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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

Savings are in the clouds as OSV owners benefit from going digital

Thu 04 Apr 2019 by Martyn Wingrove

Savings are in the clouds as OSV owners benefit from going digital
Kurt Roar Vilhelmsen (UniSea): “We needed to make workflows easier for seafarers through our software"

Cloud-based software brings savings to OSV owners, thanks to improved synchronisation between vessels and shore

New developments in the IT sphere, notably in terms of cloud portals, are saving OSV owners money, while speeding up their reporting requirements and increasing the efficiency of onboard operations.

Using cloud-based solution, management information can be reliably synchronised between a ship’s servers and an online platform, allowing anytime-access by seafarers and fleet managers.

One of the key elements to a successful, integrated cloud system involves having the right user interfaces in place to automatically adapt to the individual accessing the information.

“The problem is no longer access to data, but the fact that we are drowning in it”

UniSea owner and managing director Kurt Roar Vilhelmsen explains that while information needs to be accessed by both onboard crew and shore-based fleet managers, they do not necessarily need to view the same interface. In fact, a bespoke interface can improve efficiencies by showing only the data needed for a particular purpose or operator.   

Information-overload, both onshore and on board, is a big problem, as Mr Vilhelmsen says: “The problem is no longer access to data, but the fact that we are drowning in it.”

To this end, UniSea has designed adaptable user interfaces for health, safety, environment and quality (HSEQ), operations and chartering software. Mr Vilhelmsen says that, put simply, “We did not want to over-complicate the interface.”

UniSea programs adapt the complexity of the user interface to the modules, depending on who is logging on, helping make workflows easier and more relevant for seafarers.

This means the interface on a vessel will be different, and usually simpler, than the display in the same module for a shore-based manager. Using the example of the HSEQ module, which has simple forms for seafarers on board, but more detail for managers in the office, Mr Vilhelmsen says: “We needed to find ways to simplify reporting on vessels and ensure managers could access information rapidly. It is about the user experience, the user interface and improving flexibility.”

While a captain on a vessel needs an overview of reports, including the status of vessel operations and management, the shore-based superintendent is likely to require a summary of reports, involving greater detail across the fleet under management. One of the big challenges for any fleet management software is ensuring that the information is current and timely. “It is about trusting that the data has no replications or conflicts,” says Mr Vilhelmsen.

Hence the synchronisation and replication of data is key. “In a traditional file-based system, files are synchronised across the satellite link and things can go wrong if there are no checks on the data quality,” says Mr Vilhelmsen. But UniSea’s vessel-based servers communicate with the servers in the office or cloud. “They replicate reliable information with no conflicts,” he explains.

The central server handles synchronisation, fleet requests and content to the office. Shore-based managers can then access data through an internet browser. The vessel server manages content for ship employees, synchronising data with the office.

UniSea’s replication system ensures the operator only sees what they need to see


Mr Vilhelmsen cites the UniSea onboard electronic permit-to-works system as an example of how software can replicate the paper-based process that offshore workers have used for years. The system manages offshore maintenance jobs, improving the clarity and amount of information about the work involved and the safety of a facility.

Permit-to-work was introduced after the Piper Alpha offshore platform disaster in 1987. It helps prevent jobs becoming dangerous by, for example, stopping hot work near a gas source until the gas is switched off. However, there are a lot of forms to fill in.

“While a captain needs an overview of reports, the shore-based superintendent is likely to require greater detail across the fleet”

“UniSea’s [software] will adapt to the type of work and reduce the complexity of the form,” says Mr Vilhelmsen. This means workers do not need to sift through pages of non-relevant forms, only filling in what is required.

UniSea’s system includes permits for hot work, the use of dangerous substances, jobs in enclosed spaces, working aloft, crane operations and working overboard.

Ongoing permit-to-work projects are displayed on a central screen for onboard managers to view, ensuring that parallel jobs do not cause a conflict or dangerous situation, such as a crane operation occurring on the same side of a vessel as an overboard working project.

Elsewhere, UniSea has worked with Global Maritime to produce an electronic verification and testing module for OSV dynamic positioning (DP) systems. This enables seafarers to conduct aspects of annual DP trials on vessels prior to the arrival of a Global Maritime assessor. “At least half of the tests can be done by seafarers and the results sent back to Global Maritime for verification," says Mr Vilhelmsen.

“This means when Global Maritime comes on board they spend less time on vessels, reducing the costs as some tests are already done by the crew.” This functionality is linked to UniSea’s audit module and to the HSE module. Any incidents and findings can be reported to the International Marine Contractors Association for industry analysis and UniSea can also analyse DP trends.

After a successful 2018, UniSea is now focussing on introducing a new version of its crewing module for monitoring and registering rest hours. It will also release the next generation of the UniSea 14001 module, covering fuel and emission reporting.

Forms module brings savings to Olympic Shipping

Olympic Shipping adopted UniSea’s forms and checklist module for its subsea vessel fleet. Olympic vice president of health, safety, environment and quality (HSEQ) Tonny Sordal says each vessel in the fleet uses 1,700 checklists each year. Savings in paper and ink for these forms was around £340 (US$447) per vessel per year, based on 20p (US$0.27) per form.

UniSea chief executive Kurt Roar Vilhelmsen believes these savings could be increased. “Cost savings are likely to be twice that when time savings are factored in,” he says.

Indeed, Mr Sordal thinks time savings mount up to six days per vessel per year, based on the premise that each paper form would take at least five minutes more to fill in than the UniSea digital equivalent.

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