You Can Get IT if You Really Want …
- Joe Keefe, Editor, Maritime Logistics Professional magazine
- Alfa Laval’s cutting edge reporting tool for transparent and verifiable emissions compliance reporting – and more
- The Maritime Reporter group’s booth at the SMM venue in Hamburg, Germany. Over the course of the past week, nearly two dozen senior level maritime executives weighed in on Maritime Reporter TV, on a raft of different topics. Look for these videos on www.marinelink.com in the near future.
Hamburg, Germany: At this week’s SMM Trade Fair, the words of the iconic song, “You Can Get it if You Really Want,” written and sung by reggae and rock legend Jimmy Cliff took on new meaning, at least for this writer. That’s because – and I’ve been to countless maritime trade events and conventions over the course of the last 23 years – I’ve never seen more technology, across a greater breadth of applications, all showcased in one venue. It turns out that, if you want IT, you CAN get IT.
Without a doubt, the overarching theme heralded by the players in this biennial event was the arrival of technology for the waterfront, much of which just five years ago was simply unimaginable, or more likely, dismissed out of hand as something that was too farfetched. Common themes centered around improved connectivity, the Internet of Things (IoT), the mining of data, and more importantly, the removal of stovepipes for that data, and finally, the sorting of that data to achieve real value and efficiencies.
Everyone had a different take on how that might occur. And, it seemed to me that there were no right or wrong answers – just many more menu options for maritime stakeholders to choose from. Typically, that kind of scenario can lend itself to price economy, but that was the one variable that TECH providers declined to define, let alone even entertain a question on. Indeed, a week’s worth of shoe leather brought me to the conclusion that the global waterfront has finally arrived at the digital age. Less certain is who can afford it. At the same time, you might not be able to afford to not be on board as that ship departs the dock.
Short on Green, Green with Envy
For decades, shipowners and operators, OEM’s and service technicians alike, have all watched an explosion of tech advances ashore that were, for the most part out of reach for the greater maritime industry. The technology has always been there, but it is the connectivity – specifically the cost of that line item – that’s been the sticking point. Shipowner “A” wants to know if a certain bearing on the main engine is overheating while Operator “B”, passing through two ECA’s and the waters of three flag states in a twelve hour run wants to know what the rules are for each – in real time. That’s easy enough to accomplish, but up until now, not necessarily conducive to a healthy bottom line.
This week’s endless stream of press conferences, technical briefings and product unveilings was as impressive as I’ve seen at any other show I’ve ever been to. The advances in tech and IT offerings promise greater efficiencies, streamlined operations, the removal of the human element to many tasks, and the prospect of financial economies for all of it. I’m no financial wizard, but it was clear (at least to me) that those stakeholders who can afford to make the ‘great technological leap’ should do it without hesitation.
Amortizing the upfront cost of these improvements over the lifespan of a vessel, many of these high-tech offerings will eventually translate into profit. The real question is when? At a time when the fragile offshore energy sector is finally stirring from more than half a decade of depression, boxship and bulker companies alike are still struggling with low freight rates, and all oceangoing traffic facing the double ‘green’ whammy of the IMO’s 2020 emissions deadline AND the installation of ballast water treatment systems, it would seem that the only thing holding any firm back from the digital age is ‘green’ itself.
Impressively on Display
Attending and indeed covering the SMM Show is, on an ordinary year, a little like trying to drink from a fully charged fire hose. If that’s true, then this year’s event left many journalists awash with stories, wondering only which ones to tackle first, because, with rare exception, they all have merit.
Alfa Laval opened the conference with an early morning unveiling of its first 1,500 m3/hour PureBallast BWTS, something that comes complete with reduced energy demands, a smaller footprint and reduced costs. A partnership with Framo Pumps produced a ‘plug-and-play’ convenience for the system, heralding the advent, perhaps, of easier retrofit installations and a system robust enough for the larger vessel sector.
But, it was Alfa Laval’s scrubber technology that pushes the envelope on emissions compliance, leveraging 50 years of experience, 100+ systems already in use with 1.5 million hours of running data, and what the firm says represents 2X that number in pending orders. And it is here that ‘connectivity’ was the key to what they say will come next. Their PureSox Connect offering automates compliance reporting, with data stored into the cloud, all the while benchmarking service and previous maintenance records.
