The digital catch-up has begun for Marine

Where other industries like Food and Beverage, Water Waste Water, machine-building and others are adopting the industry 4.0 philosophy. Marine and Offshore seem to stay behind. But change is upcoming. More and more Marine companies strive for a digitized operation and start recognizing the benefits. With all the great examples in other industries, I expect the Marine to catch up quickly. 

Everywhere we come we hear people talk about data analytics, digital twins, augmented operator support, predictive maintenance, autonomous vessels and more. Looking at most assets in this industry, developing information from Data will not be a great technical challenge. Most of the needed Data points are already available and only need to find its way to shore to be worked with. Once stored a historic data set will be build and trends/comparisons can be made. But why does it take so long to adopt the business cases that are out there?

‘McKinsey states that one of the first big hurdles to take is to reserve enough resources to determine a ‘simple’ plan on how data is being transformed and brought together to develop an actual value for the operation’

Next to that, we see that once the resources are allocated and time/money is being spent in these areas it is the ‘people side’ that requires more attention. Find more on this in the article: ‘Why the digital transformation is not really a technical challenge anymore

Marine is an industry where the right use of data and technology can deliver benefits that are not only a financial step forward. They benefit operation in general. Maybe the challenge to imagine what the potential can be is one of the reasons a somewhat old-fashioned market like Marine is not (yet) disrupted. So, let’s talk about the benefits we find within the projects we have seen so far. Hopefully, imagination will take its course and the marine industry will fire up its pursuit towards the digital revolution that other industries already started.

Let’s set the scene:

  • The buyer’s profile will change. The expectation is that users will move to a less Capex driven model which means that they are not necessarily interested in owning and operating expensive assets. They want to have the functionality of a ship but not actually own a ship.
  • Carbon Footprint will get more attention. Seven years ago, I investigated the possibilities of LNG for Inland vessels. Since environmental regulations required less emissions. These days start-up SKOON is looking for a battery-powered solution, it is no doubt that the carbon footprint of a ship will need to be made smaller.
  • Autonomous vessels eventually set sail. The rumours that (partially)autonomous vessels will sail the seas are no secret anymore. To do so the owner of the ship needs to be really sure that his ship and its cargo will do exactly as expected upfront. A digital twin could be a solution to do so. But to do so we need to start harvesting data to be used for proper simulation of every move a vessel will make.

So, let’s begin with Data! Surprisingly enough getting data to one place and start searching for value is something rather easy since most of the data needed are already available in one place, the bridge of a ship. It will help that this data can be transported to a central place on shore where visualization and analyzing can be done. Right away it will be possible to point out notable information. But after a set of historic data or data from similar ships doing the same kind of operation is gathered Truly remarkable surprises will show.

The first (small) challenge: Without a guarantee of the availability to a fast-enough connection, every ship should have a form of local storage. Because using a satellite is (in my view) ok for highly important information. You do not want to use your full bandwidth transporting all kinds of measurements about the status of your engines, speed, energy consumption and fuel level. It is better to store this and wait till a more suited connection is made. Think of 3/4G or Wi-Fi. And if Google succeeds to bring its Wi-Fi Loon balloons in practice the future will look even better. But for now, local storage will make sure your data has no ‘gaps’ in its timeframe. This would make any in-depth analytics impossible.

Accept no proprietary protocols. Data is communicated over certain communication protocols. You will encounter different communication protocols or on older ships equipment that does not ‘talk’ at all. Please make sure that all equipment you buy (from now) communicates over common protocols and nothing can lead to some form of vendor lock-in or other difficult situations. If an asset is not communicating at all depending on the information you want, often a simple sensor can be added to fill in this gap.

Make it scalable. Make sure your onboard system is ready to be extended with more inputs since you will notice that after the first test runs you want to extend the dataflow with information that is currently not picked-up by your system. Think of:

–             How energy is distributed onboard

–             How equipment is actually performing in certain scenario’s

–             How your ship is responding to different weather types.

–             Alarms you want to know as an owner but you do not want to bother the crew with

What will this journey bring?

Validate & improve your operational profile

Yes, you are a shipbuilding specialist and together with your customer, you determine the ideal operational profile for his new ship. So, nothing to gain here is what logical reasoning will say. Still, we have found examples where equipment on board is heavily over-dimensioned. This means that reducing them to the right size, you will safe space. Next to that: equipment running below it’s ‘sweet spot’ will require more maintenance. And it is simply more expensive to purchase.

