Digitalisation is a megatrend that’s being discussed across industries. It’s a sign of the times, but how is digitalization impacting shipping? Our latest JMI article shares some insights and predictions.
It is almost impossible to ignore mention of the term digitalisation in shipping these days when it is a feature of almost every seminar and conference programme or publicity material from equipment makers and suppliers across the board.
But shipping is no different in that respect from any other industry where the same disruptive trends of Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data look set to change established practices. Just as in any other industry there are drivers accelerating the take up of digitalisation including efficiency, regulation and competition.
Different takes on digitalisation
Still, digitalisation means different things to different people and there are many different definitions of digitalisation, but common among them are the use of electronics and internet technology or some other means of transferring data instantaneously.
It could be said that digitalisation in shipping began with advent of GMDSS and Inmarsat C in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and shipowners have been increasingly making use of the opportunities presented by near instantaneous communication. But it was the advent of mandatory AIS in 2002 and the arrival of commercial subscription services a few years later detailing vessel positions that really awakened interest in the potential benefits.
For the first time ship operators were able to see the position of competing vessels giving them advantages during fixture negotiations. Initially the services were restricted to detailing position of ships relatively close to shore but as satellite AIS developed allowing the positions of ships almost anywhere to be identified, the commercial value of subscriptions soared.
Predicting problems at an early stage
At an operational level, electronic engine management and sensing technology were combined to allow OEMs to monitor the condition of engines and as data accumulated to begin to predict problems at a very early stage opening up the possibility of condition-based maintenance as opposed to fixed interval overhauls.
Next came third party software able to monitor the performance and fuel consumption of engines and simultaneously calculating the impact of weather, currents and ship trim condition and speed. Feeding the data to the bridge allowed officers to adjust operating parameters as appropriate. Before long, these software products were able to make use of satellite connections to send the information to shore as well as the bridge thus permitting the development of fleet efficiency programmes and intervention from shore personnel.
Potential to fundamentally affect ship operations
The 2000s also saw the advent of ECDIS and by 2018, most ships above 3,000gt and many smaller ships were obliged to have them on board. This is generally seen as the beginning of e-Navigation which is on the IMO agenda – and that of other transnational bodies such as the EU -and which some see as having the potential to fundamentally affect ship operation by the imposition of ‘just-in-time’ arrivals and an authoritarian control of ship speeds and operation.
In the area of ship classification, inspection and development digitalisation is playing a significant role. Most classification societies and independent organisations such as Norway’s Kongsberg Group make extensive use of digital twins to both develop new designs and to aid in understanding how modifications will impact performance and safety of ships and equipment.
Industry experts claim digitalisation is easier to introduce in organisations that have large fleets where the amount of data is extensive and the workload on superintendents most intense than it is in small organisations running just a handful of vessels. That is because the return on investment is greater and easier to quantify, however the COVID pandemic has highlighted an area of digitalisation where fleets of any size can benefit.
With stringent travel restrictions in place globally, shipping could easily have ground to a halt if remote surveys and services had not been possible. Classification societies have been able to conduct surveys using nothing more sophisticated than the latest 4G cell phones complemented in some cases by drones that recorded and transmitted images and data of parts of the ship directed by a surveyor sitting thousands of miles away.
Expanding into new areas
digitalisation is also increasingly expanding into new areas. Jotun’s Hull Performance Solutions and recent developments are prime examples. Large amounts of data have been generated by HPS and is now being put to use. “The introduction of stricter environmental regulations, new technologies and ways of doing business will bring challenges but they are needed if the shipping industry is to transform successfully,” says Andreas Krapp, Jotun’s Global Digital & Data Director and adds, “There is a need for change and that’s why the leading companies are working to harness the potential of data and digitalisation to achieve greater efficiencies and sustainable operations.”
Two years ago Jotun broadened its service offerings with the introduction of its Hull Skating Solutions and, more recently, its new HullKeeper optimisation programme which combines Jotun’s extensive digital capabilities, ROV inspections and trusted analytical and technical expertise to help operators keep fuel, inspection and cleaning costs under control.
Making fouling control and efficiency more predictable
The new programme is grounded in Jotun’s proprietary fouling risk algorithm, supported by data from different sources to make fouling control and efficiency more predictable. “Hullkeeper extends the range of our services, helping operators make well-informed and proactive decisions to improve hull efficiency as they push for optimal performance, efficiency and regulatory compliance,” says Krapp and adds, “HullKeeper is a market differentiator in the sense that it offers unique support that both adds value and meets the need of customers. Ship operators that use HullKeeper will be able to identify potential problems long before fouling impacts vessel speed, allowing them to make better decisions, faster.”
“Most suppliers will claim to provide value-adding solutions but ultimately it’s about the quality of the solutions and services they provide and how they safeguard both the vessels and the environment,” adds Krapp.
Issues to overcome
Digitalisation is clearly well on the route towards changing shipping but there are issues to overcome. As pointed out by Stein Kjølberg, Jotun’s Global Hull Performance Director, “Neither a single industry player nor a software vendor can solve the challenges by themselves. This calls for collaboration among the industry players and software providers. At the same time, market insecurities, access to quality data, and difficulties choosing between the many solution providers appear to be holding back investments. There is a need for infrastructure standardization that enables companies to fully leverage digital solutions and services.”
What is also an imperative is for digitalisation to deliver real savings to shipowners and operators and for that to happen, companies need to understand what is useful and what is not. A recent survey by Informa Engage on behalf of Inmarsat highlighted that 58% of respondents expected digitalisation to deliver savings below 10% - significantly less than what is sometimes promised.
The results of the survey were presented in a document titled – Digitalisation Uncovered: What’s next for shipping? – along with commentary by industry experts. The general consensus was that progressive owners are embracing digitalisation but the majority are content to sit on the side-lines.
New digital technologies will grow in importance
“How long they can afford to do that remains to be seen,” says Stein-Roar Skånhaug Bjørnstad, Chief Technology Officer at Kongsberg Digital. “Maritime and offshore industries are traditionally conservative but there’s growing pressure to comply with stricter environmental regulations and a need to control costs and improve efficiency in competitive markets. With this in mind, we believe technologies like the Internet of Things, big data, automation, and robotics will grow in importance and will lead to significant changes, altering the way companies work, creating new models and so on. It will not happen overnight but we’re already seeing a willingness to change and openness to try new technologies and digital systems.”
Eminent shipping analyst Dr Martin Stopford of Clarksons Research has a clear view of what’s needed if the sector is to make the most of Industry 4.0 – the 4th Industrial Revolution at Sea. In his recent paper he points out that shipping has been slow to adopt some of the transformative technologies deployed by other transport modes, but “smart shipping” has the potential to deliver owners improved performance in practically every part of their business and, in turn, help the industry become more efficient.
It’s not going to be easy but he concludes that new digital technologies, supported by industry-wide protocols and standards, will provide the necessary foundation for more efficient shipping in the future.
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