Fast tracking digital development through big data competence

Below is a speech given by Captain Pradeep Chawla from Anglo-Eastern Ship Management at yesterday’s Digital Ship conference taking place during Sea Japan in Tokyo.

Big Data, Digitalization, Machine learning, AI, are words that have become a part of the urban vocabulary. Everyone says these words, irrespective of what industry they work in.

Do individuals and companies comprehend them fully? Do companies have a strategy or a plan to find out the possible impact on the company?

What is the size of this Big Data?

Here are some Google facts:

Facebook: 10m new photos are uploaded every hour.

Twitter: 98,000 tweets per minute.

YouTube: 300 hours of video are uploaded every minute.

The excitement though is not about how much data you collect. It is about what you do with it. It is about trends, co-relations and insights, and how it is converted into actionable items.

The benefits claimed by companies are:

  • Existing data is used in a better way.
  • It can be used for improving operations.
  • The insights and analysis can be shared with clients for transparency and trust building.
  • It can be used for benchmarking services.
  • Data from various services can be combined to get new insights.
  • Analysis of the data could create ideas for new products.
  • It could be used to change the way of doing things.

Let us discuss some of the possibilities that are being discussed in our industry.

1. All shipboard machinery operation data can be live streamed to engine and equipment manufacturers or to fleet operations centres. This could help companies to identify trends co-relations and problems before the ship’s staff can, as the computer systems will be working continuously. This could increase the reliability of the equipment, as machinery breakdowns could be reduced. This data will also be helpful to improve energy efficiency, by monitoring fuel consumption, weather current and machinery performance parameters together.

2. A number of large software companies are working on combining navigational data, weather data, past routes data and providing decision support systems to the Master. At the same time, data could be streamed to fleet operation centres. Data could be combined with Vessel Traffic System centres. The overall goal being to improve navigational safety, prevent collisions and groundings.

3. Finally, the industry is considering ways to reduce the administrative tasks for the crew on board. This is the IMO, ‘Single Window’ project. Hopefully this will lead to the data of the global fleet in a single repository that is accessible to all stakeholders – shippers, charterers, regulators, customs immigration could all eliminate thousands of tasks of filling up and checking forms.

4. The merging of multiple streams of data – stresses on the hull of a ship, combined with weather location, steel types, construction details could give a better understanding of ship behavior and lead to advances in ship design and/or scantling optimization.

There are many other wonderful possibilities with the use of data that can be discussed.

If the benefits are so obvious, why is the adoption of big data solutions not faster?

Technology, in any industry gets adopted only if it saves money for existing businesses or if it creates models for new businesses.

Let us discuss, what needs to be done for fast tracking digitalisation and the adoption of big data applications at sea.

For achieving the benefits of big data applications, one would need to collect the operational data from various machinery through sensors fitted to the machinery. The sensors would need to be reliable, sturdy and built for maritime conditions. One must consider that the machinery is mounted on a flexible girder, which complicates the measurement and baseline references for different types of sensors.

We do need to get common industry standards and classification society rules for the sensors.

The output of the data from these sensors needs to be identifiable, reliable and standardized.

While IMO has taken up the ‘Common Maritime Data Structure’ (CMDS) for navigational data; however on the machinery side, it is still a work in progress. The need for common standards is critical for fast tracking digitalization.

Condition based maintenance (CBM) is an obvious benefit of big data analysis; however, presently it is something for the future. One large classification society has only 20 out of over 10,000 ships on CBM and that too only for some equipment.

On the navigation side too, work like the “Sea Lanes” project is progressing and individual companies are working on products based on big data, but they are all in infancy stage.

One important factor that gets overlooked is the connectivity of the ship to shore-based networks. Typically ship VSAT data plans for a 2 mbps bandwidth cost around $1,800 per month. A home connection for a 4 gbps costs $125 a month.

From one industry source, information available is that only 13,500 ships have VSAT and average bandwidth is only 690 kbps!

Connectivity bandwidth and costs is an important consideration. It is estimated that a ship would generate 50 to 100 GB data every day. Big data adoption also brings about certain issues that need to be addressed for quicker adoption.

With connectivity, comes the issue of cybersecurity. Presently, there is very little standardisation of shipboard network systems hardware and the standards for data exchange are yet to be finalized. Communication service providers are yet to launch their new products for cybersecurity.

Considering the present state, adoption of these standards, investment into new network systems, along-with the added costs of cybersecurity will be a significant financial investment.

Another aspect that will come up for discussion will be the question of ownership of data. Business models may change widely and there are discussions of leased machinery already. Will the operational data for a leased main engine belong to the ship owner or the engine maker? There will be issues in relation to transparency and use of data and these will need to be resolved even if the data is shared. For example – who makes the decision about when to replace parts?

Finally, as we proceed down the path of this digital revolution, what kind of competencies will be required from the seafarers of their future? They would need to possess the ability to have insight, recognize patterns and convert data to intelligence.

They would need the ability to process large amount of data while focusing on the critical issues. Decision making process will change and they will need to work with remote teams operating control stations.

They will need to recognise limitations and dangers of automation and stay awake to look at the data that is being automatically collected, analyzed and displayed for them to take decisions.

For general international shipping, big data adaption is the first step towards semi-autonomous and fully autonomous ships.

The disruption has started. When each company comes on board in this race is up to them.

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