Machine-to-machine (M2M) communications will be widely used in the shipping industry within the next five to 10 years as ship systems become linked to the internet over satellite.
Shipping has started to wake up to the benefits of digitalisation and the internet of things (IoT) as technology for improving operational efficiencies and reducing maintenance costs. There are a few early adopters of the technology, such as container ship operators United Arab Shipping Co and Maersk Line. These vessel owners are linking networks of sensors on their ships to onshore servers, and analysing the condition and performance of onboard systems. But too few owners are doing this.
Within the next 10 years the use of sensor networks and high power satellite communications will be adopted as standard by all major shipping companies, according to class society DNV GL. The digitisation of ships and fleets will be the main driver of innovation and business in shipping for the next 10 years, said DNV GL principal researcher and group leader for energy efficiency and fuels Christos Chryssakis. He expects that all classed ships will be connected to broadband and many owners will use this for remote monitoring, remote diagnostics and condition-based maintenance. “We are on the verge of a new technology revolution,” he said. “The combination of sensor networks, connectivity at sea, data analytics and computer power is driving digitalisation at sea.”
The M2M connections could also lead to remote control of ships. “Digitalisation is one of the biggest drivers, and is becoming a dominant force in shipping,” Mr Chryssakis explained. “It can help us move towards more remote monitoring, diagnostics and operations.” The information will improve operational efficiencies and vessel management. It will enable owners to enhance onboard system performance and evaluate vessel operations more effectively.
“In the next 10 years, digitalisation will change how owners manage vessels and bring changes to shipbuilders and manufacturers,” he added. “There will be more automation and remote operation of navigation and propulsion systems. We are seeing pilot projects for the remote monitoring of propulsion systems. This will be standard in 10 years’ time.” This means real-time analytics of onboard systems will be widely used by shipowners.
“Real-time analytics is available because of the sensors. There could be several megabytes of data transmitted from vessels to shore offices, so we need good analytics tools. With data we can do condition-based maintenance, failure forecasting and dynamic barrier management.”
Mr Chryssakis said there were still several challenges to overcome before IoT technology can be widely used in shipping. This includes improving the quality assurance of data and the reliability of sensors, as well as ensuring that the data stream is secure from cyber threats. “There are still sensor problems, so we need systems that can recognise this. But when we have reliability of sensors that are as good as humans, then the use of sensors will be standard. There will be data centres for analytics and new shipping business models,” he explained.
The data analytics could lead to more support for crew from shore, where system experts would be on hand to provide advice. It could also be used to improve the design of ships and onboard systems to make them more effective, efficient and streamlined. These predictions were within DNV GL’s Technology Outlook 2025, which the class society published in May. Other technical drivers that DNV GL predicted included condition-based maintenance and inspection replacing periodic maintenance of machinery, and the development of the digital twin of a ship for technical lifecycle management and further design improvements.
Singapore Telecommunications (Singtel) has invested in M2M services because it believes there is a sizeable market potential for IoT technology. The low data requirements of M2M services mean they have multiple applications in shipping, fishing and offshore sectors. “Its application is endless and cuts across many market segments,” said Singtel associate director of satellite products Adam See-toh. “The low data M2M service for remote management of fixed and mobile assets has a sizeable market potential.”
Among other things, it can be used for system telemetry. “This is the automated collection of data at remote or inaccessible points,” he said. “Data is subsequently transmitted to receiving equipment for monitoring purposes.” In logistics, M2M is used for tracking valuable goods via satellite when the shipment goes out of cellular mobile phone coverage. This can be extended into shipping, for applications such as tracking containers.
M2M can also be used for tracking fishing vessels. Mr See-toh said this type of information could be viewed on an online portal. “Other features include geo-fencing, which will trigger an alert when a vessel crosses a defined boundary, and weather information,” he said.
There are a number of different M2M systems already in operation in shipping for vessel tracking, security, cargo reporting and remote monitoring. According to Radio Holland Connect general manager Rob Verkuil the technology includes the Ship Security Alert System (SSAS) on Inmarsat terminals. This alerts the authorities in the event of piracy, armed robbery or terrorism on ships. M2M also includes long-range identification and tracking (LRIT) of ships. This enables port and other authorities worldwide to track the voyages of vessels that send data bursts of their identity, their location and the time at regular intervals.
“Those M2M solutions are common in the maritime market, offering a safe and reliable solution, and making the vessel compliant with regulations,” said Mr Verkuil. “M2M is also used for fishing regulations. Many governments have adopted vessel monitoring systems to monitor fishing activities in their waters. Other M2M solutions are cargo reporting, such as the temperature, humidity or vibration of the cargo. But you can also have real-time alerts for door intrusions or unplanned stops of the vessel,” he said.
Radio Holland introduced remote monitoring and maintenance around five years ago to help owners improve the reliability of ship systems, including engineroom equipment. “Because of the monitoring of the engine, the weather and other data information from systems on ships, owners can reduce the cost of their operations,” said Mr Verkuil. “The vessel can be watched closely in our monitoring rooms or by customers themselves 24 hours a day.”
Potential problems can be identified and proactively dealt with before they turn into system failures. “Through our remote monitoring solution, we perform systematic inspection, detection, and correction of incipient failures – either before they occur or before they develop into major defects,” Mr Verkuil explained. Radio Holland’s remote monitoring solutions can be linked with its broadband solutions. There is also a solution for vessels that cannot be connected to broadband. “For vessels which are not large enough to be equipped with VSAT terminals, an M2M terminal is more cost-effective and reliable.”