Intelligent software can reduce bunkers and improve container fleet management for shipowners
Container ship operators can improve vessel scheduling, optimise fuel expenditure and increase the number of available containers through the use of smart programming.
A key method for lowering fuel and terminal costs is to optimise the scheduling of container ships. Software packages are able to integrate relevant company data with external distance tables and other information to create long-term and workable arrival time estimates for the entire fleet, said Softship Asia Pacific managing director Lars Fischer.
“Before a schedule is released, the software will run and compare a series of options to create the optimum programme,” he said. Once approved, the schedule can be quickly communicated with all agents and outstations to ensure all parties are working with the most up-to-date information.
However, any deviation from the planned schedule not only inconveniences the cargo owner but can also add significantly to the cost of a voyage. Therefore, software needs to be dynamic and intelligent to manage this as information is received in real time.
As individual voyages progress, “the software will accept data directly from vessel reports as well as arrival and departure messages,” said Mr Fischer. This is transmitted from ships to an online portal through satellite communications while ships are at sea.
This information will automatically update each individual vessel’s schedule and highlight any deviations from the plan caused by bad weather, port congestion or other factors.
“As problems arise, the software will extract the affected voyage from the operational environment to allow the operations team to simulate a range of measures and identify the optimum solution to minimise the overall impact of the delay,” said Mr Fischer.
“Voyage and schedule deviations have an impact on bunker costs and could plunge a voyage into deficit”
“Voyage and schedule deviations have an impact on bunker costs and could plunge a voyage into deficit,” he said. Therefore, software that simulates voyage deviation options “should be intelligent enough to estimate bunker consumption associated with route or speed changes.”
This enables a vessel operator to make a trade-off between adding cost to the voyage and/or minimising disruption to the original schedule. Software will advise if a schedule change will cause bunker stocks to fall below a pre-set minimum capacity and highlight opportunities to take on bunkers if required. It can streamline bunkers purchasing and reconcile the bunker invoice against contracts and volumes.
Forward-thinking container shipping companies should also use intelligent software for container control, handling, invoicing and detention billing, which “can result in sizeable efficiencies and cost savings” said Mr Fischer.
He explained that it can improve the availability of containers at a time when there is a global shortage of container stock. “Most carriers have between 5-7% of their container stock tied up in the maintenance and repair cycle at any given time,” Mr Fischer explained. “A good software package is able to reduce this amount by around 50% through automating the document and approval process.”
Software can also minimise the risk of incorrect container billing. It tracks each container handling activity and cross-checks actual charges with previously agreed tariffs to highlight errors.
“Hard facts are used to settle any subsequent disputes with the terminal operator”
“Hard facts are then used to settle any subsequent disputes with the terminal operator or depot,” said Mr Fischer. “By streamlining documentation and managing billing anomalies more efficiently, the time period between raising an invoice and receiving payment can be squeezed.”
Good software will connect activities, generate synergies, improve efficiency and heighten accuracy. “An intelligent software package is often the unsung hero in a container ship carrier’s quest for survival, particularly in today’s tough market,” Mr Fischer concluded.
Softship’s LIMA software will track each container handling activity and cross-check actual charges with previously agreed tariffs. It will also integrate voyage information with external distance tables and other data to create long-term and workable ETAs for the entire fleet.