Technology will drive 40% cost savings and remote operations


Top executives from the digital, IT, e-navigation and satellite communications sectors predict a future of maritime digitalisation, augmented reality and smart fleet management

Shipping is in the midst of a digital transformation that will ultimately lead to autonomous ships, major improvements in fleet management and condition-based maintenance programmes. But a two-tier market in terms of adoption of digitalisation, data analytics and smart ship operations is developing, according to top executives from the Marine Electronics & Communications community.

Kongsberg Digital president Hege Skryseth

Shipowners can gain huge benefits from digitalisation, but only if major players are prepared to take a technological lead, according to Kongsberg Digital president Hege Skryseth. She thinks that up to 40% cost reductions can be realised from adopting digitalisation. This would include adopting predictive and planned maintenance, ship monitoring and data analytics.

“As more vessels are connected it is possible to reduce costs across an entire fleet,” said Ms Skryseth. “If 40% reductions in operating expenditure can be achieved then it is important to look into this.” Reductions in operating costs can be achieved by cutting fuel consumption, optimising trim and hull and improving route planning. “This can all come from an overall monitoring solution,” she explained.

Going from periodic maintenance to condition-based maintenance can reduce downtime and the risk of equipment failures. “This is the future of maintenance,” said Ms Skryseth, adding that a wide range of parameters, such as vibration, pressure and temperature can be monitored on rotating machinery and engines. “A key component to this is analytics for providing customers with information – and we are cracking that code,” she said.

Kongsberg has developed the Kognifai platform as a host for digital solutions. This is available for application providers and ship operators to host their fleet management on. “Kognifai is a cloud-based platform and has a translation layer so data can be moved around ships and to shore,” she explained.

It is in discussions with suppliers of fleet management and operational cost cutting applications. “Many shipowners are discussing when to start the digital transformation. There is value in being the first mover,” she said. One of the values is the development of remote real-time monitoring and control of vessels.

Kongsberg is taking a lead in developing remote control and autonomous ship technology. It is supplying systems to a new container ship, Yara Birkeland, which is being built for autonomous operations on a shortsea route along the Norwegian coast. It is scheduled to enter service in 2019, when it will be operated remotely. But it will be operated in an autonomous mode starting in 2020. Kongsberg is preparing for this. “We are using a digital twin on a simulator to test the autonomous operations,” said Ms Skryseth.

However, she thinks other projects may not be fully autonomous but can gain from technical advances in vessel automation. “It does not need to be unmanned,” she added. “There could be some semi-autonomous ships, plus autonomous or remote control in harbours operations – there is significant interest in this area.”

“There could be some semi-autonomous ships, plus autonomous or remote control in harbours operations – there is significant interest in this area”

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will be important enabling technology for remote control of vessels, said Ms Skryseth. “AR could be incorporated in maritime remote control rooms and we see VR is coming in training and designing control rooms,” she explained, adding that these technologies will enable more simulation training on board ships to enable crew to practice operations before conducting them.

Napa group president Ilmo Kuutti

There will be a two-tier market in digitalisation in 2018. Some shipping companies are adopting data analytics and smart fleet operations, while others are still adjusting to using electronic logbooks, according to Napa group president Ilmo Kuutti.

Mindsets are changing throughout the shipping industry, but it is a slow process that means there will be a two-tier digitalisation market. Mr Kuutti thinks the gap between shipping companies that have adopted digitalisation practices and those that have not will widen in the coming years.

“We [will] see more data-led solutions being developed and major data centres being created,” he predicted. These will be developed by class societies such as DNV GL and ClassNK. “But, other parts of the industry are still only beginning to embrace simple digital solutions, like electronic logbooks.”

For data-led businesses and those who provide data solutions, the future is increasingly exciting. “We have never moved as fast as we can now and we will never move this slowly again,” he said. This describes what he termed the two-tier market, where some shipping companies are using the lower costs and increasing availability of onboard connectivity to invest in advanced digital solutions, while others are still using paper reports.

“We have never moved as fast as we can now and we will never move this slowly again”

“Much of our industry is still working on paper noon reports, while at the same time, others have access to a new world of planning, routeing and efficiency insights,” he explained, adding that a key challenge for shipping in 2018 will be to turn increasing amounts of operational, vessel tracking and environmental data into useful information.

While he expects more data to become available he warned that “there is no value in data without meaning”. He added “To be anything other than a cost, data must be analysed and transformed into useful information.” Napa has developed platforms that collect and analyse data from various sources.

“In the coming year, we see big data analytics solutions increasing in complexity and gaining more data sources, as well as becoming easier to use and delivering more actionable outputs,” said Mr Kuutti. He expects new data sources will include the EU’s monitoring, reporting and verification programme, where ship operators will be driven to record fuel and emissions for public records that will be verified by independent third parties.

Nautisk head of product development Kristian Gøbel

Artificial intelligence (AI) will enable ship designers and builders to remove bridges and crew from ships, according to Nautisk head of product development Kristian Gøbel. It is already used to change daily lives of seafarers, in their use of mobile devices for example.

