The evolving Internet of Things (IoT) is providing new ways for shipping companies to monitor, measure and transfer information to better manage their fleets’ performance. Intelligent sensors and increasing bandwidth have made it possible to collect large quantities of data and transfer it from ship to shore. The emphasis is less on how to collect data and more on how this data can be used to achieve efficient and safer operations.
In a recent panel discussion hosted by VPO Global in London, moderator Mike Powell, founder of Cardinal Point Maritime asked several industry service providers to give their thoughts on how owners and operators can achieve real gains in performance based on the current state of maritime IoT and where the challenges lie in doing so.
“A major challenge seen by many satellite providers today in providing data, assisting with data analysis, data collection, data delivery and data storage is in some parts being pushed back more onto the connectivity provider,” says Joe Apa, vice president maritime, Central, Northern Europe & US, Speedcast. He believes the industry needs to formulate partnerships and offer something more unique than what we are seeing today but points towards the current fragmentation in the industry today as a barrier to achieving better fleet performance.
This fractured market is the result of a lack of common or standardised platform in Mr Apa’s eyes. “You have people doing data analysis and applications on vessels at the engine level or in propulsion. But generally, you see a company offering this analysis for their product. This is a very fragmented approach.” He believes that the industry is “crying out for a common platform,” to ease complications in the market. However, he says that this will require a “game-changer.”
Another move in maritime IoT Mr Apa has seen is the demand for greater bandwidth at sea. In the last three to four months he has seen a huge rise in demand. “Many fleets are requesting more bandwidth, they want more to do with the IoT and data extraction.” While he says that this has largely been for performance utilisation, there is a notable growing demand to give more back to the crew in terms of data consumption.
Ms Ulla Knudsen, sales manager at Coach Solutions points towards another challenge and that is related to the ability for end users to differentiate between noise and valuable information. At the moment this is a complicated procedure. “Systems need to show only relevant information, while users will need to be trained to handle this information so they can action what is relevant.” She notes that the industry is getting there but it will take time and will largely depend on the end users and how much they push from their end.
In addition to being able to distinguish between good and poor data, Ms Knudsen says that there needs to be an emphasis on turning good data into performance management. “There are a lot of systems out there collecting data, giving data back, and we know the systems themselves cannot alone improve performance. As users, we need to absorb the information, turn it into relevant knowledge and convert it into actions.”
The challenge with converting knowledge into actions can be attributed to resistance to change. “It can take three years for a company to implement action on a vessel, even though they talk about it for a long time beforehand,” Ms Knudsen explains. She believes that too often companies invest their time and energy into finding the right solution and installing it, but fail to plan for its operational use. “Companies underestimate the amount of resources that need to be put into the implementation of the system. You cannot just buy the system, place it onboard, and think now we’re just going to save 5-7 per cent.” She urges companies to focus on this implementation phase as it has “not been taken seriously enough. Some companies do it well, but it’s the minority.”
Ms Knudsen supports Mr Apa’s previous point that collecting data on the same platform and integrating the systems so that they ‘talk’ to another. She sees this as vital to improving performance in the long-term. In the case of analysing fuel consumption, there could be one system showing the speed and consumption and another system calculating the cost of the voyage from A to B in time and bunker consumption, but these two systems need to be on the same platform.
The problem with having one open platform is that there are many vendors creating their own platforms and each vendor wants to make money from doing this, Mr Marius Suteu, technical service director, commercial marine division at Navico explains.
“One challenge I see as a company but also looking at it from a shipowner’s perspective is that it is difficult for someone that has never been on a ship to develop software for vessels. There are a number of solutions out there and each one of them is probably customised to a specific shipowner or company’s needs, then adapted for various needs after.” Mr Suteu says this is a common problem and one way to solve it is through the open platform concept, however, “finding someone that has built a software or solution that is not around one specific issue is challenging.” He goes on to say that while he supports customisation, however, the industry could better benefit from a standard solution with customised modes. “I think this will be the best approach to some of these problems.”
Mr Suteu also emphasises the importance of the human element and stresses the need for human rather than virtual support onboard when needed. “People on the vessel need to be able to ask questions, not just interact with machines. You need a person to rely on sometimes. As a human being I like to talk to someone that can understand my problem and challenge, not just interact with a machine.”