Maritime tech 2021: Optimisation still leads the agenda

What will be the biggest influences on maritime technology in year two of the pandemic? Splash investigates.

Operational optimisation is likely to be the key maritime tech trend of 2021, according to a survey carried by Splash.

Experts tapped by Splash suggest 2021 will be a year where big tech breakthroughs are unlikely, more a continuation of the digitalisation drive seen last year.

In terms of engine tech, owners are widely expected to remain non-commital to new forms of propulsion, opting instead for dual-fuel options as the shoreside infrastructure remains lacking for so many new fuel types.

Demand for route optimisation will grow by a further 8-10% within 24 months

“Innovation is a journey that is ever continuing and evolving but it is fuelled by the need to find cost efficiencies and competitive advantages,” says Su Yin Anand, co-founder of shipping tech start-up competition, The Captain’s Table.

Applying this to technology, Anand believes shipowners will continue to look for tools that can assist them in finding those “one percenters” of cost savings or top line additions. At the individual company level, this would include procurement solutions, automation solutions for routine work, and cargo flow/ trend analysis which would include emissions monitoring.

Alfonso Castillero, COO at the Liberian Registry, cautions that while operational efficiency, as always, will be a key driver for shipping technology, providers of tech solutions need to show immediate ROI, especially if capital expenditure is required.

“Areas that seem ripe for innovation include routing to help facilitate crew change more efficiently and at a lower cost; crew connectivity and training, solutions that address the economic impact of regulations, and everything that can and might relate to fuel,” Castillero suggests.

Monitoring top of the agenda

Smart maintenance and condition monitoring using artificial intelligence and cloud-based big data analysis combined with sensors onboard is predicted by Caroline Huot, senior vice president of shipmanagement at Delta Shipping Corp, as creating “right on time maintenance’’ allowing significant savings on vessel OPEX as well as optimal focus and action of both onshore and onboard staff on priorities.  

Huot’s thoughts are eagerly supported by Michel van Roozendaal, the president of ship equipment manufacturer, MacGregor.

“Interest in, and uptake of, digitally-enabled remote monitoring and predictive maintenance services that are focused on maximising operational availability will continue, particularly with coronavirus-related travel restrictions remaining in place as we enter 2021,” van Roozendaal says.

Tore Morten Olsen, president of maritime at Marlink, agrees that monitoring as a whole will be a tech trend to watch this year.

“There’ll be increased real time monitoring directly from the source by HQ, not performed by people but using IoT/cloud hybrid systems, with analysis based on stronger and more detailed data to improve safety and efficiency,” Olsen predicts, while also suggesting this year’s other tech trends will focus on cyber operations and remote operations.


Keen not to be drawn into the autonomous debate, Splash columnist Kris Kosmala agrees with Olsen on the growing remote operations / automation of shipping.

“I am not talking about autonomous vessels here, which I consider fringe technology,” Kosmala stresses, adding: “I am talking about automation that reduces reliance on mechanical and engineering crew and increases prediction and prescription capabilities of computer programs instead of human knowledge. This is not just the matter of having more sensors, but improving information technology analysis and decision making based on significantly richer data.”

Integrated ship digitalisation is moving too slowly in Kosmala’s opinion, and it has to catch up with the new technology innovations available with modern equipment. IT solutions available directly from each manufacturer of each distinct sub-system on a ship are a “nightmare” to integrate and test, Kosmala says so the IT theme of 2021 could be standard, out of the box integration that encompasses all sub-systems from any manufacturer without the need for lengthy, expensive and uncertain customised integration.

Shipping must be guided by insights gathered from our collective data exhaust

An increasingly connected ship will enable more data exchange and afford more shore-side support and vessel performance management, argues Manish Singh, the CEO of Ocean Technologies Group, suggesting this year we will see more operational technology tools that unburden increasingly pressured seafarers onboard.

Data, data, data

Talking about owners as asset owners, Morten Lind-Olsen, the CEO of Dualog, maintains this year there will be an increased focus on consolidated data and business analysis in order to improve efficiency and optimise spending’s to build and operate ships.

“The shipowning community is much more exposed to the greener and safer requirements and even more to cyber security compliance. The obvious approach to this is to invest in technology, solutions and competence to deal with this. So more money will be added into utilisation of technology,” Lind-Olsen predicts.

Ronald Spithout, the president of Inmarsat Maritime, reckons the use of IoT-based digital solutions and applications onboard ship reached a critical mass in 2020 and that 2021 will see shipowners expand and diversify their engagement with digital technology.   

Inmarsat’s most recent market research confirms vessel performance monitoring and fuel optimisation driven by the quest for decarbonisation as the most widely deployed IoT-based technologies overall, with engine performance and emissions monitoring not far behind. However, latest feedback indicates that appetites for other applications are growing fast.

“We expect the market for digital navigation solutions to mature quickly; some indicators suggest demand for route optimization will grow by a further 8-10% within 24 months,” Spithout tells Splash.   

The RightShip view

Steen Lund, the new CEO at RightShip, predicts that in the immediate future, owners will be demanding more solutions that are advanced and trialled to help combat some of the acute impacts of the pandemic. This could be a further scale up in drone technology, improved connectivity between vessels and shore centres, increasingly digitalised documentation, expanded use of additive manufacturing and digital cataloguing of spare parts or digital solutions to safeguard seafarers as they cross borders and perform crew change.

“Many more relevant short term options are available as industry participants decide on the activities that bring their industry verticals the most value,” Lund says.

The three key themes behind technology developments this year in shipping, according to Lund, will be greater standardisation, a leap forward in terms of sophistication, and more data being used in a decision-making capacity.

“Shipping is beginning to understand that the direction of its business must be guided – to mix metaphors – by insights gathered from our collective data exhaust,” Lund suggests.

The pace will accelerate further, he argues, because true digital transformation requires a long-term commitment, and now that efforts have started they will take on a life of their own in many respects.

“We’ve become data dependent in an industry with major operational and financial interdependencies. As the platform economy has started to touch the maritime industry, a continued need to share data across the multiple ecosystem users will feed the appetite to cocreate solutions,” Lund predicts.

Andre Simha, chief digital and information officer at MSC and founding chairman of the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA), says his priorities going into 2021 are to help make the industry smarter by collaborating closely with all supply chain partners on such topics as IoT, blockchain and interoperability.

Simha vows to continue to drive standardisation with the DCSA, focusing on developing e-documentation standards.

Another constant from all those surveyed for this maritime tech preview is the growing demand for green technology in order to gain access to finance.

Nick Chubb, founder of UK-based consultancy Thetius, relays: “Any technology that can help shipowners measurably improve the environmental impact of their vessels is becoming highly sought after. In addition to that is technologies that can help to predict, plan for, and then track the environmental impact of an asset over its entire lifecycle, from laying the keel all the way to recycling.”

As a result of this, Chubb reckons demand forecasting tools will be in greater demand this year after the tumultuous coronavirus-strewn 2020 threw most business plans out the window.

As with many others polled, however, it is the theme of optimisation that Chubb returns to in finishing our tech preview.

“Optimisation of every detail for operating ships is becoming the norm,” Chubb says, concluding: “That means having the technology to capture, track and present meaningful insight back to ship operators is also becoming increasingly popular.”

Look out for a second instalment of our maritime tech preview tomorrow where we look at the difficulties shipping faces in making future-proofed investments.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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