Digital development turbocharged by half a decade due to pandemic

Digital development turbocharged by half a decade due to pandemic

The global pandemic is turbocharging digital development in the maritime industry by half a decade, facilitating new ideas and a new exploratory mindset to realise the potential of this decade and the next decade, says Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen, CEO of DNV GL – Maritime.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the maritime industry’s status quo of how shipping operates how the industry can challenge the way it expects to operate. As a result of COVID-19, Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen sees the emergence of a maritime renaissance where cross industry collaboration and innovation are turbocharging digital developments, which will ultimately help to improve fleet performance, cut fuel consumption, mitigate shipping’s environmental impacts, increase safety, and cut costs.

Speaking during a webinar hosted by SMM last month (May 14) and during a virtual press conference hosted by the classification society earlier this month (June 2), Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen mentioned three tectonic shifts, which he has previously drawn upon, that are still “highly relevant” in today’s environment. These include unpredictable markets, a complex regulatory landscape and turbocharged digitalisation and innovation. While these tectonic shifts create challenges for the maritime industry, Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen said that, “Along the fault lines of these tectonic shifts, there is in fact an opportunity to discover old and ancient knowledge, and to challenge everything that we do and to find new ways and new innovations.” This will be the, “opportunity for a maritime renaissance,” he said.

“The need for innovation is clearly there, not just to meet regulatory requirements but to meet general expectations of wider stakeholder groups. The industry will be more inclined to carry out innovative approaches and challenge ways of working. We will look at things in new ways and be open to new ideas. With this mindset, this fantastic industry with its capable and competent players will find great and inspiring solutions,” Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen explained.

Collaboration will be vital to leverage this innovative approach. Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen said that DNV GL is “taking a lot of steps to make agreements with some of the leading players in the digital domain. We are trying to work with engine manufacturers, shipyards, owners and managers to drive the digital development of maritime world forward. We really have to realise that we cannot deal with all the challenges facing the maritime world in isolation and we have to come from a broad and open collaboration with different stakeholders.”

Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen, CEO of DNV GL – Maritime. Image courtesy of DNV GL.

Demand for digital technology

Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen confirmed that DNV GL is experiencing increased demand for its digital services since the pandemic outbreak. Webinars run by the class society are attracting up to 3,000 participants, from 300 previously, which Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen said, “shows you can have a tremendous reach and spread of knowledge and information sharing.”

Using digital means to service vessels for machinery maintenance is also significantly cutting the hours for DNV GL. Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen said that to do manual checks of logs, excel sheets, and visiting vessels and offices to do a service would take a number of days or weeks for a 50 vessel fleet, but with digital solutions they are able to do exactly the same in around four hours. “This shows the efficiency gains and effectiveness of digital applications,” he said.

Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen also noted the increase in remote surveys since travel restrictions were enforced. He confirmed a 30 per cent increase at DNV GL since the pandemic and said that, “this will continue to develop as there is a rise in number of owners and managers investing in increased bandwidth for vessels.”

Electronic surveys are also being issued every four minutes, while 80 per cent of DNV GL’s customers are now using digital tools for surveys, with approximately 200,000 users on its Veracity data platform to date.

There is also a great opportunity for the maritime industry to use artificial intelligence (AI) to conduct remote inspections. Drone inspections can be coupled with intelligent algorithms to interpret footage and videos to provide new insight into maritime safety, predictive maintenance, scheduling and applying in analytics to improve performance.

Long-term challenges

While the pandemic is is a short-term challenge that provides new opportunities for learning and developing innovative technologies, cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from international shipping is a medium to long-term challenge. With the International Maritime Organization (IMO) temporarily unable to hold is meetings due to the pandemic, moving forward with international decarbonisation goals is challenging and Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen wants the industry to be careful at this time not to lose focus on the long-term challenges.

One way to achieve ambitious emission reduction targets set by the IMO is to develop carbon neutral fuels. Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen believes that the transition to a lower carbon future will start with gas. “Gas is the best fuel choice for next one to two vessel generations. It’s not idea or perfect but it is readily available and tested and shows 15-20 per cent reduction in GHG emissions, depending on solution chosen. it is a very efficient bridging technology towards older fuels, better fuels that are not ready as we speak now but where further research, testing and piloting will lead us on a path where we can introduce these better fuels gradually into the maritime industry.”

LNG has had its fair share of criticism, for instance the NGO Transport & Environment has voiced its opinion on LNG, stating that it is not the way forward due to its GHG footprint being comparable to that of the the cleanest oil-based marine fuel, marine gas oil (MGO) or worse. While the lower carbon content of LNG brings down its CO2 emissions, this could be offset by its methane slip and leakage during the extraction, transportation, bunkering process.

However, Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen said that, “We cannot wait for the ideal solution. We should take steps now to improve climate and reduce emissions.

“If you could get the perfect fuel in the next 30 years, we would end up waiting around with continued pollution. Saving 15-20 per cent by doing something now, rather than waiting another 30 years to save 50 per cent makes the most sense.”

While gas might not be the ultimate solution to carbon neutral shipping, it is available now and Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen sees no reason to wait for the alternatives. “With scaling, the cost of installing dual fuel systems will come down. The more momentum we can achieve the better it will be for everybody and the more efficient it will also become on the economies.”

Ammonia or other fuels are very immature at this stage and the testing ground isn’t always there for them. Dr Elizabeth Lindstad, chief scientist at the SINTEF Ocean research told VPO Global during a press tour that, “There are no zero GHG fuels on a well to wake basis, although this is a work in progress.” Work to improve methane slip, which is often used an argument to not move to gas as fuel, is constantly taking place, Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen confirmed to the press.