Jimmy Grewal, executive director of Elcome International, chats with Maritime CEO today about how the pandemic has changed onboard service calls in ports around the world – and whether today’s changes are irreversible.
Based in Dubai, Elcome is one of the largest ship service companies in the world, a turnkey solutions provider of navigation, communication, automation, electrical and safety systems with 23 offices in 11 countries with a total of over 500 employees.
In normal times, Elcome’s engineers visit more than 800 ships per month for service calls. With pandemic travel restrictions in place, Elcome has implemented remote service to support a number of systems where possible. The company’s field engineers can remotely access shipboard systems and networks for trouble shooting, and to a certain extent, repairs can be handled by the crew if they are provided with the right remote-assist apps, tools and spare parts, with real-time or email support by Elcome’s engineers.
In terms of sales of products and systems, Elcome’s ability to interact physically with customers has been reduced, but it hasn’t seemed to have a serious negative impact.
Covid-19 has also made it impossible to conduct most of Elcome’s in-person classes in its training center due to travel restrictions. Online training classes have been offered instead, something that has had a popular take-up and will likely be extended post-pandemic, mirroring what many others involved in maritime training have said about long-term changes to the business brought about by the coronavirus.
“Shipowners and managers are looking for a single point of contact for all their shipboard systems fleet-wide,” Grewal says. “That’s why we’re signing more annual maintenance contracts with large fleets servicing worldwide routes – including containerships and oil/gas tankers — with a fixed price for a two- or three-year contract that includes everything – maintenance, service and VDR annual performance tests. Some contracts even include spare parts.”
Increasingly Elcome’s sphere is extending from the bridge to the engine room, embracing engine controls, automation systems, fuel management systems and environmental solutions including water treatment and NOx and SOx technologies.
It is also offering turnkey contracts for satellite communications, including equipment supply, installation, maintenance and airtime. Not surprisingly, Elcome saw a surge in volume of data and voice minutes that it was providing customers when their crews were trapped onboard unable to be repatriated to their homes.
“We had some customers that were buying bandwidth 400% above their regular amount,” Grewal relates.
Elcome is also seeing a trend toward more investment in new ships to reduce manning or even push toward some level of autonomy.
“These systems will require a higher level of integration and technology, as well as faster and more reliable network connections,” Grewal says, going on to predict that there will be a proliferation of advanced sensors for navigation, control and situational awareness with new tools for automated docking, collision avoidance and route optimisation.
“As crews shrink, they will depend even more on shoreside service. Ship systems will become more complex and more integrated,” Grewal says. “This means the reliability, performance and security of the ship network will become more important.