V.Ships is helping to turn the digital revolution into reality to deliver higher profits
Digitalisation-induced change in shipping has to be effective and result in practical benefits and higher profitability believes V.Ships, which has adapted its strategy and is using fleet-wide data to harness this digital revolution.
V.Ships information systems director Stephen Macfarlane presented this strategy during this year’s Connecticut Maritime Association (CMA) exhibition and conference in Stamford, US, in March. He said shipping is “in the grip of the growing pains of a fourth revolution” with internet of things (IoT) and digital platforms generating operational benefits.
Satellite connectivity has enabled data to be transferred from ships managed by V.Ships to its ShipSure 2.0 digital platform. Mr Macfarlane said this encompasses employees, partners, customers and IoT networks on ships. The aim is to fit V.Ships and ship operations more closely into the needs of the supply chain. “Predictability, traceability and certainty will drive the design of shipping operations,” he said.
“Predictability, traceability and certainty will drive the design of shipping operations”
In the process, V.Ships has moved all its core business functions onto this open cloud-based platform linked by a common taxonomy. As part of the digitalisation strategy, V.Ships gave itself 50 days to develop an innovation centre into which staff and clients can send ideas.
According to Mr Macfarlane, V.Ships currently has 45 initiatives from internal and external sources under development. He expected a success rate of 20 ideas or less from these 45, but sees this as part of the learning curve required in the digital revolution. “Learn, improve; learn, improve. That is the way we have to work as an organisation,” he said.
Wärtsilä has also developed an innovation centre, but from a different angle. Wärtsilä’s business development manager for merchant ships and gas carriers in North America, Kevin Humphreys, described to CMA delegates the way his company has moved from being an engineering into a technology company. He said its engine sales now only represent 18% of its global business.
Wärtsilä was looking for ways to change its business model to use data analytics. One approach was to buy technology instead of investing time and money in developing internal models and the purchase of Eniram Mobile in 2017 and this year’s acquisition of Transas, points to one direction the company has gone.
“But there are probably solutions that we have never even heard of before,” said Mr Humphreys. Wärtsilä has opened digital acceleration centres in Helsinki, Finland and in Singapore. He explained that anyone internally or externally can offer an idea to these centres and these would then be presented to a group of managers who would analyse the concept to see if it is viable.
Wärtsilä has also hosted a SparkUp Challenge event in Helsinki where 18,000 start-ups pitched for the €50,000 (US$61,200) prize fund and six-months development time in the Wärtsilä digital acceleration centres.
The aim of V.Ships’ innovation centre and of Wärtsilä’s start-up event and digital acceleration centres, is to produce disruptive concepts and products that deliver tangible profits or savings. Ultimately, their shareholders need to see a return for the investment in innovation.
One such concept that seems to have real-world potential to produce substantial savings is Virtual Arrival, which was presented at CMA by Andreas Stasinopoulos, a student at the State University of New York Maritime College.
Using actual voyage data, Mr Stasinopoulos had analysed the activity of vessels arriving at ports. He noted that most bulk ports operate a first-come, first-served policy. This means that often a bulk carrier arrived at a port and then had to wait three or four days at anchor before being reaching the head of the queue. He analysed voyages of different day lengths and found that the average anchorage time was consistently around 20% of the voyage, no matter how long the voyage took.
His virtual arrival concept identifies the delay at the next port and manages the vessel’s passage speed to arrive without having to anchor. He suggested using digital data to queue ships during their voyage so that they arrive at port, without having to wait for a berth. The time spent from berth to berth (the total voyage length) would be the same.
Mr Stasinopoulos analysis shows that virtual arrival would lower fuel consumption because, on average, the vessel would be steaming at a steady rate, rather than travelling faster to reach the port, only to wait at anchor. The lower fuel consumption also reduces CO2 emissions, by as much as 50% in some cases. Mr Stasinopoulos presented a case where a ship saved US$213,000 on a voyage.
MEC comment: Returns and pay-off
To reduce the average voyage speed to say 7-8 knots, as proposed in Andreas Stasinopoulos’ CMA presentation (see main article), would be a challenge for current engines. Lower cylinder speed affects lubrication, soot build-up and, with it, the inherent danger of engineroom fires. Also, the efficiency of the engine would be compromised by the lower energy passing to the turbochargers, just to mention a few issues.
But these are solutions that could be found in the innovation centres of V.Ships, Wärtsilä and others. The delays in the port and slot availability is data that has already been discovered in the digital revolution. To turn this into fuel and emissions savings would require a holistic management of the data from ports, operators, weather routers, owners, charterers and the IoT of the vessels. As a worthy application of the digital revolution, this would generate the returns required from the investment in innovation. That would be the pay-off, but for change to be effective, it needs to be done in practice.