The transportation industry has been pretty active in the scheme of Internet of Things (IoT), and now even the conservative maritime industry is waking up to the benefits of its adoption and implementation.
How is IoT and IT technology impacting the maritime industry? While it is true that industrial controls and equipment on ships have always generated a lot of data, the big difference is that we are now using IT technology to connect to the marine equipment and access this operational data. As sensors become smaller, more robust and cheaper to acquire, we predict that they will be literally ‘everywhere’, in the hull, main engine, and auxiliary machinery and even small equipment items, gathering and collecting data for analysis.
Predictive Maintenance, Augmented Reality and 3D Printing
This monitoring and data analysis will definitely make ships easier to operate. Examples include condition-based maintenance systems (equipment monitoring in real time to remotely service products via the Internet so parts can be swapped out at the next port of call, thereby avoiding operational down time and costly delays), preparing 3D printing or guiding repairs by people without expert knowledge of the system, and using Augmented Reality for intuitive guidance.
The 3D models will be updated as the ship is built and modified over its lifecycle. In Augmented Reality, computers overlay a live image with computer-generated information. For example, a building block may be shown with a part to be installed, illustrating how both fit together. The fitting of parts will then become very intuitive, reducing assembly times and errors.
Smart Ships: Minimum Crew-Sizes
Along with reduced workload in the engine room due to cleaner fuels, we believe that these advances will allow further reductions in minimum crew sizes. Expect to see smart ships with automatic collision avoidance, automatic berthing, a self-monitoring hull, engine and cargo; the ability to sail autonomously for a limited time in certain conditions, and even no-crew drones for specific applications, such as, short-distance ferries, tugs and fireboats.
Automated Data-Driven Decision-Making
Whether ships are operated locally or by remote control, operational decisions will be data driven. For example, AIS (Automatic Identification System), a satellite-based data exchange allows the tracking of virtually all cargo ships for vessel routing, taking into account the weather, traffic situation and port capacities along the route.
Simulation & Virtual Reality
The scope of simulations is already expanding beyond the classic stability, strength and hydrodynamics into aerodynamics, fire, ice-breaking, evacuation, manufacturing, energy generation and consumption in the ship system. When human interaction is important, we will increasingly use Virtual Reality as a key technology.
Virtual Reality uses 3D models of the world with fly-through or walk-through capabilities, and typically some user interaction; effectively, it is the same technology used in video games. This technology is fast gaining popularity especially for interior designing and training. Take Transas, for example, who have worked with Carnival and Dell EMC OEM to build the world’s largest marine training simulation centre, providing capacity to provide best-in-class training to 6,500 deck and engineering officers per year while reducing hardware by 77 percent and energy consumption by 30 percent.
Connectivity & Security
Connectivity is also growing in importance. For example, in the case of Navarino Telecom, innovative cloud technology on board is increasing productivity, lowering ship to shore communication costs and increasing data speeds by up to 50 percent. With IT becoming an indispensable part of shipping, cybersecurity is becoming a concern, both for autonomous and manned shipping, with technology following a similar approach to that deployed for other large assets, such as power plants and traffic control centres.
Some predict that all these advances in IT will ‘revolutionise’ shipping. However, sensors, computers and telecommunications are not new to shipping, and we believe the evolution to aggregate and gain more intelligence from equipment will continue, albeit at an accelerated pace. We expect that we will see ‘more’ of the same trends as in the past decades; more exchange of data and collaboration between stakeholders. The difference is that this unique combination of technologies will enable the next wave of innovation.