Taking advantage of the digital evolution in maritime operations

5 minutes
By monitoring and analyzing data, ships can operate more efficiently, leading to benefits such as fuel savings and reduced wear-and-tear on machinery. However, it's not enough to just collect data, you need to know what to look for and how to utilize it to fulfill the potential of data-driven development and optimization.

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Smart shipping - or smart maritime operations - are characterized by the application of digitalization and advanced technologies to enhance both onboard and onshore operational processes. Systems such as alarm monitoring, power management, dynamic positioning, integrated navigation systems, maintenance, and engines, have been increasingly digitized - acting as a catalyst for smart shipping or operations.

By monitoring and analyzing data, ships can operate more efficiently, leading to benefits such as fuel savings and reduced wear-and-tear on machinery. This does not necessarily only apply to the crew onboard. With the help of cloud solutions, this data can also be used to connect technical personnel onshore with the vessel – effectively enabling them to evaluate and make decisions together with, or on behalf of, the crew.

However, only relevant data, presented in the right context, and properly utilized, will effectively help to optimize operations.

Different vessels and operations require different types of data

The main goal for most ship owners and operators is to find the most efficient route, to have the most efficient energy consumption, in the safest possible way - all the while securing the most efficient onboard operations in terms of combining automated systems and onboard crew. But how do we get there?

A simple rule to remember is: the right data, plus relevant systems, in a safe environment, equals optimized operations.

In order to find ways to optimize, the vessel needs to have onboard systems that can relay relevant information both in real time and for future analyses. Onboard systems need to present this data in the right context of the vessel and the operations. Relevant information is the key to this equation.

When designing and integrating new digital systems, ask yourself these questions:

Why - What is the goal?

What - Which data is needed?

How - How is it collected?

How is it presented?

The answers to these questions will provide the best foundation for efficient data management, which in turn allows for increased optimization in both onboard and onshore operations.

What data is relevant for your vessel and operations? Photo: SEAM

Planning for future technology

Designing your vessel for the future of maritime operations can be tricky. Questions such as: which technologies will still be applicable and relevant in 5-years time; how can we integrate new solutions in existing systems; and how can we be sure this will yield the results we need in order to both ensure continued and increased operational efficiency and stay in line with future environmental and safety demands.

Most of these questions can be answered with two words: scalability and flexibility.

Scalability and flexibility are paramount for vessels today. Scalable systems allow for the enhancement and expansion of functionalities as new technologies emerge or as operational requirements evolve. Flexible systems ensure adaptability to different vessel types, operational conditions, and regulatory frameworks.

By opting for scalable and adaptable core systems, the implementation of new technologies, solutions and vessel functions, may be completed in a safe and cost-effective way.

In terms of digital systems and data management, the use of cloud solutions provide the best level of scalability and flexibility for ship owners today. If we look a bit further into the future, we will see an increased adoption of AI, machine learning, and more third-party integrations to increase scope and utilization even further.

What can we expect from the digital evolution?

The developments in onboard datalogging, and the new ways to utilize this data, will continue to be some of the most important ways in which shipowners and operators optimize their operations and their ships’ energy efficiency.

The maritime industry, much like many other sectors, has been undergoing significant changes with the evolution of digitalization. Several functions that earlier were intended solely for maintenance and maintenance planning, can now serve as important sources of information for optimizing energy use and fleet management - such as onboard dataloggers.

Onboard dataloggers in vessels refer to electronic devices or systems that continuously record specific types of data over a period of time. These dataloggers can monitor a wide range of parameters, depending on their design and intended use. The data they gather is often crucial for both real-time decision-making and post-event analysis.

Many modern dataloggers are evolving into more complex systems, integrating with other onboard systems, and even using AI or machine learning algorithms to provide real-time insights or predictions based on the collected data.

The developments in onboard datalogging, and the new ways to utilize this data, will continue to be some of the most important ways in which shipowners and operators optimize their operations and their ships’ energy efficiency.

The Age of Autonomy

We are already seeing the development of smaller, semi-autonomous vessels - such as USV's and smaller passenger vessels. However, this level of autonomy in larger ships is still a ways away. And while new digital tools may be the enabler of autonomy, the driving force is efficiency, safety and environment.

While autonomy is often associated with fully autonomous, driver-less operations - where the vessel operates without the presence of a crew - autonomous functions are incrementally being implemented in vessels of all sizes.

Auto-docking, automatic alarm systems, predictive maintenance and integrated surveillance systems, are all examples of how the industry has embraced automated tools and functions.

Taking it a step further, the digital evolution - and the autonomous functions that have been introduced - has enabled important developments in how to practically utilize the mountains of data collected from each vessel, and the fleet as a whole.

To ensure compliance with various international regulations, automated and digitized reporting systems are being developed; improved monitoring software can provide early detection of anomalies, which in turn may prevent accidents or failures; and advanced analytics and machine learning are being used to monitor and optimize fuel consumption, route planning and maintenance schedules.

USV AS's USV is planned to go semi-autonomous, and monitored from onshore. Photo: USV AS

Maritime 5.0: the future of the industry

While advanced technologies and improved systems are driving the evolution of modern vessels, the relationship between the crew and these systems is equally important in optimizing operations and improving onboard and onshore systems.

While advancing towards autonomy, the integration of automation systems must consider the invaluable role of the human element. The combination of flexible automation systems and human experience plays a crucial role in developing interfaces and systems that synergize human and machine capabilities effectively.

It's not "human vs. machines", it's combining digital tools and human perspectives and experiences to ensure continuous development, increased safety, increased efficiency, and user-friendly functions for a more effective and greener maritime future.

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