Unclogging the oceans, ports and the global economy

Smarter Voyage

Wärtsilä Voyage radically transforms how vessels perform their voyage by leveraging the latest digital technologies, to deliver a step-change in safety, efficiency, reliability and emissions.

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Smart routing &
Voyage planning

Voyage planning, route creation, weather optimisation and charts delivery can happen in one system available onboard and onshore, and it’s the same system voyage is executed in.

Efficient & green sailing

Smart routing & voyage planning

Voyage optimisation embraces all stages, starting from onshore with route planning. Then it proceeds to monitoring the voyage and optimising the route using weather data and AI. At the end of it, voyage optimisation provides benchmarking for learning and continuous improvement.

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Voyage starts from onshore – collaborative voyage planning

  • Voyage optimisation starts from onshore
  • Unlimited computation power enables voyage calculation using latest nautical charts and vessel-specific, self-learning fuel consumption models
  • Voyage calculation incl. fuel consumption happens in one system (not in several excel sheets)
  • Experts onshore can pre-plan detailed routes using same tools as onboard and store them to a private database for company-wide usage
  • Vessel operators can assign a chosen voyage to a vessel to be picked up from the ECDIS
  • You can monitor voyage and, at the end of it, benchmark for collaborative learning and continuous improvement
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Onboard voyage planning saves time while becoming automated

  • Solving crew fatigue issue while keeping navigational safety at the consistent level
  • Wärtsilä Voyage Navi-Planner follows a clear step-by-step approach to route planning (from port to port), optimises the route using weather data and AI, downloads the navigational data, fine-tunes the route on the waypoint and leg level, whilst keeping the master in full control of the planning
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Wärtsilä Voyage “Take-Me-Home” solution for tablet

  • No need for back up paper charts
  • BridgeMate is our tablet Take Me Home solution. If everything turns black on the bridge, our tablet solution, using its own built-in GPS and latest charts and routes (automatically synchronised with the bridge navigational system), can take the vessel safely to the nearest port for attendance

Performance Monitoring & Fuel Efficiency

Real-time vessel tracking can be complemented by all relevant information for fuel savings during voyage and for compliance with charter party and environmental requirements.

Efficient & green sailing

Performance monitoring & fuel efficiency

An integrated navigation and automation system get you to new levels of fuel efficiency. A unique physics-based machine learning approach gives access to enough data in order to generate accurate speed and consumption curves. On top of that, the automation system turns unneeded machinery off on sea passage.

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Increasing navigational safety and fuel efficiency

  • Real time vessel tracking based on planned voyage and nautical charts
  • Tailored alerts to inform crew and office, nautical near miss detection, emergency response and playback of situations
  • Wärtsilä Voyage SmartLog, a new way of ship-to-shore reporting with minimal additional data entry
  • Еasy fulfilling of mandatory reporting requirements (MRV, DCS) and charter party compliance
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The automation system is your assistant for fuel efficiency

  • Noon reports don’t provide enough data to generate accurate speed and consumption curves due to a lack of important context and real-time data
  • Wärtsilä Voyage Vessel Performance Digital Twin is designed by combining noon reports and high frequency data from the navigational equipment to quantify the effect of different factors in the total fuel consumption
  • Using the performance model enables fuel consumption predictions in various conditions, unlocking a comprehensive set of fuel efficiency analytics pre-, post and in-voyage execution
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Integrated navigation & automation system for higher fuel efficiency

  • A weather and fuel optimised route
  • Can be directly executed from the speed and trackpilot of the vessel (NACOS speed / trackpilot) to keep most economic constant RPM or power at all times
  • The automation system keeps only needed systems running on sea passage

Ship-to-Shore Connectivity for Just-in-time Arrivals

The ships navigation system can be directly connected to the port management system for scheduling and real-time information delivery to reduce emissions and enhance safety.

Transparent & coordinated port operations

Ship-to-port connectivity for just-in-time arrivals

Voyage optimisation embraces all stages, starting from onshore with route planning. Then it proceeds to monitoring the voyage and optimising the route using weather data and AI. At the end of it, voyage optimisation provides benchmarking for learning and continuous improvement.

