^Shipping is Poised for Massive Changes. Image Courtesy of Rawpixel.com at ShutterStock.com
Technology: The Agent of Change in Shipping
Wise men say the world is full of contradictions. So is human nature. The human brain and the human thumb set us apart from our co-creatures on this planet. It is these organs that have transformed us from prehistoric cavemen to our present, advanced form.
But while we welcome favorable changes, we are also afraid of the unknown. All changes bring with them an unknown element. And we always fear what we do not know.
Presently, we are living in the technological age. The pace of change is so enormous that the word yesterday is in danger of becoming synonymous with once upon a time. Only those with the necessary adaptability survive. Others perish.
Although widely regarded as a conservative industry, shipping too is being swept by winds of technological change that spring from within and without. While planetary winds literally drove ships in the Age of Sail, technological winds are figuratively propelling it to a hi-tech future.
Commercial Shipping’s Eight Transformational Technologies
A study titled Global Maritime Technology Trends 2030 by Lloyd’s Register, the University of Southampton, and QinetiQ identifies eighteen technologies that will bring about a fundamental shift in commercial, naval, and ocean space shipping.
Listed below are eight technologies that will most affect commercial shipping. Per usual, there is some necessity that stokes the fire of invention and innovation. The said technologies are:
- Propulsion and Powering
- Smart Ship
- Advanced Materials
- Big Data Analytics
While the first three are a part of the shipping industry, the last five are not. Nevertheless, all these technologies are interconnected and the integrated impact is more important than individual effects.
Smart Ships: will follow advances in robotics and sensors as smart machines, not humans, will manage and control such vessels. Automation and digitalization present great opportunities for making ships smart. And there is good reason why we should have such ships.
For one, such ships will run with the minimum of paperwork and have data in a form that can be easily stored, retrieved, analyzed, and transferred. At present, tons of data remains unutilized.
Then again, smart ships will cut down the number and amount of resources needed to run ships while facilitating data-based decision making, preventive maintenance, monitoring, operations, and regulation compliance.
Ship operators worry automation will make ships more complex. This fear is the main reason that delays the adoption of automation at a time when the aerospace and automobile sectors have embraced automation with open arms.
Robotics: depends on the remote control and sensor technology for its development. In view of technological constraints, fully automated robots may not be widely used. Remote controlled robots will however find great many applications.
Replacing humans with robots for harsh and dull jobs improves safety. Robots also reduce the required manpower. Please note, crew cost is the second largest cost in shipping. Crew shortages and increasingly stringent safety regulations will drive increased adoption of robots.
Typical applications for robots will include shipbuilding, onboard firefighting, maintenance, surveying, search and rescue, detecting noxious emissions and pollutants, and search and rescue.
High capital and operational expenditure of such robotic ships will be a concern as will be the duration necessary to train people to handle them. Regulations will have to keep pace with advances if robots are to realize their full potential.
Sensors: will be increasingly used to accurately collect data from remote corners of the ship. The success and accuracy of sensor networks will directly influence the success of other technologies such as robotics, big data, and smart ship.
In order to be successful, sensors will need to possess the following characteristics:
- wireless transmission of high levels
- robust enough to thrive in harsh environments
- use very low power
- made from eco-friendly material for easy disposal
- able to work actively in network modules
Through accurate data collection and real time transmission, sensor networks will permit proactive maintenance that improves the life cycle of ships and equipment. They will also eliminate the need for personnel to visit tight spots for data collection.
Designers will have to build sensor networks that use fast and flexible communication bandwidth while being compatible with existing power systems. And with such vast amounts of quality data available, designers will have to beef up cyber security.
Big Data Analytics: is the analysis of large sets of diverse data to discover hidden trends and correlations. Numerous shipping-related agencies routinely gather and store data on meteorology, traffic, oceanography, maritime accidents, cargo flow, and machine performance.
With big data, you can identify the correlation between diverse datasets. Better understanding will facilitate proactive decision making on logistics, maintenance planning, competitive pricing, traffic management at ports, resource allocation, and fleet and vessel utilization.
Storage, retrieval, and processing of data will gather speed as cognitive systems offer intuitive interactions between people and machines. Regulators and system designers will however have to address issues such as cyber security and the integrity, protection, and quality of data.
Communications: will reach the next level as the need for better communication between ships and onshore bases becomes stronger. WiFi, 5G, and next generation satellites will combine with traditional marine wireless communication systems.
