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FOCUS: Internet of Things on the high seas

by ASC Staff on Apr 20, 2017


Laurent Marini country manager Saudi Arabia Orange Business Services.
Laurent Marini country manager Saudi Arabia Orange Business Services.

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The maritime industry has been slow to opt into the burgeoning world of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), but 2017 is the year this will change as shipping embraces a smart and connected future.

In fact, some commentators believe that IIoT will be the second maritime communications revolution after the success of VSAT broadband satellite services. Amongst other benefits, IIoT can dramatically improve transport and logistics, advance safety and reduce the administrative costs of regulatory compliance.

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As satellite connectivity and transfer improves still further, faster and more robust connections will be available from the ship to the shore, allowing for an ever-increasing amount of data to be used in operational and diagnostic decision making.

“IoT is about bringing data from control and instrumentation back to shore,” explains Michel Verbist, international business development for satellite services at Orange Business Services. “Shipping owners and operators have recognized the potential of IIoT, thanks to improved satellite coverage, prevalent sensor technology and the power of cloud computing.” Examples of data in the shipping sector that can be collected via IIoT include voyage, weather, maintenance, machinery and state of cargo data.

All areas of shipping can benefit

IIoT will impact all areas of shipping, from cargo carriers to cruise liners and fishing boats. We are already seeing connected devices and sensors starting to be used in innovative ways.

On the cargo front, marine solutions provider Wärtsilä is working with GasLog LNG Services to ensure the reliable operations of GasLog’s seven large cargo carriers. Gaslog analyzes data collected on vessels and sends it via satellite to maximize intervals between maintenance periods. It factors in ordering times for spare parts and ensures engine performance is optimized to minimize fuel consumption, thus reducing both costs and the company’s carbon footprint.

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In passenger shipping, Carnival Corporation has announced an IoT-based personalized digital concierge dubbed the Ocean Compass, which is available on smart devices, kiosks in home ports, stateroom TVs, interactive surfaces located throughout the cruise ship, and devices carried by all guest service hosts. Inside each guest's device are near field communication (NFC) and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology. The system is powered by an invisible network of proprietary sensors and computing devices embedded throughout the vessel, allowing for streamlined embarking, access to cabin door locks, anytime-anywhere gaming and easy payment, for example.

More efficient ships

IIoT will help the shipping industry become more competitive. Saving fuel will be one of the first big applications, as approximately two-thirds of a ship’s operating cost is its fuel. An active system on board a vessel coupled with a fuel optimization application can collect data and send it to the shore to plot the most energy efficient route, for example.

We will soon see more 24/7 connected applications for maritime, such as engine monitoring. Future fleets will have more system automation through a mesh of smart sensors and global networks for data transfer between vessels and the shore to provide full or semi-autonomous operation.

Customized solutions

There is no single solution for maritime IIoT. “Every shipping company has its own specific requirements,” explains Verbist. “You need a strong security layer to transfer data to central locations. This data then needs other building blocks, cloud storage, management tools and data analytics to analyze the big data – there are many pieces to each puzzle and each one is different.” Also, the IIoT connection is dependent on what data is required to be brought ashore and the physical challenges.

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Consider cargo ships with refrigerated goods. Sensors embedded in containers monitor the temperature. If the temperature rises an alert needs to go off immediately to customer headquarters. The sensors need to push the data to a central location where it can be sent to shore via satellite communication. Wi-Fi, which is a proven communications tool on ships, isn’t an option here because it works on line of sight and cabling is not a practical solution. Options would center on either 3G or 4G LTE onboard the vessel to send data directly to the central VSAT system to be sent to shore.

However other use cases, like machinery or gyro information on speed or position, will be collected via maritime data acquisition systems and forwarded to shore, without any requirement for base stations.

Big improvements promised

IIoT has the potential to make enormous operational improvements in the shipping industry, from reducing fuel consumption and its carbon footprint to cargo handling, preemptive maintenance remote technical diagnostics and improving safety for crew and passengers.

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Connected devices and technologies will enable new applications right across the industry. This includes managing energy distribution and usage in engine rooms, monitoring equipment, tracking cargo, improving the passenger experience, enhancing navigation and making travel safer by deploying rescue teams to pinpointed locations.

Ships by their very nature generate data. This data can be connected via IIoT to the vessel, the shore and the cloud. “IIoT is one of the biggest things to happen in maritime history. Vessels will no longer be an island at sea,” concludes Verbist. “By the end of this decade we will see the industry become more connected and truly transformed. But maritime IIoT requires many competencies to build an overall solution and shipping companies will need to choose their partners carefully.”


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