VSAT connectivity, easier data sharing and a thriving IoT start-up scene demonstrate maritime digitalisation is flourishing
For many, the lasting consequence of the coronavirus pandemic may be the upheaval it brought to the familiar rhythms of daily life and change in working practices.
The outbreak forced maritime to work together, yet apart, through video conferencing and collaborative online platforms; and to use remote monitoring data to ensure supply chains continue to function.
This enforced pivot to digitalisation will bring fundamental changes to the way any maritime businesses operate and serve as a catalyst for accelerating a transition that was already gaining momentum.
The technological barriers preventing vessel operators from using digital solutions have mostly fallen away, says Inmarsat Maritime head of digital solutions Marco Cristoforo Camporeale.
The 2016 launch of Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress marked a turning point by making affordable, reliable, high-throughput broadband a reality for the shipping industry on a global scale.
Since its introduction, Inmarsat has seen the average data consumption of a merchant ship rise exponentially, reaching 270 GB per month in mid-2019 compared to 5 GB five years ago. Growth rates in segments such as offshore have been even greater.
Inmarsat is using its own Digital Index to keep track and analyse trends in data usage at sea over two years by Fleet Xpress users across 8,500 ships. The data can be broken down by multiple parameters including by month, vessel age, type and route.
Fleet Xpress’ Ka-band VSAT is improving crew welfare across fleets of ships. This connectivity brings comparable performance to internet services provided on land.
It has reduced the pressure on shipping companies to send IT staff to visit vessels to maintain onboard digital infrastructure, says Mr Camporeale. “Software can be regularly updated, synched and backed up” he explains to Maritime Optimisation & Communications. Connectivity enables troubleshooting of any faults in the ship’s local IT network.
“A dependable, always-on ship/shore connection also means applications no longer have to be installed locally on each vessel,” says Mr Camporeale. “Instead, they can be hosted on the web and accessed remotely via Fleet Xpress, which simplifies and dramatically reduces deployment costs, ensures consistency of operation across the fleet, and allows continual, incremental upgrades.”
The transition to cloud-based operations opens the door to a broader range of participants. The globally dispersed maritime industry plays host to a complex value chain. In the analogue era, it was hard for stakeholders to connect with one another and work in unison, comments Mr Camporeale. “Digitalisation eliminates distance and fragmentation, and creates opportunities for greater participation, collaboration, and above all innovation.”
This innovation was recorded in Trade 2.0, a 60-page study commissioned and published by Inmarsat in 2019, authored by Nick Chubb and Leonardo Zangrando. It profiles the rise of the maritime digital start-up and finds flourishing innovation is driving vessel optimisation.
In April this year, the same authors completed ‘A quiet revolution - the maritime innovation ecosystem in Japan’, the first of a series of in-depth Inmarsat-sponsored profiles of maritime technology and start-ups in specific countries.
Here, Mr Chubb and Mr Zangrando again found vibrant innovation but a start-up component still at an early stage of development. Nevertheless, the new report highlights how partnerships are driving the maritime sector’s digital revolution.
In this context, Inmarsat is supporting several initiatives spearheaded by the venture development firm Rainmaking aimed at incubating new talent through hubs in established maritime centres.
Its Trade & Transport Impact (TTI) programme provides a framework for bringing start-ups together with backers with maritime expertise to tackle old challenges and discover new efficiencies. To date in Europe, more than 1,200 start-ups have been scouted, leading to 24 collaboration projects. In April 2020, a second TTI initiative was launched in Singapore, the ‘Decarbonising Shipping’ programme for start-ups.
Underpinning these efforts is Inmarsat’s application enablement platform – and its key constituent Fleet Data, the maritime industry’s first secure IoT platform.
“In the past our focus was increasing connectivity at sea, getting ships online with high-speed, high-capacity broadband,” says Mr Camporeale. “Today, we have five Ka-band satellites in orbit delivering Fleet Xpress and seven more in the pipeline, which will be capable of meeting forecast growth in data utilisation.”
Fleet Data automatically extracts data from onboard sensors and uploads it to a secure central cloud-based database for easy access with no additional airtime cost. By removing the burden of building expensive interfaces to the voyage data recorder (VDR) and other ship systems, it smooths the path for accelerated take up.
“Once data has been siphoned off the ship, Fleet Data stores it in a secure database online rather than transmitting it across to a vessel owner’s internal IT system,” says Mr Camporeale. “This was a design choice to make data more accessible to third-party application providers and avoid wasteful duplication of effort,” he explains. “The vessel owner retains overall ownership and can grant access to individual data streams to applications according to need.”
Fleet Data addresses the obstacle to advancing maritime digitalisation, as previously identified by Inmarsat. In the run up to launching Fleet Data, an Inmarsat a survey of 125 owners found 51% said an inability to get data off ships in real-time was their stumbling block to IoT adoption.
The same survey indicated there was no lack of appetite for IoT-based solutions. Of those surveyed, the average shipowner planned to invest approximately US$2.5M in IoT over the following three years. The overwhelming driver was to realise cost-savings by using the technology to monitor fuel consumption and energy management. Detailed monitoring will become increasingly necessary to demonstrate compliance with emissions regulations, says Mr Camporeale.
“There was also an acknowledgement of the broader possibilities, such as delivering personalised training for crew, enhancing safety and onboard security, remote monitoring and operation of equipment, and cargo management,” he adds. Some owners noted the potential for leveraging data to increase transparency and strengthen relationships with their customers – charterers or cargo owners.
“This open platform architecture means owners are relieved of setting up and maintaining their own database systems and avoid getting locked into a proprietary platform,” says Mr Camporeale.
“Application providers do not have to worry about installing hardware on board to transfer data to and from vessels. Where closed platforms discourage sharing by design, open platforms are built for scalability.”
As a digital enabler, Fleet Data can support a myriad of applications so it is no coincidence Inmarsat has already signed agreements with maritime technology majors such as ABB Marine & Ports and Hyundai Global Services, as well as start-ups intending to shake up the industry.
Alongside its efforts to nurture start-ups, Inmarsat is also supporting industry initiatives aimed at establishing industry-wide data standards, including the One Sea autonomous ship industry alliance.
“Conversations do not go far if everyone is speaking a different language,” says Mr Camporeale. “The same goes for data – and is particularly important for making the most of big data analytics and machine learning systems, which rely on large data sets often pooled from multiple sources.”
Snapshot CV: Marco Cristoforo Camporeale
Mr Camporeale joined Inmarsat in 2019 after a decade with Roll-Royce (now Kongsberg Maritime), where his career progressed through design engineering, deck machinery and motion control technology, ultimately to the role of vice president for intelligent asset management. He is a graduate of University of Bologna, Italy, with an MSc in mechanical engineering and holds a Norwegian Business School MBA.
Riviera Maritime Media will present discussions covering digitalisation, digital twins, implementing digital strategies and voyage planning during Vessel Optimisation Webinar Week, giving operators vital insights into the options available to extract maximum value from vessel operations. 12-15 May