AI is applied in the latest navigation applications, such as NaviPlotter, that use intelligence, AR and maritime data to display automatic identification system objects (AIS) and chart data on a handheld device. “We could not have imagined this would be possible 10 years ago,” said Mr Gøbel.

This is also true of the internet of things, which has demonstrated how commercial technology can send and receive data to automate tasks or communicate with people. “The way our NaviUpdate hardware downloads electronic navigational charts and updates a ship’s ECDIS is no different,” he said.

There is a vast amount of data, and when it is good quality, reliable and available it opens a door to all sorts of possibilities. As Mr Gøbel considers the future trends in digital navigation, he thinks developments will eventually lead to autonomous ships. “How long I wonder before the ship’s bridge disappears completely and vessels are capable of using digital navigation data to sail themselves?”

“How long I wonder before the ship’s bridge disappears completely and vessels are capable of using digital navigation data to sail themselves?”

Shipping could be closer to an autonomous vessel world than many still think as the “oceans are already dotted with gliding autonomous drones being remotely controlled to collect scientific data” said Mr Gøbel.

“Imagine combining our digital navigation tools with existing technologies such as light detection and ranging (Lidar) and remote control such as that demonstrated by Rolls-Royce,” he said. This could ultimately lead to ships being built without bridges or crew areas. “The potential is closer than you think.”

Hanseaticsoft chief executive Alexander Buchmann

Shipping will benefit from AR as this technology is poised to change the way the world interacts with technology. Its impact on the shipping industry is going to be revolutionary, said Hanseaticsoft chief executive Alexander Buchmann.

Shipping is already embracing technology to optimise fleet management, automate processes and improve communication between crew on ships and staff ashore. Mr Buchmann believes that AR will be the next step on the digitalisation journey. “AR will help companies accelerate and simplify processes, providing them with new tools to execute tasks faster and more intelligently,” he said.

It should improve worker performance as it has in other industries, such as aviation where the use of an AR headset has improved performance by 34%. “AR enhances our actual surroundings by adding holograms into our field of vision to interact with. AR makes it possible to merge the real and the digital world by creating a mixed reality,” said Mr Buchmann.

“AR adds holograms into our field of vision and makes it possible to merge the real and the digital world”

As the technology progresses, more possible applications will appear. For example, workers could view an entire ship plan in 3D on a table in front of them using AR devices. “The possibility to interact with holograms, virtually highlight areas and walk around the 3D model of, for example an engine, and look at it from all angles will make it feel more natural instead of looking at a screen,” Mr Buchmann explained.

“It will also improve communication as interacting with remote users will become as natural as face-to-face communication. Using AR devices means screens and monitors could also become obsolete and employees could access cloud-based data wherever they are.”

Hanseaticsoft has been working with Microsoft HoloLens to make this a reality for the shipping industry. “We are already implementing ways to visualise data from our software using this device,” said Mr Buchmann. “We are still two to five years away from AR being rolled out across the industry, but we believe AR has the potential to transform the shipping business."

Castor Marine chief executive Ivo Veldkamp

Mini satellites will drive improvements in remote ship monitoring, while future launches of geostationary and low Earth orbit (LEO) K-band satellites will reduce broadband connectivity prices. All types of vessel will be able to access VSAT for remote monitoring and smart shipping, according to Castor Marine chief executive Ivo Veldkamp.

He is looking ahead to the planned launches of smaller LEO satellites that will operate over Ka-band and Ku-band to lower costs for vessel operators. He explained that Telesat was planning to launch mini-satellites that deliver Ka-band services in a LEO constellation that will include polar orbits.

Intelsat-backed OneWeb is also considering building a constellation of LEO satellites, but in Ku-band. These will compete with existing constellations of satellites in geostationary orbits that provide today’s VSAT services in C, Ku and Ka-bands.

Mr Veldkamp said megabyte broadband costs are already falling because there is greater satellite capacity and more options for shipowners. However, this is needed as vessels are transmitting and receiving greater volumes of data for business requirements and crew welfare.

“All the companies we speak to want remote monitoring and smarter ships”

Mr Veldkamp said the next step is providing the means for real-time ship supervision from shore. “All the companies we speak to want remote monitoring and smarter ships,” he added that “it is still expensive” for remote observations in real-time for most customers. This has led to VSAT providers now developing services to manage IT systems on ships and giving “ship operators tools to manage fleet connectivity and the right applications” said Mr Veldkamp.

Another potential cost-saving tool for vessel operators could come from developments in commercial flat panel VSAT antennas, he added. Castor Marine is working with Kymeta Corp on the commercial development of flat panel antennas. The technology is ready for trials, but according to Mr Veldkamp “equipment costs need to come down significantly and efficiency needs to be improved” before they can be commercially viable for large scale deployment.

“Flat panel antennas need to be evolved in the future,” he said, adding that they would be ideal for “superyachts or small vessels that cannot have 60 cm [diameter] stabilised antennas”.