Looking at the ships we have done so far there was not one where savings could not be realized by oversized or not optimal running equipment. Off course this will only benefit your customer after its next purchase, expectations are that customers want to know (and see) if they have purchased the right asset for the job.

We also have examples where not all designed features are used correctly in operation which resulted in unnecessary maintenance costs. One ship that needed to reach a certain speed (demanded by the customer) sails exactly 1% of its time that actual speed. Smaller engines could be sufficient for its operation. So less space, less fuel, less investment and probably less opex for the owner of the vessel. In another case, we learned that a fair amount of energy was used to cool the engine room and at another part of the ship the heating was running constantly. With some smart engineering (not uncommon in the real-estate market) savings could be realized.

Predictive maintenance

No other Industry can benefit more if they have the possibility of predicting how and when maintenance is needed. With assets being on important tasks often in remote locations any breakdown that requires support from someone that is not on site has a huge impact. Still, there are a lot of reactive service activities going on, whole departments are in place to help the customer asap back in business but often have no idea what the actual problem is before they get on board. With that, it happens that the wrong equipment is sent or not the right knowledge brought in. By comparing alarms and failures to historic data we can give a much better idea of the actual cause of a failure. And what if you could predict when equipment is about to fail and your team can get a warning of an upcoming event? Well, this is possible and it does not take a huge investment to get it working. There are software tools that can use the data you get from your ship and recognize trends in the performance of assets. For instance, if something gets hotter than normal, or requires more energy, these are strong signs that something is about to happen. These software tools spot trends and connections that no human eye is able to detect. Together with domain specialists, it will be rather easy to set up alarms when certain values are met.

The perception is often that you need a lot of historic data before you can start predicting. Fact is that with the right data points, already after six months rough predictions can be done. Especially, if more ships with the same operational profile can be monitored and compared simultaneously.

Remote support for operators

Using augmented reality, we can bring support and instructions all over the world using any tablet or smart glasses. Off course a sufficient connection needs to be available. This means less travelling for maintenance engineers and faster support when needed. Should Physical presence of an engineer be a must, at least a good assessment of the required knowledge and equipment can be made. In other industries we see an extra application being created. Actual knowledge of the process and assets is disappearing with the aging workforce. This knowledge is being captured in systems and can be used to make any less experienced operators more independent. For marine, a changing crew can mean that the presence of the right knowledge on board is not a luxury we always have should certain equipment fail or need attention.

We have seen the first ships being ‘connected’ in the past years and really spot a trend in the Industry that more are nominated to become a ‘thing of the internet’. My expectation is that whole fleets of existing ships will be made connected rapidly and newbuilds should have the possibility to ‘talk’ by design.

What could the future look like?

The future is all about autonomous vessels and digital twins. Both great examples of what digitization could lead to. From what I hear every company in this business has one or two departments working on initiatives with these points set on the horizon. Next to that the Trends and developments in the market will demand a more digitized operation. Leasing and ‘power by the hour’ kind of constructions will slowly do its onset.

This brings new business opportunities for shipbuilders as well. Think of the possibility to coach your customers to get more out of their assets. Being a builder or manager of a ‘connected’ fleet will give you knowledge. Knowledge you can sell and customers are more than happy to pay for.

Combine this with harbours that are getting connected and smart as well will unlock new cooperation’s and create value at places we do not even foresee at this point. With the Port of Rotterdam driving technology rapidly we see possibilities where fruit is being kept at exactly the right temperature and adjusted to the arriving date/time. We can make sure our bananas are ripe when they arrive in the stores. The port is going for a digital twin of itself as well and expects to save one hour per ship that is mooring. Imagine the cost savings made once ships are actually starting to communicate with the Port simulation system. But that is the future. Let’s look at today.

With all the great examples that can be copied from other Industries, I expect a rather fast adoption of new technologies in the upcoming period. And possibly the shipping business will become ahead of the curve when new CEO’s or ‘other minded’ people take over the decision making. The Marine market can expect disruptors to gain market share and those who lag behind lose share rapidly.

Let’s start innovating on business value.

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