Digital Technologies Keep Navies Mission-Ready


Published Dec 19, 2016 1:41 PM by Andy McKeran, GE Marine Solutions

No two days in the navy are the same. Whether teams are facing a humanitarian mission, complex manoeuvres or a training exercise, navy recruits must be prepared for all eventualities, pushing their bodies and minds to the limits of their abilities. The same is true of navy fleets. While it is not always possible for operations to know what mission they will be faced with in the future, predicting a potential failure of an asset and maintenance need of individual ships, and therefore enabling better fleet management, can ensure they are best prepared for any mission and eventuality. 

With naval vessels, constant availability, early diagnosis of potential failures, the reduction of maintenance time and costs and driving operational efficiencies is crucial. Naval vessels in general have 97 percent operational uptime, and while this may seem like a high percentage, being out of service due to unplanned downtime can be severely problematic, as vessels need to be mission-ready at all times. Even a marginal improvement here is vital.

A new set of innovations, driven by the merging of physical and digital technologies, is transforming the world today, increasing efficiencies and delivering a new range of benefits. Here we look at the three main ways how:

Facilitating informed decision-making

Naval vessels can collect vast amounts of equipment operating data, but, until recently, didn’t have the ability to drill down and analyze that data to inform operating decisions. Operators could only look at a snapshot of the ship’s health at a given moment in time. The problem, to date, has been that without historical data, operators are unable to track the performance of their technology over time or look for trends and, crucially, anomalies.

Imagine a financial analyst who can only see the value of a given stock on a specific day and has to decide whether to buy or sell. Without identifying the trend or the pattern based on historical data showing how that stock has performed in previous years or months, the decision is an impossible one. The same is true for naval ship operators. It’s crucial for them to understand how the ship’s equipment should perform for them to make sophisticated and appropriate operational decisions. Insights into this data, in the form of easily digestible dashboards—much like balance sheets in the financial world—are crucial to provide confidence in asset health. 

To help key stakeholders make more informed decisions, SeaStream Insight, GE’s latest innovation in asset performance management, provides a holistic view of the vessel’s health. It collects massive streams of data from all onboard systems and displays it in dashboards, allowing operators to access the true state of assets in real time. This enables them to view historical and live data altogether in one place, allowing them to make smart decisions faster. Crucially, these dashboards can be tailor-made to provide different information for key stakeholders such as the ship’s chief engineer, captain, operators and maintenance crew.

Improving operational efficiency

Part of the SeaStream Insight system, GE’s SmartSignal is a data analytics tool that allows operators to monitor vessels’ critical assets in real time, record and analyze a vessel’s history and search for anomalies. As such, it can be used to improve to the operational efficiency of an entire naval fleet, a key enabler of being mission-ready.

Moreover, the use of SeaStream Insight can allow operators to create a “digital twin” – a blueprint built on data from a similar vessel’s normal operational performance. By looking at data collected from vessel assets in real time and comparing against its “digital twin,” SeaStream Insight can spot anomalies at both equipment and system level before they occur. This data-driven approach can truly increase a navy’s operational efficiency and help minimize a vessel’s downtime.

As GE’s solution provides access to real-time insight from these vessels, onshore experts, no matter where they are in the world, can also use this data to remotely diagnose problems. This approach helps to reduce third-party service costs and enables faster root-cause analytics. This is particularly important where vessels are often operating in remote areas, far offshore. Understanding that security of a navy ship’s data is crucial, GE has addressed these challenges and is able to transfer data from a ship to a base onshore in a highly secure manner.

Reducing unnecessary maintenance

Due to the nature of work, navies need the maximum availability. This means that ships should only be dry-docked when absolutely necessary. Regularly scheduled maintenance is therefore not always optimal for the navy, as it means that ships may needlessly be taken out of service. In addition, the process can induce premature component failure and incur excessive maintenance costs if conducted too frequently. However, it’s a fine line; not maintained regularly enough, ships risk equipment failure.

Through the use of predictive analytics software, which can identify and highlight early warning signs of downtime or equipment failure, maintenance can be scheduled only when it’s needed and importantly, before anything goes wrong. The shift to condition-based maintenance—carrying out maintenance only when it’s truly needed—can help reduce unnecessary maintenance costs and again increase the ship’s operational time.

Alleviate skill shortages

As navy vessels need to be mission-ready at all times, the ability for navy operators to command, track and monitor an entire fleet from onshore, no matter where they are in the world, is of huge benefit. Through use of data-driven operations, navies are able to transform to a systemized approach for operations, making more informed decisions faster. This also helps to alleviate skills or manning shortages as less personnel may be required onboard. The digital tools will also allow navy operators to retain expertise and more importantly, repeat and scale it across the fleet. The ability to deploy the right resources at the right opportunity and monitor operational excellence anytime, anywhere is vital to the efficient fleet of the future.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.