Finding More Ways to Capitalize on Digitalization

Credit: ABS
Credit: ABS

By Derek Novak 12-26-2018 10:27:45

The adoption of “smart” technology – for both equipment and systems – will escalate across the maritime sector in 2019, even if the verifiable benefits of the projects that start this year will take longer to emerge.

The transition to smart will continue to be driven by vendor leadership and advances in the data sciences that support immediate, data driven, condition-based performance assessments of shipping and offshore assets.

Rather than think of “smart” as individual pieces of technology, for maritime applications it is instructive to think in terms of functionality. At this stage, smart is effectively data collection, management and analysis, which is used to make better decisions.

Shipowners already have a lot of smart-enabling technology on their vessels; the challenge for 2019 will be to find more ways to capitalize on this increase in digitalization. 

Whether from vendor equipment, the digital capability of which is growing each day, or the ships themselves, the data being generated will increasingly be used to the operator’s advantage, potentially reducing operating expenses, improving operational performance and increasing safety.

As the regulators move towards demanding better sustainability from our industry, leading owners are already building the robust data infrastructures required to support compliance with future regulations.

The coming years will see an escalating transition from calendar-based to condition-based operational strategies and will continue to escalate in line with the industry adoption of smart functionality as that technology matures. While monitoring the condition of an operational asset is not a new concept – the technology that enables it has existed in various forms for at least 40 years – recent advances in data analytics applied to operational data are supporting a more comprehensive understanding of the asset.

The same data sets that are used to assess an asset’s health – (is it still mechanically or structurally sound?) – are now being combined with performance metrics such as fuel efficiency. This data is also being used to improve decision-making for fleet operations by identifying emerging risks and, ultimately, it will improve aspects such as vessel availability and scheduling flexibility.

Central to this new functionality is the ability to detect the statistical anomalies that identify sub-optimal performance and the early onset of the conditions that lead to component/system failures and poor performance. These early warnings can help to reduce operating costs and maximize the lifecycles of an asset and its components.

In many respects, marine engine manufacturers have led the way to the smart era: they have been putting client data in the cloud to assess health and performance for years, using physics-based models. They are now augmenting that with machine learning, applying approaches that offer a deeper understanding of performance and health.

Today’s onboard equipment has hundreds of sensors that collect information on temperatures, pressures, vibration levels, fluid consumption, etc. Combined with high-speed connectivity, these allow large quantities of data to be continuously generated and assessed. 

As ship operators build the data infrastructure to capture and analyze information and gain unprecedented visibility into the causes of operational inefficiency and failure, designs will begin to evolve.

Traditionally, the way marine equipment is used has stayed true to the original intent of the design. However, the operational insights brought by advances in data analytics already have many manufacturers predicting significant shifts in component usage, operating conditions and operator skills.

Already we are seeing a shift in the corporate maritime skill sets of leading organizations. The traditional mix of civil and mechanical engineers and naval architects is being blended with systems engineers, cyber engineers, risk engineers, data analysts and computer scientists.

ABS has helped shipowners to build the foundations required to function in the smart era of shipping by releasing our Guidance Notes on Smart Function Implementation. 

Smart functions were broadly grouped into categories such as structural health, machinery, operational performance, asset efficiency management and crew augmentation, key areas of ship functionality.

Shipowners were encouraged to develop high-level goals outlining what they wanted to accomplish; functional requirements covering an operational concept supporting those goals are then run through a risk framework to apply the criteria to assess them against.

Once the framework is set up for the entire asset, the smart functionality is examined through a validation/verification scheme that is bespoke to that system or equipment. The qualified “smart” functionality is then put on board the asset to leverage benefits for the operator, as well as to assist in optimizing the class survey process.

In 2019, ABS will take that industry support a step further by offering smart notations for machinery and structural health, as well as criteria for “smart” vendor recognition, including how to integrate their equipment or solutions on board the assets.

The adoption of smart technology is destined to escalate across the maritime industries in the coming years. But that doesn’t mean the benefits will become immediately visible from a return-on-investment perspective.

Meaningful analysis takes time. Building a smarter industry is a journey. 

Derek Novak is Senior Vice-President, Engineering & Technology at ABS.

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