MacGregor vice president Dennis Mol offers a look at how customer input has enhanced his company’s pragmatic and highly focused digital strategy
A primary challenge threatening shipowners’ commercial activities and economic survival today is the protracted, depressed market. Despite its complexities, this issue requires practical solutions.
But in the age of digital advances, are there pragmatic solutions for shipowners and operators to turn to now? And if there are, why is uptake so slow?
Often some of digitalisation’s practical, realisable near-term advances – like accelerated learning and intelligent solutions – get lost in a wider discussion dominated by big ideas like fully autonomous vessels. We believe that focusing on blue-sky thinking only serves to distance shipowners and operators from access to these near-term benefits, particularly in current market conditions.
In response, we have chosen to focus on a select few, commercially impactful digital solutions to bring to the market, moving away from visionary stories about where the market could go and towards the provision of services that have a tangible operational impact.
A population of experts
To develop our digital solutions, we are taking an accelerated approach. We completed our first development ‘sprint’ in March using the sophisticated Google design sprint methodology – where a maximum of seven people gather in one room to consider a specific problem over the course of a work week. The objective of these sprints is to experiment at speed and with a very high focus.
The goal of our sprints is to take an idea for a solution to a problem from concept stage to prototype design – a clickable mockup – during the course of a week. Our sprint groups comprise MacGregor engineering and software specialists as well as customers, all working together. We call it a population of experts.
Our Google design sprint saw us thinking about how a digital simulation platform that our engineers use to predesign and analyse projects can help to prepare for and advise real-time operations with greater efficiency and increase operational windows within safety margins.
With enriched information provided by our customers – especially weather data, currents and wave heights – we believe that the simulation platform will be able to deliver much higher accuracy in its predictions and safeguarding.
The objective in our first sprint was to reach a point where we could confidently advise a customer that they could safely operate a crane for half an hour longer based on data and predictive modelling. In this case, we had the underlying technology, but it is a diamond in the rough that needs polishing. Enriched data from our customers will do the polishing and help deliver a potential solution that could see customers earning more money from their ships.
Disrupt or die
When it comes to digitalisation, MacGregor is focused on helping customers to enhance their operations by making operations on board more profitable or by building and operating vessels more efficiently, with lower costs.
With our extensive cargo and load handling experience and the right data, we are able to translate our operational and technical knowledge into valuable new solutions. However, we are also open to collaborating with startup companies across all our digital developments, particularly in the areas of geospatial weather analytics, use of onboard devices to support capacity optimisation and the ability to analyse offshore crane data, to gain actionable insights and help accelerate the development of new services for our customers.
As we move forward, we are taking encouraging cases, working closely with customers and learning from each other to deliver commercial value.
To achieve this, our digital agenda is concentrated in four specific areas: predict, safeguard, optimise and automate.
The offshore crane and associated Google design sprint work referred to earlier is a relevant example within the ‘safeguard’ and ‘optimise’ categories.
MacGregor’s proven Cargo Boost service is included within the ‘optimise’ category. In that area, we have started a development programme to tailor our optimisation algorithms for breakbulk ships focused on increasing capacity utilisation and accelerating the stowage process. The next application will be to help roro customers remove discharging process flaws onshore and optimise offloading operations.
The fourth category is ‘automate’. Good examples of activities in this area are our autonomous offloading crane technology and automated mooring systems, the latter currently under development, which apply technological advances from a robotics domain.
The idea that companies must disrupt or be disrupted to survive has relevance for us all. If we are not thinking along the lines of a tangible digital agenda, you can be sure that others will be.