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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

Disruptive digital technology will solve shipping issues

Thu 21 Apr 2016

Disruptive digital technology will solve shipping issues
Kirsi Tikka (ABS): “We need to think differently and respond rapidly” (credit: Susanne Hakuba)

Shipping needs to do far more to attract innovation in order to discover and implement the next disruptive digital technologies. The industry is facing more threats than ever to business-as-usual conditions, from technology changes – mostly from the digital sector – and from environmental regulations. So it should embrace different technologies that could disrupt existing business cases, and encourage innovators to develop solutions to the latest issues.

These were some of the conclusions from the Disruptive Sustainability discussion between different thought leaders, held in the Baltic Exchange in London at the end of February. Outside influences could threaten the current status quo in shipping and provide the next generation of solutions. For example, technology conglomerates such as Amazon, Google and Huawei Technologies are looking to deliver new digital technologies into the shipping sector, which could revolutionise the industry. They could become digital disruptors to the conservative shipping community by offering different business models and technologies. But with a bit of enthusiasm, companies already operating in the shipping sphere could provide these technologies first.

The potential disruptive technologies could include high throughput satellite communications, more effective data analytics, greater autonomy and robotics, and new methods of information sharing. Other business disruptors could come from environmental concerns, such as shifting propulsion technology towards zero emissions technologies, such as batteries, as well as the monitoring of system performance.

During that discussion, ABS global marine executive vice president Kirsi Tikka said the shipping industry needed to create the future, not be dragged towards it by these outside influences. It should be investing in better analytics and data processing, and in more shore support, and it should be innovating to solve the major issues. “We need to open up to a wider pool of ideas and be open minded to outside people,” she said. “We need to think differently and respond rapidly, and we should attract innovation.”

Classification societies can be an incubator or a platform for new innovation. “We are now looking for more disruptive innovation from automation and big data analytics. But for the most part, we do not see a road map of how we get there,” Dr Tikka continued. “This is mainly because it involves expertise not found in our traditional industry, and leadership that understands how to apply and benefit from the technology.”

Shipping needs an innovation strategy to tackle the operational issues and regulatory challenges, and to find ways of being more competitive and environmentally and financially sustainable. The industry needs to harness the potential from large volume data processing and analytics, and fast communications between ship and shore.

“Smart use of data means we can be less intrusive and more predictive in the way we work with asset owners and companies, and be less bound by calendar-driven events,” said Dr Tikka. “But we need to be confident about the quality and the reliability of the data.”

Some ship system suppliers and integrators have embraced the advances in digital technology. Companies like ABB, Caterpillar and Wärtsilä have developed digital remote monitoring and diagnostics services involving machinery sensors feeding back data to shore for analysis. The information can be used for managing maintenance strategies, improving machinery operation and reducing costs. Companies like Jotun are using monitoring data to improve hull and propulsion performance.

Some of the disruptive technology could come from outside the industry. Dr Tikka highlighted how non-shipping companies are becoming involved. She said a Chinese affiliate of Amazon had registered with the US Federal Maritime Commission to become a licensed ocean freight forwarder, and Amazon had also filed an application with the Shanghai Shipping Exchange to serve as a broker for 12 trade routes. These companies can be seen as competitors or partners in developing disruptive technology that can revolutionise shipping.

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