Explore Navi-Port Explore Ship Traffic Control

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Ship-to-Port connectivity – reducing time spent on finding out the ETA

  • Masses of e-mails to coordinate a port call
  • STM industry project as basis, now continued with Navelink consortium
  • Navi-Port is a Smart Port component enabling JIT with multiple options onboard and onshore to connect
  • Better ETA planning leads to better ETD (and the voyage begins new see on top)
  • Direct connection to the ports VTS
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Just-in-time arrival – the biggest available fuel-saving lever

  • Knowing delays earlier enables crew to reduce speed and save fuel
  • Less waiting time at anchor reduces local emissions in ports and increases safety

Situation Awareness & Collision Avoidance

New type of sensors can give crews higher situational awareness in high density traffic, while new algorithms and Artificial Intelligence (AI) support decisions to avoid collisions.

Safe & automated operations

Situational awareness & collision avoidance

New type of sensors and sensor fusion on top of classical radars; this increases situational awareness for crew. AI, in turn, can predict manoeuvres of surrounding vessels up to 15-30 mins in time, which enhances collision avoidance and supports bridge team.

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New type of sensors and sensor fusion

  • Aggregating and associating individual sensors provides deeper insight and higher combined value into the surrounding environment
  • AI makes increasing use of data sources originally meant for human eyes – think why it is called radar picture interpretation
  • Sensors until very recently not commonly found on board ships (like machine vision, high-resolution radars) make their appearance now and augment the capabilities of lookouts, being their never-tiring companion and exceeding their capabilities
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Real-life applications and cases with IntelliTug

  • Targetless positioning technology such as SceneScan or RangeGuard makes highly accurate relative positioning everywhere without the need for external infrastructure or lengthy calibration procedures
  • Overcoming the limitations of human senses in terms of range, resolution and endurance enables new application and business cases, such as a birds-eye view of the own ship for docking or a “transparent bow” to see through higher cargo stacks on container ships g
  • POC of sensor fusion for use at collision avoidance has been proven in narrowly defined conditions and operational domain successfully in IntelliTu
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Collision avoidance via advanced intelligent system

  • AI can predict manoeuvres of surrounding vessels up to 15-30 mins in time
  • Based on the prediction, system only gives alerts when it’s necessary and minimises unexpected manoeuvres
  • Computer immediately proposes customisable manoeuvre acc. to COLREGS to avoid dangerous situations
  • System is tracking situation 24/7, in any conditions and always ready to support bridge team

Towards autonomous operations

Enhanced decision support and smart control systems can support crews during complex manoeuvres to increase safety and efficiency.

Safe & automated operations

Towards autonomous operations

Periodically unmanned bridge makes shift planning more flexible, allowing human focus to turn from monotonous tasks towards higher-value work. SmartMove assistants to help crew making safe manoeuvres, achieving high-accuracy control of the ship in critical operations.

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Periodically unmanned bridge – flexible shift planning

  • Builds mostly on the existing sensors and profiling techniques to detect traffic situations of low complexity
  • Allows highly trained people to deal with the demanding (and fun) part of watchkeeping where needed
  • Human focus can be turned from monotonous tasks towards higher-value work
  • Alerting threshold for invoking human support rather low in the beginning, this initially intended for use in the open ocean, outside EEZs
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Saving time and increasing safety with onboard voyage planning and SmartMove

  • SmartMove leverages the heritage of established dynamic positioning technology but makes the benefit available to maritime outside the traditional special segments like offshore
  • Wherever repeating, reliable and high precision operations are required, SmartMove can achieve high accuracy control of the ship in critical operations, such as docking, lock entry and short transits across the open water
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The convenience of SmartMove

  • Decouples quality of operation from performance of individual humans. Identifies an energy efficient operation and makes it the new norm through the control system
  • Improves reliability; an automated process is more predictable and doesn’t have a “bad day”
  • Allows benchmarking and translating best operating practices into reliable execution

Simulation & Training

All smart marine innovations have a higher operational impact if crews are trained to use them to their full potential.

