By adopting digitalisation across fleets, shipowners can turn ships into remote offices and enhance seafarers’ wellbeing using VSAT
Shipowners, operators and managers have discovered operational and seafarer benefits from installing Ku-band or Ka-band communications on vessels, giving tens of thousands of vessels access to online applications, internet, voice, data and information services.
KVH Industries executive vice president for mobile connectivity Mark Woodhead says more connectivity, data streaming and online analytics is becoming available through high throughput satellite (HTS) services. “People see VSAT as a utility that connects vessels, for crew welfare, personal and business communications, efficiencies and advantage of connections,” he tells Maritime Optimisation & Communications.
“The main difference is in mindset,” he continues. “Back just a few years ago, owners were trying to run vessels to minimise costs of connectivity over L-band and looking at how to optimise ship-to-shore communications.”
Shipowners were deploying applications for compressing files, storing media on board, preventing seafarer internet access and minimising downloads. But, much of that changes when VSAT is installed.
“Now ships are seen as remote offices and there are applications for providing onshore expertise to support crew on board,” says Mr Woodhead.
“There are commercial benefits for shipowners, with applications such as remote troubleshooting and diagnostics providing better advice to officers, quickly and cost-effectively,” he adds. “So, seafarers get the information they need to tackle challenges and operations on ships.”
This reduces the need for field service engineer visits and lowers maintenance costs. Introducing internet of things (IoT) technology and remote monitoring takes this even further, with ship operators able to consider the performance and condition of onboard systems. Seafarers can also benefit from VSAT.
“People live as well as work on ships,” says Mr Woodhead. “Crew benefit from connectivity to home and high-quality welfare through VSAT.”
Benefits also include improved documentation, administration and operational communications. “Shipping companies can improve reporting to customers and provide real-time data and information from their vessels,” says Mr Woodhead. This includes sending e-documentation to port operators, flag, insurers, charterers and authorities.
Advances in remote monitoring with IoT services, such as KVH Watch connectivity, has changed owners’ mindsets to ship maintenance. “Maritime IoT continues to grow as a trend throughout the maritime industry,” says Mr Woodhead.
“Shipping companies can go from time- or period-based maintenance to predictive maintenance,” he explains. “It makes a huge difference as it means equipment is maintained when it is needed.”
Data from sensors on machinery is transmitted over VSAT to management offices on shore where analytics is applied. This generates reports on system performance and machinery condition. Further analysis is applied to highlight where performance is not optimal or where there is a potential issue with condition. Predictive analysis results can be transmitted back to ships, enabling chief engineers to assess and plan maintenance requirements.
“IoT can be important for warranty disputes,” says Mr Woodhead. “If there are equipment issues, it is important for shipping companies and manufacturers to react.”
IoT also reduces operating costs for shipping companies. “Remote troubleshooting and maintenance become important when field services are expensive and very difficult to deliver,” he continues.
“It is important to have data from vessels. With KVH Watch we are seeing significant opportunities for reducing costs and maintenance on ships.”
This service also enables remote intervention for onboard systems and provides real-time assistance to crew to fix any issues.
“We can open up the connectivity for remote workers to assist seafarers with high-level skills and expertise from shore,” says Mr Woodhead. “We provide a way to do real-time videoconferences with remote experts.”
Seafarers benefit from the connectivity enabled by VSAT and associated services in terms of information, off-duty entertainment and e-learning. KVH can multicast media content including news, sports, films and documentaries to ships, from one source in a single broadcast. KVH Link is available with an HTS service and one of KVH’s own HTS terminals.
“There is a lot of demand for this from crew that are increasingly isolated on vessels, as it allows them to connect with home and loved ones,” says Mr Woodhead. “Our media is broadcast over the top of daily broadband, stored and then viewed locally. This minimises effort, and subscribing vessels do not pay for data that is multicast.”
Other types of content include training videos and operational content can be multicast to ships. Operational content includes Videotel training, weather forecasts and YourLink, which enables shipping companies to multicast their own content such as chief executive messages, or operations and business updates.
With these benefits at hand, shipping companies have embraced VSAT and upgraded to HTS, faster services and updated hardware to enable more bandwidth and operational data, a trend that is set to continue this decade.
Customised digitalisation reduces operators’ costs
Customising fleet digitalisation will ensure shipowners’ individual requirements and strategies are met. Vessels are expected to perform as remote offices as part of a company’s network, says IEC Telecom Group chief operating officer Dominique Audion.
“One size does not always fit all, especially when it comes to the digitalisation of a ship,” he says. “Digitalisation can, and should, be customised to meet the needs of companies and vessels.”
It is possible to deploy digitalisation on fleets with a controlled budget, resulting in increased operational efficiency. “By investing in digitalisation, ultimately vessel owners save on their future bills,” says Mr Audion.
However, each vessel will have its individual requirements from this investment. “Nowadays, a vessel may perform as a remote office,” he comments.
“Each ship has its own requirements for digitalisation that are influenced by its activities, size, type, cargo, fuel, engine, configuration, monitoring, and managing system,” Mr Audion continues. “Taking an individual approach is, therefore, the best way to succeed with the digitalisation process. That way, vessel operators find their digital vessels are more cost-effective due to increased operational efficiency.”
IEC Telecom’s OneGate solution enables operators to manage digitalisation, vessel functions and crew communication requirements separately via a remotely accessible dashboard.