Separately, an Inmarsat Fleet Data program, in partnership with Danelec, hopes to mimic the terrestrial domain by providing an agnostic platform that can act as an application program interface. It turns out that not nearly as much information and equipment is standardized on maritime vessels as it is in the airline industry. The new service, says Inmarsat and Danelec, solves this thorny issue.
At the very same time and just a few hundred feet away in all directions, a dozen other firms were attacking the maritime data puzzle in their own way; some in their own niche areas; others along a broad, all-encompassing front. All of it pointed to one thing: getting the right data off the ship, into a platform that can sort, integrate and make sense of it, and eventually produce actionable and timely advice.
A second-generation Dynamic Positioning system from ABB, based on predictive rather than reactive controls, provides tomorrow’s user with increased situational awareness. Indeed, ABB says that the system will eventually berth large vessels without the need for an expensive marine pilot. And if that doesn’t get the attention of maritime stakeholders, then I don’t know what will.
Whereas today’s DP is a more familiar tool for OSV watchstanders in an environment where they must maintain nearly motionless station keeping, ABB’s version includes sensors robust enough to serve over the entire maneuvering range; from 0 to 22 KT. The possibilities are endless for this system that has the AIP nod from LR, a confirmed contract for delivery, and likely represents the next step forward for autonomous vessels in the blue water, deep draft domain. Beyond this, the second generation system now means that a wider cross section of mariners will probably be looking for yet another training qualification.
Wärtsilä issued also its own “wake up call” at the show. Formerly known as an entity that produced just propulsion solutions, recent high profile acquisitions – such as their purchase of Transas – have served notice that it won’t be business as usual for the firm, or its clients.
Supporting all that data collection and analysis, a focused interview with the Iridium team revealed that maritime operators will soon have new options when it comes to offshore communications. Their Iridium NEXT network of 70 satellites will be complete in just a few months, producing a seamless transaction for legacy customers, while offering faster speeds and a more robust data pipe for users thirsting for SATCOM that isn’t geographically constrained or dependent on weather conditions.
Already the only provider with full global coverage, Iridium’s polar service is rapidly becoming far more than a niche side business. As commerce increases through the Northwest Passage, so too will the need for reliable communications in that region. That’s one box you can check as “confirmed.” Beyond this, Iridium’s approval to provide GMDSS coverage means that all operators have a choice in this previously closed chunk of business. Iridium executives told MLPro this week that they are ready to compete – and win – in the space formerly reserved only for VSAT. Do more choices now mean lower rates? Only time will tell.
Just across the cavernous B-6 Hall at the SMM Show, we also met with Siemens, where much is happening, including a raft of Energy Storage System (ESS) projects in conjunction with myriad clients developing hybrid propelled platforms. Even more impressive was their newest endeavor, the Siemens EcoMain platform, a system integrator that not only organizes and transmits data from the vessel to shore, but also provides expert analysis of that data so that it actually means something to those at sea – in real time. Siemens calls it smart data analysis and ‘value added advice.’ The encrypted data transfer system boasts 60 installations at moment and promises users advances in equipment servicing, predictive maintenance, virtual reality systems, e-learning for vessels and much, much more.
Speaking of virtual reality, it was this technology that was seen this week in Hamburg in greater numbers and applications than ever before. Formerly a novelty for maritime stakeholders, there is no end to the applications that providers are aiming to produce for the maritime sector. My personal favorite (at the risk of getting into trouble with all the others) was the Vestdavit version, where I got to safely launch and recover a workboat (with a nod to my MarineNews magazine roots) in a challenging sea state. The ‘take-away’ here was that, equipped with a superior and responsive davit system, even the most inexperienced mariner can exponentially increase the safety and efficiency of your small boat operations. That sounds like progress to me.
Just Over the Horizon
Big Data. Digital. And, Connected. That was the message this week in Hamburg – from the roster of providers listed above and dozens more just like them. For more than a century, commercial, ocean shipping measured progress in terms of increases in vessel length, vessel drafts and associated deadweight tonnage. Along the way, the commercial waterfront has been anything but an early adopter of new technology. Nevertheless, the digital age is here. It’s not an abstract concept – very much unlike blockchain, for example – and it promises to deliver immediate dividends for those brave enough to dip their toes in the proverbial waters.
There’s no looking back. You can get IT if you really want. And, as Jimmy Cliff tells us, if “you try, try and try, try and try, you'll succeed at last.” – MLPro.