 

Simulation solutions for onboard & onshore

Wärtsilä Voyage simulation solutions are built from the ground up to bridge a skill gap between STCW and required level of competency. Type-specific training packages help to train recruits on the use of bridge, engine room, and cargo handling solutions. New content distribution technologies create options for virtual, augmented and mixed reality.

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Smart simulation to train tomorrow’s seafarers

  • The next generation of solutions must address shipping’s accelerating pace of technological change and a widening skills gap among maritime employees
  • Emerging solutions may help solve this problem
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Bridging the skill gap

  • Latest maritime technologies create a skill gap between STCW and required level of competency
  • Wärtsilä Voyage simulation solutions are built from the ground up to train and prepare seafarers of the future
  • Micro-learning enables education anytime from anywhere, while remote tutoring supports personalised training and e-learning
  • Type-specific training packages help to train recruits on the use of bridge, engine room, and cargo handling solutions
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Expanding learning options

  • Gamification of training, drawn from real-life situations and virtually recreated, to familiarise with systems and situations
  • Training becomes more engaging for individual learning or for building team skills in multi-player mode
  • New content distribution technologies allow to reach seafarers on every platform, with options for virtual, augmented and mixed reality

10 min read

6 Apr 2021

Text

Wärtsilä

Photo

Wärtsilä

Like in aviation, completely crewless sea-going ships are a debatable dream that won't realise on a large scale anytime soon. However, there is plenty of other trailblazing technology to be excited about right now — solutions to digitalise, decongest and decarbonise today's ocean trade and unlock the full potential of a well-oiled global logistics chain.

Imagine if airplanes were asked to hover and wait in the air for days because airports were too congested. Unthinkable, right?

Now imagine a ship, that carries 18,000 20-foot containers and has an engine-power of eleven Boeing 747-400 jumbo jets, is asked to wait for close to a week before being given a berth.

It’s not just the Suez Canal blockage earlier this year or the latest news on some 100-something cargo ships circling outside the US West Coast. Enormous vessels carrying goods worth millions have been getting stuck for days in floating traffic jams outside almost all major harbours ever since the pandemic began last year. From Singapore, Europe to South California — all seaports are congested worldwide.

Vessels in Asia have a waiting time of 5 to 7 days, while congestion and delays on the US West Coast have almost tripled year-on-year in 2021.

And shipping containers, the modest workhorse that once galvanised globalisation, is at the centre of this storm.

Chock-a-block oceans;
snarled-up supply chain


Here’s what happened:

When the lockdowns began last year, you and I started filling our homes with office furniture and turned our living rooms into make-shift gyms. This set off a surge in orders from factories across the world.

To paint the macro picture, global online sales jumped 24% (the highest jump in history), while the retail sector saw a whopping 48% increase. Incidentally, 90% of this trade is carried by sea, transported in massive metal boxes stacked on top of one another by gigantic ships across oceans.

On top of that, the covid restrictions limited dockworkers and other supply chain personnel, adding to the congestion across all nodes in the global logistic chain (including inland waterways, road transport, depots and warehouses).

A double whammy!

Cut to the current: For every container that cannot be unloaded at one port, there’s a container that cannot be loaded somewhere else.

Anchorage time in ports around the world has shot up drastically, with over 30 to 40 ships waiting at a time. Larger vessels are affected the most. Ships trading 6,000 boxes or more on a port call are seeing an average 20% increase in getting berth time. That is, more than 83 hours (3.5 days) in waiting. Delays for even smaller ships are up between 7.8% and 9.5%, depending on the call size.

This has caused a classic demand-supply disbalance and made freight rates skyrocket, which ultimately will trickle down and be borne by the end-user of these goods – you and me.

Graph-1-Cargo-costs
Sources: FAQ and Drewry WCI
Chart: Delays have led freight rates to skyrocket, and its effects are now trickling down to food prices, with the FAO Food Price Index rising for nine straight months. Container costs change (100 basis point since January 2020) per 40ft container.

Containers bound to the US and Europe from Asia are 400% more expensive than they used to be a few months ago. At the same time, shipping lines' schedule reliability has dropped to 10-year historic lows, causing even further delays at almost every seaport worldwide.

