Owners such as DS Tankers, Hapag Lloyd and ER Schiffahrt are investing in digitalisation and faster communications technology
The German Government is backing the digitalisation of its maritime industry that employs 400,000 people in 2,800 mainly medium-sized companies. Under the German Government’s Maritime Agenda 2025, Berlin has pledged to support Shipping 4.0 as a key element in the future of an industry that contributes an annual turnover of about €50Bn (US$58.7Bn) to the national economy.
One of the earliest German operators to spot the potential of digitalisation in ship management was DS Tankers under the guidance of Anselm Gehling, chief executive of parent group Dr Peters. This company is developing ship-to-shore maintenance and inspection processes that are at the very forefront of Shipping 4.0.
It is leveraging a range of communications platforms and basing the system on video conferencing, while using inspection tools provided by UK’s Kamelya. The gains have gone straight to the bottom line, Mr Gehling explained to Marine Electronics & Communications. “As a result a huge amount of travel cost is saved,” he said. “Also, the flexibility, quality and efficiency of the ship’s processes are highly improved.”
Hapag Lloyd chief executive Rolf Habben Jansen is another believer in Shipping 4.0 and his company is embracing digitalisation. The average age of its vessels is around seven years, with commensurately modern communications installations. “We invest in modern communication technologies on a frequent basis,” he said. This includes internet connections for crew welfare and data transmissions to shore for better control of services and ships, and remote engine monitoring.
In addition, ER Schiffahrt is proving it is possible to digitalise its fleet at relatively little capital expense. It operates a fleet of 23 bulk carriers and 61 small container vessels as of July 2018.
Under chief executive Nils Aden, ER Schiffahrt has installed an array of communications technology on 158 m freighter ER Tallinn, which operates between Hamburg and the Baltic region, as a testbed for technology.
This vessel boasts a powerful mobile telecommunications systems that allows the crew and ship to be online around the clock. There are web-linked cameras that visualise the present state on board while a stream of useful data flows back to Hamburg, providing the current position, speed and course in five-minute timeframes.
This data can be harnessed in a variety of useful ways, said DNV GL head of information management technologies Christian Cabos. “As well as providing [information] on the ship’s operations, it also helps to optimise loading and unloading-related tasks.” For instance, headquarters can provide port operations and forwarders the exact arrival time of the freighter, making life much simpler for navigators on the bridge.
Bremerhaven-based German Dry Docks chief executive Guido Foersterling is another who sees Shipping 4.0 as a wave that will inevitably overtake the domestic shipping industry.
“The whole industry needs a change of thinking,” he said. “Similar to ‘Industry 4.0’ in machinery and plant construction onshore, the digitalisation wave has now also captured the maritime industry,” he said. Given the cost pressure in shipping, shipping will need to redefine entire work processes, work methods and efficiency of services, he said.
German Dry Docks specialises in ship and engine repair, retrofit and scrubber installations. Mr Foersterling described his particular revolution as “Repair 4.0”. There are other examples of the digital maritime age already in common use in German shipping companies.
Mr Cabos said major shipping companies record the technical parameters of their ships such as speed, engine power and consumption digitally and transfer this information to fleet support centres. “Captains then have access to the guidance of engineers and navigators” that could improve the cost-effective running of the ship.
Onboard repair and maintenance could be improved and ship inspections can be made much faster, simpler and cheaper. For example, an automated drone sends high-resolution images from the ballast tank of a ship to reveal its condition and what needs to be repaired. A camera fitted to the helmet of the ship inspector delivers images from more freely accessible areas. The chief engineer can send images by mobile phone of the state of the shaft tunnel’s critical areas.
And all these visual insights show up in a ship’s digital twin, which is a three-dimensional version loaded onto the shipping inspector’s computer. Finally, the work that has to be done is discussed in a video conference with the project manager of the shipyard. “This is the ship inspection of the future,” enthused Mr Cabos.
German operators are also rapidly adopting electronic certificates, which is another benefit of digitalisation. By the end of June, around 70,000 e-certificates had been issued for more than 7,500 vessels since e-certification was unveiled in October last year.
These are early steps into more automated operations in shipping. There is much further to go as scientists at the Fraunhofer Centre for Maritime Logistics predict; they expect to see fully autonomous unmanned vessels crossing the Wadden Sea in the future.
DS Tankers invests in digitalisation
DS Tankers sees itself as just embarking on its digitalisation journey. Several years ago, the group dipped its toe in the water by using satellite L-band services for both operational and crew use.
Next, the group upgraded to VSAT Ku-band that provided almost global coverage, flat rates and speeds of up to 1 Mbps. During 2014 and 2015, DS Tankers hired maritime communications consultants Kiel-based Drynet to deliver higher-speed connections with unlimited volumes of data. Ahead of its time, this service was based on a centralised secure mail service and firewall platform.
If a vessel had to fall back on L-band when the Ku-band VSAT lost connectivity, the costs jumped in unpredictable ways, said chief executive Anselm Gehling. To control the budget better, DS Tankers engaged Drynet again to implement Inmarsat’s FleetXpress, combining a 2 Mbps VSAT Ka-band service with unlimited data back-up.
“We use this powerful communications platform as the basis for DS Tankers’ digitalisation strategy,” said Mr Gehling. His group then added high-value, global-roaming SIM cards that improve connectivity to vessels by using mobile data networks wherever the ships enter coastal 3G or 4G coverage, when access is through routers installed on board. DS Tankers gets near-terrestrial data performance whenever a vessel is near shore.
And the journey will not stop there. “These are just the first steps for DS Tankers to fully digitalise the ship management business,” said Mr Gehling.
One of the busiest chief executives in Germany’s shipping industry, Anselm Gehling heads up the Dr Peters Group, a conglomerate involved in shipping and aviation. He joined the company in 2011 and became chief executive and chairman a year later. He runs the corporate strategy, business development, communications and marketing for the whole group.
Rolf Habben Jansen
A logistics specialist who started as a trainee at Royal Nedlloyd, 52 year-old Rolf Habben Jansen held top jobs in logistics companies including DHL, the subsidiary of Deutsche Post, before joining Hapag-Lloyd. He was appointed chief executive in early 2014 and his term was extended in May 2018. A believer in a modern fleet, Mr Jansen has invested heavily in renewing and modernising ships to improve group profitability.