Technology and the ‘Connected Ship’

The shipping and logistics industry has long benefited from technological interconnectivity. However, it’s been estimated that the increased efficiency, trackability and machine learning offered by being wired into the Internet of Things can potentially reduce commercial transportation asset and operations management costs by 10 percent.

But for many logistics providers, bringing technological innovation and integration to the open seas in the form of a ‘connected ship’ may offer unique challenges–as well as significant advantages.

“This is the new big issue to discuss with industry colleagues, so for now the autonomous ship is largely a concept,” said Bjørn Johan Vartdal, head of maritime transport at Oslo-based classification body DNV GL, speaking at the recent Nor-Shipping maritime shipping conference.

“While we wait for more complete implementations, companies have made big advances in obtaining digital information from ships, which can be transferred to dedicated data centers on shore.”

The ‘Connected Ship’

Alongside the rise of the industrial internet, every aspect of shipping has been touched by the integration of automation and big data. The ‘connected ship’ represents a model where vessels are tracked and managed via satellite, offering streamlined reporting and improved vessel operating efficiency, including fuel management.

Sensor technologies and monitoring tools would alert management teams both offshore and onshore to potential problems, as well as making use of power predictive models to enable data-based decision-making.

“We are using multiple systems to monitor different processes from sending out position reports to doing crew sign-on packages and license information,” says Mike Golonka, vice president of ship management, for Crowley Maritime Corporation. “I think in the future we’re going to see where all this interacts a little bit more.”

Indeed, this data-based management of resources could not only save time and money, but possibly even human lives. The Maritime Transport at Oslo-based classification body DNV GL has said that superior data integration could be a valuable asset in hitting their target of a 90 percent reduction in lives lost.

Challenges and Limitations

While maritime shipping companies are excited by the potential of the ‘connected ship,’ the reality is a bit more complicated. Unlike trucking, shipping overseas still requires a significant amount of manual work, and ship managers are concerned about rising costs and maintaining safety–making the shipping industry slow to adopt certain innovations.

“Owners’ budgets are tight.” says Golonka. “We need to be creative, but the real challenge is maintaining our safety culture and our transparency.”

Further complicating the issue of the ‘connected ship’ are simple technological logistics. Ships looking to be “wired in” have to offer broadband internet, and ship-wide Wi-Fi capability is still a major challenge for shipowners, both from a cost and implementation standpoint. Many ships’ internet capabilities are still limited to mess decks and public areas and not available in individual cabins.

Meanwhile, best practices have yet to be fully established for these new interconnected ships–and new systems are susceptible to cyberattacks in a way that analog shipping technology was not. But these growing pains are being acknowledged by companies like InterManager, which has named the “paperless ship” as a top company priority for 2016.

“The nirvana for InterManager is to have best practices spread among countries in Europe and then even farther afield,” says InterManager’s Secretary General, Captain Kuba Szymanski. “The whole idea would be to create a paperless ship and a virtual vessel on a server with all the required data, updated with the latest information and with all relevant parties notified.”

While full industry-wide integration of the ‘connected ship’ may be years away, the steps being taken by the industry have the potential to make shipping safer and more efficient, while radically reducing port congestion. The movement to organize and utilize existing data points seems poised to soon overcome the stumbling blocks the shipping industry currently faces.

While the era of the ‘connected ship’ may not be upon us just yet, in all likelihood, it’s not too far away.

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