To say that the pandemic has completely thrown off the choreography of global container movements will be the least. However, the big question is, how does such disruption happen in this day and age of hyper-connectivity and operational efficacy?


Because ships and shore don’t talk

It’s 2021. You’d think the industrialisation 4.0 that everyone’s going gaga about would solve logistics and capacity management issues. After all, aviation has arrivals and departures nailed down to the nanoseconds. Why can’t maritime follow suit?

That’s because there are still a few unconnected dots on shipping’s digitalisation route-map.

Pandemic or no pandemic, multiple studies show that container ships spend around 6% of their time at anchor, waiting for berthing. For a 15-to-30-day trans-pacific voyage, this translates to a minimum of 1 to 2 days at anchorage, which has currently increased to 3.5 days.

To give you a sense of what these delays mean for the economy: Ports on the US West Coast alone account for $1 bn (€834.79 Mn) worth of cargo per day. The National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that delays cost ships 0.6% to 2% of the goods' value every day. So, every 24 hours delay causes a loss of around $20 Mn (€16.7 Mn). This means the present 3.5-day delays roughly equal $70 Mn down the drain. And that's just the US West Coast.

Plus, it’s not just the seaports. A ship at a wrong port at a wrong time has a knock-off effect on the connecting hinterland logistics, too – trucks, trains, Ro-Ro services and other inland transportation – everyone has to bear the cost. So, the losses keep accumulating along the chain.

More time at anchorage also mean more fuel consumption, adding to the local emission and environmental impact. As MarineTraffic estimates, bad planning, early arrivals and the subsequent time spent waiting in ports mean that the industry is unnecessarily burning bunker totalling $18 billion annually. This results in the emission of 160 million tons of CO2 – that’s the same amount of CO2 the whole Netherlands produces in a year.

All this because the current systems deployed at most ports and vessels aren’t always compatible, leading to a lag in information relay or complete communication gap.

Wärtsilä Voyage identified and addressed this break in the ecosystem early on – Wärtsilä Navi-Port, a simple middleware hook-up, creates a real-time direct information-exchange line between the ship’s navigation systems and the port.

Once the ship and the shore are in sync, you get Just-In-Time (JIT) arrivals.


Bridging
the communication gap

A connected ecosystem to receive consistently formatted uplinked updates from the ship to shore, and vice-versa, paints the latest and most complete picture for decision-making.

As soon as it becomes clear that the port will not be ready to receive a vessel at the original Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA), the Navi-Port system communicates an updated ETA to the ship’s navigation system. So, rather than spending long hauls at anchorage, ships adjust to the new ETA by slowing down their speed. The difference: the extra voyage time at a reduced speed decreases fuel consumption, cuts down congestion at ports and anchorages, and lowers local emissions.

Communication works both ways. If the ship is behind schedule, Navi-Port updates the onshore systems so that the port communities can better organise their operations.

When the ships and the shore have better coordination and vessels arrive as per schedule, the whole hinterland logistics gets automatically streamlined.

Glimpses of JIT in action was already seen this year in June when Wärtsilä and Tanger-Med Port enabled the first-ever digital port call for a Hapag-Lloyd vessel. The system exchanged the required time of arrival digitally with the onboard navigation system and allowed the ship’s speed schedule to be adjusted for a Just-in-Time (JiT) arrival by the clicking of one button, thereby saving fuel and costly waiting time at anchor.

With such better ship-to-shore coordination, vessels can immediately cut up to 15% of excess fuel consumption that is currently burnt due to long anchorage, which automatically means a significant reduction in both local and on-route emissions. In fact, an IMO-led Global Industry Alliance simulation study at the Port of Rotterdam shows that Just-In-Time arrivals at Europe’s largest port led to a whole 23% decrease in fuel consumption, which also translates into a huge emission reduction.


Smarter inland connections

Congestion issues in the supply chain go beyond port calls, which Just-in-time sailing alone can’t resolve. One other major bottleneck behind all this congestion is inefficient intra-port container movements.

