Efficiency and the doors of perception

Efficiency and the doors of perception

Internet connectivity for ships will be the main driver for efficiency gains for the coming decade.

With big data and drones very much in the air, some envisage robot commercial vessels roaming the seas by 2020. The technical narrative faces resistance from a shipping industry under financial, regulatory, and societal pressures, but there is no doubt that remote engagement with shipboard systems are key to better ship efficiency.

A new study from DNV GL, the world’s largest classification society by vessels registered, identifies internet connectivity for ships, ship systems and shipboard components as vital to future efficiency gains. In the next decade, ships will be designed that operate with less ballast, with more lightweight materials replacing steel in non-structural elements, with reduced hull areas and lower resistance through water. Again, regulation on air emissions and the realities of fossil fuel extraction will drive the market to a more diverse ship fuel mix, and still more emphasis on how to squeeze efficiencies out of engines working at higher pressures.

CONNECTED SENSORS

However, future ship performance gains will rely more extensively on working with advances in the technologies already considered mainstream by other industries. Ships are already sensor hubs and data generators, but the corresponding advance in satellite communications that brings shipping’s possible technical future within touching distance has only been landed in 2016.

At the end of March, Inmarsat Maritime launched Fleet Xpress services, based on its new Global Xpress satellite constellation. As a result, download speeds of 50Mbps are available to shipowners via Ka-band services – between 8-9 times faster than any other service so far offered in the commercial maritime space. With other satellite providers set to follow in Inmarsat’s wake, this is a connectivity revolution for assets offshore and management on land. It sees shipping at the dawn of the era when its efforts to date to exploit vessel and fleet management software can be fully harvested.

Few can doubt that, in the next decade, shipping efficiencies will be gained through the better electronic control of fuel injection that will improve engine responsiveness. Again, developers of shipboard systems are now securing orders for plant based on advances in DC, rather than AC distribution. As one consequence, in 2016, shipping is seeing the first commercial use of batteries that integrate stored energy into operations, thus better accommodating variable loads.

AUTOMATIC RESPONSE

These are operational capabilities best exploited through the instantaneous response available to automated condition monitoring, and best managed using voyage planning software able to adjust to ever-growing information streams. For fleet management, the new connectivity represents shipping’s first big leap towards finding out what ‘Big Data’ will mean in the shipping context.

Ultimately, as the DNV GL notes, 3D printing of components in remote locations offers ‘game-changing’ potential for shipping. However, from March 2016, shipping’s connectivity game has changed already.
The software and connectivity developers driving the change necessarily take the integrated approach to vessel operations that works best via the ‘internet of things’. With equipment makers busily investing in centralised hubs to support remote shipboard engineering management, the ‘total cost of ownership’ pitch used to entice shipowners towards new technology has a new component: “Why wouldn’t you?"

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