organisation. The goal was to get a better idea of the performance of the vessels they serviced. This way, they were able to perform a more accurate troubleshoot before sending an engineer across the world. They could increase first-time-right support and make sure their customers reach higher uptime. The outcome of this pilot was above expectations and proved to deliver value to many other departments as well. Schneider Electric and AVEVA encouraged both the initiative takers to start up their own company using this technology in a maritime environment.

TechBinder has improved the value proposition and technological set-up since then and brought Smart Vessel Optimizer to market. It is designed to start small and easy with standardised KPIs. From there, the owner can use the savings Smart Vessel Optimizer creates to expand the value for its operations. The tool is built together with an ecoculture of technology partners. This results in a development roadmap that ensures customers of more easy to adopt functionalities over time. More information can be found on

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