Even if ship-and-shore are as well coordinated as the aviation industry, if the unloading and freight-forwarding channels down the stream are not efficient, eventually the container stack will again start piling up again.

Trucks and trains are proving to be not enough: Along with personnel shortage, overland transport alone isn't able to absorb the emerging capacity needs for container movement within ports and the hinterlands. This backs up the traffic on the oceans. All major ports globally have numerous container terminals and yards spread over a large area. And the connection between them is sometimes just a single bridge, leading to massive traffic jams and congestion.

Here, autonomous, zero-emission seaborne cargo movement will be key in removing infrastructural challenges and achieving shipping’s zero-emission ambition. Take, for instance, short sea shipping. Since 2015 and combined with an effort to reduce ground transportation, the EU has targeted a 25% increase in cargo transportation by short sea shipping before 2030. This also supports the decarbonisation targets as shipping is by far the greenest among mass transportation modes when compared to the energy expends of rail, road, and air. To quote Rose Goerge’s book, Ninety per cent of Everything: "Sending a container from Shanghai to Le Havre (France) emits fewer greenhouse gases than the truck that takes the container on to Lyon."

Some examples of such ongoing projects initiatives can already be seen at Port of Rotterdam (the busiest port in EU); Singapore Port (world's 2nd busiest); Tianjin Port, China (9th busiest in the world). These cases show how the unique pairing of next-gen sensor technology with automated navigation systems can resolve congestion issues safely even in the busiest ports and most complex inland waterways.

Why autonomous, one may ask? Because it makes better ecological and commercial sense.

The current inland fleet is very old (many vessels built in the 40s), fragmented, unreliable and polluting. Thus, freight forwarders completely ignore this mode. But if modernised, these new electric non-polluting vessels would cost more initially. To compensate and not get penalised on OPEX fleet operators would have to run more frequently (even 24/7) and also carry more cargo, which new ship designs will have to allow. One way to achieve both the above points is by adjusting crew size. An autonomous vessel can run round the clock and in all weather. Also, currently, the inland crew costs amount to one-third of operational costs. Considering skill shortage, this cost is only going up. Cutting crew size may help manage this cost much better.

Considering the above, creating a smart inland logistics network within the next few years seems the logical way forward. With solutions like SmartMove and Smart Sensors, short sea and inland shipping can be turned into a safer, cleaner, and more efficient link in the logistic chain, with greater accessibility to those who need it.

 

One may wonder if the solution to decongest and decarbonise ports are simple digital patches and smart intra-port connectivity — what’s stopping the industry from adopting it at large?

To oversimplify, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation: ports have a greater incentive to upgrade to digital solutions if more ships have already embraced it and vice-versa. Plus, it’s not always a straight line between the port and the ship. There are other parties in the equation. Like the terminal authorities in charge of berthing or other nautical services (pilots, tugs, linesmen, etc.).

The challenge, therefore, has been: a) to orchestrate the efforts of many different stakeholders, including jumping regulatory hoops and coordinating multiple authorities at different ports, in different countries; and b) standardisation and coordination, both in terms of technology and communication codes.

As a result, shipping has been on a buffering mode when it comes to adopting an end-to-end seamless digital ecosystem.


Impetus to evolve

Ironically, the pandemic (catalyst of this chaos) has also argued the case for digitalisation.

During the COVID-19 crisis, ports with a focus on digitalisation have gained a significant advantage over those that have not yet started the transition. Analysts are arguing how smart ports, that improve traffic visibility, is the remedy to alleviate the current crisis while preventing it from happening again.

IMO (International Maritime Organization) too finalised its Just-In-Time Arrival Guide for the industry this January. While BIMCO (Baltic and International Maritime Council) recently gave its stamp of approval to the concept by adding a new clause that encourages the sector to embrace JIT and its technology widely. Considering they are the largest international association of shipowners who control close to 65% of the world's cargo, the move is bound to make a positive dent.

Similarly, the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA), which consists of the nine top shipping carriers globally, published its first Just-in-Time (JIT) Port Call programme last year. This will help streamline several key JIT port call processes for the different industry players.

