Vessel and fleet performance could be about to change beyond recognition, if the industry can successfully harvest the power of big data
Shipping is on the cusp of a truly revolutionary stage in its development, akin to the transition from sails to engines. Digitalisation, big data and the associated technologies that are enabling these technologies stand to realise huge, sector-wide rewards, improving conditions for crew, reducing emissions, lowering costs and facilitating unheard of gains in terms of fleetwide efficiencies. These are not whimsical goals far off in the future; they are the new realities of shipping for those companies able and willing to make the leap from an essentially analogue world to the digital age.
These subjects were discussed in detail during a Riviera Maritime Media webinar held in September titled Unleashing the power of data to optimise vessel performance. Sponsored by Marlink, participants to the webinar discussed the many ways these new technologies could drive efficiencies across the sector, and some of the stumbling blocks that could prevent the short-term realisation of these goals.
World Maritime University (WMU) associate professor (safety and security) Dr Dimitrios Dalaklis kicked off the discussion by explaining how the new reality of digital shipping represents a continuation of the original Industrial Revolution.
“This ‘fourth stage’ of the Industrial Revolution has introduced a new term,” said Dr Dalaklis, “Industry 4.0, and within that there are three distinct domains: digitalisation and the integration of value chains, things like cloud computing, mobile devices and the internet of things; the second is digitalisation of products and services, for example big data analytics and smart sensors; and the third is the digital business model and customer access. This final point introduces areas like location detection technologies, 3D printing and smart ports and ships.”
Dr Dalaklis explained that combined, these solutions can contribute towards improved safety, logistics, fuel costs and lower emissions. “Take the concept of a digital twin for example. We can now create a theoretical model and manipulate it in real time to make changes that have an almost instantaneous result in the real world. We can optimise the decision-making process using highly accurate data, saving costs and having a huge impact on efficiency, both during the development stage and when the model becomes a reality.”
It is a view shared by OSM Maritime Group IT manager Juan Gil, who agreed that vessel and fleet optimisation is a near-term goal, provided the correct approach is taken. He believes that starts by putting the jargon aside and understanding exactly what is meant by these terms.
“When we talk about ‘unleashing data’, first we need to understand what that data is and how it can be actioned. Data is essentially random inputs unless you can identify the important elements and network this information into knowledge, then it becomes a resource. Then you can identify insights from this resource, for example how best to get from point A to point B and this is when that data starts to inform better decisions and become a profitable attribute.”
“Optimisation and disruption – many people use these terms interchangeably, but that is incorrect”
Mr Gil also highlighted the difference between two commonly used popular terms: optimisation and disruption. “Many people use these terms interchangeably, but that is incorrect; by definition, to optimise is to introduce incremental improvements to sustain an existing product or service, whereas to disrupt is to introduce a new business to reach new customer segments.”
From an owner perspective, Mr Gil emphasised that every owner strives for the best vessel performance, and this may come from better voyage planning, helping to reduce fuel consumption and opex, improved employee capacity and better port turnaround times.
From a ship management perspective, he said “When we combine all the vessel data from all the owners and from all the fleets, we can make very strong comparisons that benefit everyone. We can easily identify issues and support owners and operators in improving their operations. That will bring benefits for both the ship management and the vessel owner, because the knowledge is now spread across the entire organisation.”
However, it is not simply about gleaning more and more data, which can cause problems in itself. One of the big challenges as we enter this new, connected phase of industrial development is the ability to siphon and filter through information quickly, readily identifying the important elements and avoiding the pitfalls of overloading staff and systems.
Offering a shipowner’s perspective, Steel Ships chief executive Dr Ranjan Varghese emphasised this concern, noting that, “nowadays there are plenty of solutions in the market, [but] everyone’s fleet metrics are very different.”
This frustrates the ability to quickly and accurately compare data, hampering the whole notion of a connected architecture.
“There are tonnes of data coming from the vessel,” continued Dr Varghese, “all kinds of data for different parties, consumers, charterers, agents, owners and ship managers.”
He explained that to achieve fleetwide efficiency, all this data must be distilled properly. “It needs to be as easy to understand by the senior managers and the non-technical people as it is by the staff who are technically managing the ships.”
In many ways that is the ultimate goal of optimised shipping; not only to attain the data, but to clean it and process it to the correct people or systems in a timely manner.
Once that hurdle has been cleared, the gains will be huge, as Marlink vice president of maritime IT solutions Tor Skeie explained. “To achieve true digitalisation you must look at the entire value chain. It is not good enough to only focus on business connectivity, communication, etc. We need to look at navigation, crew, internet of things, all of this must integrate and run seamlessly to realise true optimisation.”
Mr Skeie emphasised again the importance of only sending the correct information. “It is about having the correct technology and using it wisely. IMO needs to bring guidelines in regarding how we use some of this data, but we need to embrace the startups; those companies at the forefront of this new technology. As an industry, we need to give them a platform to develop alongside us and in partnership. Then we can truly unleash the power of digitalisation and optimisation.”