Editor Martyn Wingrove predicts the top 10 technologies that will disrupt the way fleets of ships can be managed by shore-based superintendents and directors
There are many technologies that influence the management of shipping fleets, with some considered more critical than others. Fleet management is becoming more advanced through the use of software and online services that enable superintendents to keep track of ship operations from anywhere worldwide.
Shipmanagers consider reliable and high-speed communications a critical pillar of their business as it enables data to flow both ways between ships and shore bases. Data analytics has also become a valuable tool for fleet managers to provide information on ship performance and equipment condition.
These technologies have already had a major impact on shipmanagement and more are in the pipeline that show huge potential to be disruptive to fleet management. Marine Electronics & Communications editor Martyn Wingrove predicts which 10 technologies will have a considerable impact on fleet management. These are summarised below in alphabetical order with links for further reading. Many of these are interconnected and enablers to other technical applications. And others are developments that could revolutionise the management of fleets.
3D printing will revolutionise the production of spare parts in key ports and could be introduced in fleet management centres. There have already been advances in printing 3D spares for pumps, motors and engines and e-procurement specialists are in discussions with companies with this technology.
Printers will soon be able to produce larger ship components, such as propellers and engines as more advanced units are introduced. In May, Australian company Titomic unveiled what it claimed to be the world’s largest 3D printer of metals. Shipbuilder Fincantieri is partnered with Titomic to consider using kinetic fusion 3D printing at its yards.
Advanced encryption is improving cyber security, which has become an essential aspect of fleet management. Firewalls, antivirus programs, managing USB port access and seafarer training are seen to be the key elements of security. However, many of these will not prevent hackers from entering company networks onshore and on board.
As more data is held in online facilities, greater levels of security are needed to prevent access by hackers. Costs of a cyber breach can be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, as demonstrated by the cyber attack on Maersk Line in June 2017. There have been others since then. Advances in encryption can assist in preventing cyber attacks in the future, as long as passwords are not leaked.
Cyber security, advanced encryption and preventing hacking will be discussed at Riviera Maritime Media’s European Maritime Cyber Risk Management Summit, which will be held in London on 15 June in association with Norton Rose Fulbright.
Artificial intelligence (AI) developments are enabling more autonomy in shipping and better prediction of machinery failures. AI involves computer processing and algorithms to produce information that helps fleet managers make more informed decisions.
AI enables condition-based maintenance as machinery manufacturers can provide information to fleet managers to prevent failures and improve performance of onboard systems. Machines can learn from the experience of operations and provide advice on improvements to managers.
In the future, AI will facilitate greater levels of vessel autonomy, including automated navigation and e-procurement of required parts for machinery prior to maintenance.
Augmented reality (AR) is the ability to project information on images to deliver higher levels of understanding for ship operators. On a bridge AR can deliver navigation information initially on workstations, but eventually on ship bridge windows.
In a fleet management centre, it will enable superintendents to track the performance and condition of ships more effectively on wallscreens. They can choose the level of data they need to view, bring up greater amounts of information of onboard equipment condition, or view interactions between ships and ports. They could also compare this information with a digital twin of the vessel. Holographic imagery with AR will also be available to fleet managers in future years.
Blockchain technology provides secure financial transactions and will help people manage supply chain procedures. There are several initiatives developing blockchain resources, mainly in the container shipping industry, with the first being tested this year.
This technology will have an increasing influence in other shipping sectors. These encrypted processes are optimised and secure, as required for e-procurement of cargo and spares. Fleet managers could use blockchain for purchasing directly from wholesalers in a cyber secure portal.
Crew biometrics will be made available through greater use of wearable IT technology. It will enable fleet managers to monitor the health and welfare of seafarers and offer advice to prevent medical and mental health problems in the future. This technology is already in daily use in the form of fitness watches, but it can go further.
For example, Formula 1 racing car drivers wear gloves that send health data to their teams. These monitor driver's vital signs via 3 mm sensors stitched into these gloves. Perhaps if seafarers do not want to wear gloves they could have sensor implants. By monitoring seafarer health, managers could reduce medical expenditure and increase use of telemedicine services. It would be like predictive maintenance for crew.
Drones have many future applications for fleet managers outside vessel inspection capabilities. Unmanned aerial vehicles can be used for reducing costs of low-weight parts and document delivery, which is an application that shipmanagers are testing.
Other uses include transferring mooring lines between ships and tugs or quaysides, and providing video for security or monitoring ship emissions. They can be used for providing forward navigation information, particularly useful during ice voyages in conjunction with radar.
Remote control becomes a reality for fleet managers as more onboard systems are automated and satellite communications becomes faster and more reliable. This is enabled by high-throughput satellites that provide spot beams of broadband for real-time ship monitoring and remote commands.
Even if vessels remain manned, there are applications for remote control, perhaps during ocean voyages where an onshore navigator can take the night shift enabling seafarers on board more rest.
Robotics will increasingly be considered for manual operations and low levels of maintenance on ships as fleet managers seek to reduce manning levels. It will be possible in the future to use robotics to repair engineroom auxiliaries and elements of the main engines.
There are already projects developing robots for maritime applications, such as for hull cleaning and ship inspections, where it is inaccessible or difficult for humans to access. There are also initiatives to develop robotics for fire-fighting, anti-piracy and handling mooring lines for crewless operations.
Wireless sensor networks around ships could provide data for monitoring and analysis without the need for cables. Wireless sensors are already included in some reefer containers, enabling cargo owners to track the condition of their goods. Sensors without wires would need some level of self-powering and transceivers that link to onboard wifi networks, which would be linked to the satellite communications equipment on the bridge.