 

Decarbonisation targets is another strong factor driving the industry to digitalise faster. The regulator has been pushing the pedal on greener operations with a bunch of policies and staggered deadlines going up to the end of this century. The first is to reduce emissions per transport work — or ‘carbon intensity’ — by at least 40% by 2030, compared to a 2008 baseline. Then, by 2050, to cut total emissions from ships to no more than half of 2008 levels – even with the subsequent growth in seaborne trade. Finally, to eliminate emissions altogether before the end of 2100. That’s the long-term plan. But the latest MEPC announcement, released in November 2020, account for interim actions that come into play as early as 2022.

These short-term measures primarily revolve around adopting two indices — the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) and Energy Efficiency Design Index for existing ships (EEXI) — based on which all vessels will be given carbon intensity rating ranging from A to E, just like cars and other vehicles are given energy-efficiency ratings.

Ships rated D or E for three consecutive years would have to submit a corrective action plan to show how they could achieve a C or higher. On the other hand, administrations, port authorities and other stakeholders will be encouraged to provide incentives to ships rated A or B.

Therefore, there’s a pressing (or even panicked) need to adjust current operations to be able to qualify in the upcoming ratings.

Thankfully, there are handy and cost-effective software plugins designed for all kinds of vessel classes, even older ships, that can take off the immediate heat.


Clouds
with silver linings

In a utopian future, all ships would run on zero-emission clean fuels. But right now, the industry is caught in flux over the right green fuel hunt (there are many contenders), while regulatory deadlines are looming over the head. Shipping thus needs solutions that can abate climate damage today.

Fortunately, digital technologies have some solid answers ready.

For example, Wärtsilä Voyage’s Fleet Operations Solution (FOS) is a cloud-based solution that has multiple software modules designed for vessels to achieve a good rating. It improves operations by focusing on speed, weather and route optimisation, reducing fuel consumption and operational costs. The solution also supports predictive maintenance for propeller, hull and engine condition. 

The above features, therefore, also reduce the risk of mishaps and cargo loss. There have been a series of incidents involving boxes falling off ships, harsh weather leading to engine failures or groundings, including the latest mishap at the Suez Canal. FOS offers full-scale navigational assistance through ECDIS, along with real-time forecasts and auto-updates on viable routes to improve voyage safety.

The software also makes compliance and reporting requirements transparent by acting as a collaborative platform for shipowners, operators, managers, and charterers. This is important as one of the major bottlenecks in maritime trade is a fragmented ecosystem. Typically, different companies handle different elements affecting a ship's performance. FOS unites all stakeholders under one platform and gives access to up-to-date vessel insights from anywhere and anytime. This helps reduce chances of error, cuts the crew’s clerical workload and saves time.

Moreover, eventually, when ships switch to cleaner energy and have a smaller capacity to carry fuel onboard, FOS will continue to help optimise routes and operations, while cutting down unnecessary detours for refills and fuel wastage.


Keeping the competitive edge

Adapting the new cloud solutions, therefore, isn’t just about regulations. It’s also a matter of staying competitive and ahead of the curve. Not only do the delays and inefficiencies cost dearly in terms of anchorage costs, underutilised labour, and unutilised shipping capacity, it bears reputational costs as well. And the industry is beginning to understand that.

Lack of systematic digitalisation is now receiving more attention from shipowners and port management. Even the smaller ones, who previously may have had some wiggle room to procrastinate the transition, are now trying to get in the game.

Everyone knows, if left unchecked, lagging in tech upgrades that support better connectivity, safety, and operational efficiency could diminish a port’s or shipping line’s trade-edge over the next few years.


Tech-up
the pragmatic way

Shipping isn’t untouched or unaware of the latest technologies. In fact, Maritime 4.0 debuted on the oceans a long time back. We have all seen autonomous zero-carbon vessels making splashes in the media. Unfortunately, these splashes have remained just that — splashes in the gigantic ocean trade.

And there are solid reasons behind why these ‘Teslas of the Sea’ haven’t taken over or made a global impact on shipping operations yet.

