While it is more exciting to think of technology in maritime as being about futuristic robot-like fully autonomous ships and other high-tech applications, the reality is that many practical and applicable technologies are already here and can be usefully applied to make a significant difference in the near future.
Smart technology group Wartsila’s vision of the future is encapsulated in its Smart Marine Ecosystem concept and envisages greater use of technology and digitalisation, with vessels and maritime systems becoming more intelligent and connected.
“The world is moving towards a future that is more and more connected, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the shipping sector. The opportunities offered through smart technology will foster a new era of collaboration and knowledge sharing with customers, suppliers and partners,” said Wartsila Marine Solutions president Roger Holm.
“The ships are becoming more intelligent, there’s more technology being introduced in ships making them more autonomous and connected,” added vp for Flow and Gas Solutions Timo Koponen.
All the technology players agree that this is the way forward. “We all see that not only are the equipment and vessels going to be more connected but the connection will extend to the whole ecosystem,” he said. This means concepts such as Smart Vessels, Smart Ports and how they work together will be the new focus. And eventually this will come to encompass the whole logistics supply chain as well, Koponen told Seatrade Maritime News.
The benefits of using technology and artificial intelligence (AI) are that significant savings in costs and increases in safety can be achieved, said Koponen.
Key sources of inefficiency in the maritime industry, which Wartsila’s ecosystem thinking seeks to eliminate, are overcapacity, inadequate port-to-port fuel efficiency, and time wasted waiting when entering ports and other high traffic areas.
The four primary forces it sees re-shaping the industry are: Shared capacity will improve fill rates and reduce unit costs; Big Data analytics will optimise both operations and energy management; Intelligent Vessels will enable automated and optimised processes; and Smart ports will result in smoother and faster port operations.
Technology however also exposes established maritime industry players to competition from new players who could disrupt the industry with a data-centric approach to things similar to the way that Uber disrupted the taxi market. Koponen pointed out.
“All of us need to cooperate and co-create together more to stay in the game,” he reiterated, noting that wherever there is waste and inefficiency in the system it is open to disruption.
In this collaboration process, Koponen did not discount any potential partner. This could range from traditional industry players to big shippers such as Amazon, Ikea or even Alibaba.
“Wärtsilä is ideally positioned, together with our customers and partners, for positive disruptive development and to lead the transformation into a new era of shipping. Building on our strong existing portfolio of products, systems, and solutions, the broadest in the marine sector, and on our vast installed base and industry know-how, we shall continue to develop the smart technologies, business models, and competences needed to create a Smart Marine Ecosystem,” added Holm.
He pointed out various examples of how Wartsila is taking steps towards this future with the successful test of remotely controlling a ship’s operations by satellite, the development of the Wartsila HY fully integrated hybrid power module, and its innovative wireless charging system for battery-powered vessels.
These would all be steadily developed as part of an organic growth process and there was no specific timeline, Koponen concluded.