With more nations launching their satellites, the prices of satellite services will fall. And as the interoperability between satellite systems increases, seamless worldwide communications will be a reality.
Remote monitoring will replace physical onboard surveys and make vessel and cargo tracking easier. Such communication systems will also facilitate improved real time decision making, autonomous operations, greater crew well being, and streamlined emergency evacuations.
But all this will not happen unless satellite technology advances considerably. Increased communication will necessitate the use of high-frequency bands of greater power that enable transmission of multiple signals at faster speeds.
Although these bands limit the effect of malicious attacks and intentional and unintentional signal interference, they have limited ranges and are easily affected by weather disturbances. Plus the communication industry will have to work out ways to cut prices to affordable levels.
Advanced Materials: can be metals, composites, ceramics, and polymers with custom properties for superior performance. Designers study the features of their constituents at the nano (10-9 meter) scale before building them. They can also be bio-inspired / bio-based materials sourced from living creatures.
The need to lower energy / fuel consumption while protecting people, assets, and environment as well as improving maintenance and operational efficiency of ships will spur improvements in advanced materials.
Nano-sized calcium and magnesium particles reinforce welds while similar copper and carbide particles boost strength and toughness. Advanced materials come with elevated corrosion resistance, formability, self-healing ability, and malleability while being lightweight.
The composites of tomorrow may also come loaded with the capacity to slash noise and vibration from machinery. Bio-derived materials will better resist fouling, abrasion, and icing.
As impressive as this may sound, there are the inevitable pitfalls. For one, advanced materials are a largely unproven entity. Regulators have their task cut out to standardize the required properties. Then, their price may change frequently as the market adjusts with them.
Shipbuilding: engineers will build more and more ships by utilizing automation and digitally integrating design and construction. Advanced human-computer interfaces such as control through touch, gesture, voice, and eye movement will spark further innovation.
Technologies such as additive manufacturing (3D Printing) will provide better design freedom and cut wastage. It will not be surprising if we get to see:
- hull forms that adapt to their environs
- ballast free ships that eliminate the raging issue of transfer of aquatic invasive species
But with such a huge amount of data, data overloading is very much possible particularly on small hand-held devices. There might well be the problem of plenty. Then again, issues with intellectual property rights can restrict data sharing and stunt the progress of technology.
Propulsion and Powering: will improve with:
- greater use of engines and propulsion systems that generate more power while using less fuel and emitting less noxious gases
- energy saving mechanisms
- alternative fuels
- emission reduction systems
- hybrid power generation
The need to comply with ever tightening emission regulations and contain expenses on account of shooting fuel prices and fleet overcapacity will drive these advances.
From January 1, 2015, ships plying in Emission Control Areas (ECAs) have already shifted to using fuel with less than 0.1% sulphur (by mass). ECAs will further expand and necessitate the use of better emission reduction mechanisms.
Changes in fuel injection mechanisms and lubricating oils and systems will be necessary to utilize alternative fuels. Engines will be totally electronic controlled and respond dynamically to changes in loads and fuels.
We will also need fresh land-based facilities to supply alternative fuels and manage the new types of wastes. The rate of obsolescence of ships will rise and ships may be scrapped rather prematurely.
Deep-sea ships will not risk the early adoption of better propulsion technologies. Their application will be restricted to tugs, yachts, and offshore support vessels that ply in shallow waters.
Fall in fuel prices, sudden and great rise in freight rates, and regulations that fail to keep up with technological developments will dis-incentivize the progress in propulsion systems.
In a nutshell, the ships of tomorrow will be greener and smarter. Their operations will be driven by data. They will possess multiple powering options, be digitally connected to a host of interoperable satellite networks, and have complete on-board wireless connections.
Construction, deployment, operation, and maintenance of such intricate ships and the systems therein is genuinely expensive and will require massive doses of investment. Although shipping is blessed with an investment oversupply, availability of funds can be an issue.
And because these ships will require minimal crew and will be run by a highly trained and skilled workforce – onboard and onshore – regulators will have to update standards and academics will have to design courses that impart the necessary skills.
Visit our blog to know more on the technologies that promise to take shipping to the 21st century. But if you wish stellar marine fabrication services, marine pipe fitting, and large scale custom metal fabrication, contact Kemplon Engineering.