For one, because the concept is centred around new builds, while there is an existing global fleet of over 100,000 ships with an average age of 21.7 years and a lot of good years left in them. “As per Clarkson, in some segments, up to 67% of the current container fleet (by capacity) is in the order book. This means a lot of vessel technology decisions have already been locked to today’s technology. This fleet will simply not go away even if the autonomous vessels were given a green light to take off tomorrow,” explains Hendrik Busshoff, Product Manager Autonomy, Wärtsilä Voyage.

Plus, the average vessel capacity has nearly doubled in the last decade, and ships still continue to get bigger. A large containership is nearly 400m long (or the distance around an Olympic running track) and can carry around 20,000 TEU. In front of that, an 80m long battery-operated boat is basically a prototype. So, as of now, it is practically impossible to have so many autonomous vessels ready to take over the existing fleets tonnage capacity.

Then, there are regulatory and safety issues. It’s a lot easier to get regional approvals for short-distance inland and coastal vessels that operate in restricted waters than to get IMO’s nod on container vessels performing intercontinental voyages autonomously.

In short, it’s neither commercially viable to retire the current fleet overnight, nor is it practically possible to have so many new builds ready in a short span to replace the existing fleet.

Completely crewless deep-sea vessels are a distant and debatable future. Instead, the focus should be on how autonomy can solve today’s shipping problems — improve safety, decongest ports, improve the inland logics chain and help shipping become greener.


Souping up existing fleets

For reference, it took roughly 140 years for the last of the sailboats to disappear after the first steamships surfaced. While technology moves much faster today, the transition is still bound by certain technical and economic restraints.

Wärtsilä Voyage has, therefore, come up with a staggered and step-by-step approach to assimilate intelligent technologies. This will help create immediate and quantifiable operational value, make shipping greener and safer starting today while opening the pathway to future vessel autonomy.

A case in point is American Steamship Company’s (ASC) MV American Courage. Recently, Wärtsilä Voyage souped up this classic 1970s freighter with the latest automation technology, making it the biggest (and, at 42 years, probably the oldest) vessel ever to perform automated dock-to-dock operations.

The vessel has a cargo-carrying capacity of 24,300 gt and can shuttle in the narrow, winding, and heavily congested waterways of the Cuyahoga River in Ohio, US. Mind that the technology isn’t about an empty wheelhouse. Instead, it’s a solution that enhances the crew’s current capabilities and precision to traverse tricky waters and perform complicated manoeuvres, ensuring every trip is conducted safely.


Getting the crew onboard

It’s not just about upgrading the ships. The global seafarers' pool (over 1.65 Mn serving on merchant ships alone) needs to be upskilled as well.

In ASC MV Courage’s case, the crew were given a switch to bifurcate the new system to support acclimation and training. Multiple captains were brought to Wärtsilä's facilities just to learn what the technology is. So, rather than starting with the mechanics, first, the focus was on the underpinnings. As the crew became familiar, training and installation began. And even then, they were given an option to switch back to the old system as a comfort. Finally, when every member onboard got confident, the new system became fully mature.

Like the airline industry, as officers work around more sophisticated navigation equipment, solutions that support regular and thorough preparedness without putting too much at risk will be vital to ensure that the industry doesn’t fall into a skill gap. Cloud simulation training, which comes with the convenience of any time, anywhere training is therefore touted to play a massive role in smoothening the training and familiarisation process.

Another corner that the industry needs to iron out is having a common and open platform, which helps close the skill gaps by continually supporting mariners to upgrade their competence. Wärtsilä Voyage and OTG has already begun laying the foundation for that.


Mobilising
the real shipping 4.0

Complete vessel autonomy is an ideological fantasy that may not happen on a large scale anytime soon. However, there is plenty of other trailblazing technology to be excited about right now — digital solutions that make today’s shipping greener, safer, crews more efficient and the global supply chain much more fluid. They are not only a cost-effective and straightforward way to implement next-gen tech but also a more practical way to ramp up for future aspirations.

The bottom line is: the fastest and smartest way to unlock shipping’s 4.0 is to focus on today while taking steady steps towards tomorrow. Think of it as an evolution, not a revolution.


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